Campechana

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I had a favorite menu item at our local country club’s restaurant that sadly disappeared when the chef moved on. It was campechana – a combination of shrimp and avocados in a zesty tomato sauce, served chilled with tortilla chips.

Never did I realize it was an actual “thing” until I googled it. Turns out, recipes for campechana are commonplace! By definition, it’s a seafood cocktail from Campeche, a coastal state in Mexico.

I immediately grabbed one of my Rick Bayless cookbooks, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, published in 2000, and if you look closely at the cover photo, there is the shrimp cocktail!!!

I have a soft spot for Rick Bayless for many reasons. He’s a passionate chef and student of Mexican cookery, who been married to his wife forever, with whom he’s collaborated on books. (As well as with their daughter!) So I respect that. He also does a lot of charitable work in Chicago and in Mexico and is a total nerd.

But mostly for this.

Fifteen years ago I took my daughter to Chicago for her 18th birthday. It was all about shopping, visiting the sites, and enjoying great meals. I had made reservations at Frontera, and Charlie Trotter’s for our two big nights out.

At Frontera, which was outstanding in every way, I saw that Rick Bayless himself was in the kitchen, and asked if we could say hello. And he was kind and took this memorable photo with Emma.

I decided to make the shrimp cocktail recipe that’s pictured on the book cover. It’s not called campechana but a ceviche, which seems odd because it doesn’t fit my definition of ceviche. But Mr. B. Knows his stuff, so I will not quibble.

Ceviche de Camaron
4 hefty servings

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 generous pound smallish shrimp, peeled, de-veined
1/2 medium white onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce
About 2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jicama (or 1/2 cup of each)
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed

Bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes.

Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Toss the shrimp with the remaining 1/2 lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.


In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid.

Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jícama and avocado.

Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately. Spoon the ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls: garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime.

Serve with tostadas, tortilla chips or saltines to enjoy alongside.

The ceviche is best made the day it is served.

If you want a more Southwestern-inspired Campechana, I found one on Epicurious that I’m trying next. It has roasted green chiles and includes crab meat!

So what I’ve gathered, whether it’s called Campechana, or a seafood cocktail, or a ceviche-style shrimp cocktail, the basic ingredients are similar, being shrimp and avocado in (typically) a red sauce. And from there you can get as spicy and zingy and creative as you wish!

The campechana I remember had no cucumber or jicama, but they added a great texture.

The only other difference I can detect from my campechana that I loved and this and other similar shrimp cocktail recipe is the amount of red sauce and the viscosity of the red sauce. I have to say I prefer a bit more sauciness than what’s in this recipe.

Chicken Shawarma

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After eyeing a beautiful, drool-worthy photo of lamb shawarma on a blog one day, shown below, I so wanted to make it, except for the fact that my husband won’t eat lamb.

So I searched the same blog, Recipe Tin Eats, for chicken shawarma and found a recipe I knew we’d both love.

It is Nagi’s recipe, who lives in Sydney, Australia, although she was born in Japan. I’ve enjoyed her blog for a few years now; her recipes are always fresh and innovative. Nagi also has the cutest dog, Dozer, who makes his appearance in every blog post.

Shawarma is Middle Eastern in origin, and refers to beef, lamb, chicken, or veal, grilled on a vertical spit that rotates.

If you’ve ever been to a döner kebob spot, you’re familiar with a close shawarma cousin. Similarly, the meat is sliced and placed on flatbread, sometimes offered with cucumber and tomato, or even hummus.

Except that shawarma is more about this lucious, spicy marinade that coats the raw meat and crusts up when the meat is grilled.

Why I never made any kind of shawarma at home before now is beyond me.

Chicken Shawarma
Slightly adapted from Recipe Tin Eats

2 pounds chicken thighs (I used breasts)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons smoky paprika
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon finely ground pepper

Slice the chicken into uniformly-thick pieces and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and stir well. Yes, I’ve never used a tablespoon of ground cardamom in a dish before either, but don’t hesitate. Use it!


Add the chicken and make sure all of the pieces are coated. Place the chicken and marinade in a large zip-lock bag and refrigerate for 1 or 2 days.

Ideally the chicken should be grilled outside on a barbecue, but on this day I used my indoor stove-top grill.

Bring the chicken to close to room temperature. Grill the chicken until just done; you don’t want the meat dry, especially if you’re also using chicken breasts.


