Friday, September 25, 2009

In a stir: veggies, meet the shrimps

By Helen Klein

Summer vegetables provide a toothsome counterpoint to shrimp in a quick stir-fry that doesn’t heat the kitchen up, but provides light, flavorful sustenance for dinner.

In the finished dish, the blushing pink and white shrimp -- I used large ones, and cut my vegetables to match -- enjoy the congenial company of colored peppers, tomatoes, onions, and garlic, with chopped fresh basil leaves liberally added to the finished dish just before serving. The stir-fry is served on a bed of couscous, which stands up to but doesn’t overwhelm the flavors of the shrimp and vegetables.

A key ingredient in the dish is dry vermouth, one of my favorite additions to chicken and shrimp dishes because of its ability to tenderize the protein component, while adding a subtle savor and sweetness that enhances the other flavors evoked, especially the light, licoricy flavor of the basil.

As with many of the other dishes concocted in my Flatbush kitchen, this one could have taken different forms, if my refrigerator’s crisper had yielded other ingredients. Zucchini or yellow crookneck squash and eggplant would both have worked in the dish, as would a combination such as carrots and green beans, or carrots and sugar snap peas. White wine could have stood in for the vermouth, and a little fresh lemon juice, added towards the end of cooking, would have provided an additional contrasting grace note. Even the basil could have given way to another herb -- fresh oregano perhaps, or even a combination of fresh oregano and thyme, though less of the herb would have been necessary, in that case.

As an added bonus, the juices at the bottom of the plate soak nicely into the couscous. You can also sop them up with a chunk of crusty bread, European style.

Shrimp and Vegetable Stir-Fry

1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
1 large yellow pepper, cored and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large tomato, cut into chunks
2 Tbl. olive oil, or more as needed
1 cup dry (white) vermouth
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Heat oil in wok or sauté pan till sizzling. Toss in shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, just till cooked through, and no longer translucent. Remove shrimp from pan with slotted spoon and set aside.

In remaining oil (add another tablespoon if necessary), sauté the onions till translucent. Add peppers and continue to sauté till slightly limp. Add garlic and continue sautéing, stirring occasionally, for another two or three minutes. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if the pan seems to be getting dry, to prevent burning.

Add tomato chunks and their juices, and return shrimp to the pan. Pour in vermouth, and cook, covered, over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes (checking occasionally) till liquid is reduced, and shrimp are tender and flavorful.

Garnish with chopped basil, and serve alongside couscous.

Serves four.


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