To serve, set out the platter of grilled chicken, flatbreads, hummus, sliced tomatoes, and cucumbers.


You don’t have to add all of the “goodies,” but I do!

I made a parsley-laden tabbouleh, and also served a “salad” of tomatoes and cucumbers.

Nagi included a yogurt sauce on her same blog post for chicken shawarma, and I preferred it over the hummus.


Yogurt Sauce

1 cup Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Squeeze of lemon
Salt
Pepper

Whisk together the yogurt with the garlic, cumin, and lemon. Season with salt and pepper, and serve at room temperature.


I even made a quick pickled radish condiment for the shawarma, but it wasn’t really necessary.

For this feast, I had to share with friends, so I served all of the dishes buffet-style, and friends created their own shawarma. It’s so similar to serving fajitas!

Everyone had a good time. I served a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir which went perfectly with the chicken and other Middle Eastern flavors.

Mediterranean Layered Dip

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A while back my friend had a happy hour at her house, and she served a Mediterranean-inspired dip. She’s a funny person, my friend. She claims to hate cooking, but she always serves the best and prettiest food, and even offers signature cocktails.

She’s also an expert at entertaining – to the point that once she had pressed fresh flowers between glass plates for a spring girls’ lunch at her home. I think she’s in Martha-Stewart-wanna-be denial…

Most of us are familiar with the 7-layer dip; sometimes the number varies. It’s Mexican, or Mexican-American, and typically contains layers of refried beans, guacamole, tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, maybe seasoned ground beef, and so forth. If you love all of those ingredients, then you would love the dip, served with tortilla chips and margaritas.

My creative friend, however, was inspired by a recipe she’d seen in a magazine, and created a multi-layered dip using Mediterranean ingredients. It was fabulous.

We can’t find the recipe, so I’m creating this version with my own favorite ingredients from that part of the world. Whatever you use, you just can’t go wrong.

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Mediterranean Layered Dip

White bean dip, or hummus, preferably home-made
Cucumber
Tomatoes
Goat or feta cheese
Kalamata olives, sliced
Toasted pine nuts
Diced shallots
Pita pockets

Begin with having a plate or shallow bowl for serving. Place the white bean dip or hummus on the serving dish. I have had decent store-bought hummus, but I simply made a garlicky white bean dip. Smooth out the white bean dip.


Prepare the cucumber by removing the seeds. This can be done with a knife, or simply with a melon baller or small spoon. Cut up the cucumber and place on paper towels to drain.


Prepare the tomatoes by de-seeding them as much as possible, then cutting them finely, and placing them on paper towels to drain. Have all of the other ingredients on hand.


Begin the layering process by adding the cucumber and then the tomatoes.
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Add the crumbled goat cheese and drizzle with a little olive oil if desired.
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Then add the olives, pine nuts and shallots.

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Serve with pita triangles cut from pita breads. Alternatively, half the triangles, drizzle with olive oil, and toast until lightly browned for a crisper pita “chip.” (The photo below right shows the pita triangles halved, but not yet toasted.)


It was a hot day when I made this dip, so I served a rosé.
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The fun wth this recipe, is that you can substitute ingredients as you wish. Capers instead of olives, roasted red peppers instead of tomatoes, grilled artichokes, and more.

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You can top the dip with black pepper, oregano, sumac, za’atar, or a chiffonade of fresh basil.


Just stick with Mediterranean ingredients and you’ll love it!

Got Stale Bread?

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Got stale bread? Make panzanella!

Panzanella is an Italian salad made with stale, or at the very least, leftover bread, and you wouldn’t believe how wonderful it is. I’m sure its origins are peasant-based, because the peasant approach to making meals is all about using everything available to you, without any waste. And that means you never throw away old bread. You just turn it into a salad!

Besides bread, other additions include tomatoes, plus oil and vinegar. Some panzanellas get more involved with the inclusion of cucumbers, olives, and capers. I sometimes like to add some spinach leaves as well. And I have added feta cheese, although at that point it almost becomes a Greek-inspired salad. Italian or Greek, it doesn’t matter. It’s all good!

So today my panzanella is made from leftover sourdough bread, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mozzarella pearls, purple onion, and lots of basil. No recipe is needed!

Panzanella

Leftover bread or stale bread*
Vinegar, I used red wine vinegar
Olive oil
Cherry tomatoes, sliced
Cucumber, de-seeded and sliced
Small purple onion, sliced
Mozzarella pearls, if you want to include cheese
Pitted Kalamata olives, sliced in halves
Salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Fresh basil

First, break up the bread or slice it into cubes.
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Place the bread in a serving bowl. Sprinkle generously with vinegar to soften up the bread. This is especially important if using stale bread. See * below for more information on this.
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Add the tomatoes, and sprinkle on some salt and more vinegar.
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Then add the cucumbers, which you can season with salt as well.


Add the purple onions, and the mozzarella pearls.

Add the olives. Season well with salt and pepper, and give everything a toss. Add more vinegar and olive oil as necessary. (If you prefer, you can certainly use a pre-made vinaigrette instead of just using oil and vinegar.)

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Before serving, sprinkle with baby basil leaves, or a chiffonade of basil.

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The salad can also sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours for the flavors to combine. Just toss gently once before serving. The salad is prettier if the bread remains somewhat in intact pieces.
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* Typically, actual stale bread is used for this salad. Then it’s dipped in water to soften. I really don’t like that technique, even though it works. I love vinegar, so I just add a lot of vinegar to the bread before completing the salad. Also, my bread was only a couple of days old, and not stale. I could have dried it out in the oven, but I was fine with the bread as is. Some people grill the bread first before slicing it, but I personally don’t like this option because grilled bread can really tear up the roof of my mouth. But as you can see, there are many options

note: If you have leftover bread but don’t want panzanella, make bread crumbs. That way, there’s no waste!

Pineapple Gazpacho

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The first and only time I’ve had pineapple gazpacho was in St. Lucia in the Caribbean. It was the first course of a five-course meal provided by the chef of the hotel, as part of our farm to table adventure, part one and part two.

The whole meal was stunning, but the gazpacho was especially memorable. Maybe because we participated in picking the pineapple in the field.

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Or maybe because I got to play chef in the “cold” room of the hotel’s kitchen where the prep work is done. I actually put the gazpacho together without knowing any ratios. But I faked it pretty well because the chef approved when he tasted it… although he hinted I’d used too much hot sauce. And he was from Mexico!

Here I am in the kitchen prepping the gazpacho, having used a very dull knife, I must say. I chopped a peeled pineapple, core and all, along with a peeled cucumber, then added yogurt, hot sauce, oil, honey, and a little cherry vinegar, which is in my hand. There is white bread soaking in milk on my right.

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Then the chef put everything in a vitamix, and pureed everything well, without creating much heat. I think it was for this reason that he added ice cubes as well. Then, using a very large chinois, the soup was strained.

At that point we left the prep kitchen and moved into the main kitchen where the chef prepared some sashimi for us, and we watched him cut up the kingfish, which was to be our main. Eventually we were seated on the outside deck with a view of the ocean, crisp white wine in hand.

Then here came the pineapple gazpacho. Isn’t it beautiful!

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It was topped with chopped baby shrimp, cucumber, tomato and a few cilantro leaves, then drizzled with a little unknown oil.

So today I’m going to duplicate this gazpacho, if I can, although the tropical ambiance won’t be the same.

Pineapple Gazpacho

3 slices white bread with the crusts
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 medium-sized pineapple, peeled
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded
1/3 cup greek yogurt
Small bunch of cilantro leaves (the chef did not include cilantro in the gazpacho)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon salt

Soak the bread in the cream in a small bowl. I actually used about 6″ of a sourdough baguette.

Combine everything in a large bowl, including the soaked bread.

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Then transfer to a jar of a vitamix or blender and blend until very smooth.

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Pour the whole mixture into a sieve and strain well. The chef actually used a chinois.

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Refrigerate for at least two hours, then taste for seasoning.

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Just before serving, I topped the soup with a few baby shrimp and a cilantro leaf. The chef topped his with some chopped shrimp, tomato and cucumber, and a few sprigs of cilantro.

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Verdict: I wouldn’t change these ingredients at all, except maybe to replace the yogurt with sour cream or crème fraiche. I also used cilantro in the soup, which the chef didn’t, but it only enhances the other flavors. And it creates a prettier color. However, I would use a chinois next time. Mine was good, but I preferred the smoother texture created by the chinois. The chef’s presentation is much prettier than mine, but that’s not surprising. After all, he’s a chef. But my gazpacho tastes exactly like his!