Darling's Summer Shrimp in Mojito Dressing
I am the sentimental kind. When I remember a moment, I am transported by all of my senses. So around this time last year, I was in Malibu, and I was falling in love.
That day I loaded up my car with my paella pan, my favorite black clay La Chamba pot, all sorts of utensils and pantry items, as I hadn’t any idea what the kitchen set up would be like. I wanted to be prepared because I was nervous. Well, just a little bit. It was my first time cooking for him. I wanted everything to be wonderful. I had some idea of what to make, but decided to chance the farmers' market selections. We went that afternoon and gathered produce spontaneously from the different stands. I was captivated by the mushroom selection, the array of herbs. The noonday sun was bright and strong. He wore his straw fedora, I wore a silk paisley print sundress. Strolling through the open air market, our arms linked, holding hands, our fingers laced together, damp and sticky with desire. My cheap Venice beach sunglasses slipped down my nose, my heeled Italian sandals wobbled in the dirt. Even though I was nervous and awkward, I was overwhelmingly happy and the day sparkled. We tasted olive oil and inhaled fresh bunches of rosemary, thyme, basil. We chose lemons and red onions, slipped them into our canvas shopping bag. We selected halibut from the fish purveyor's stand. It was a hot day, and the fishmonger gave us bags of ice to keep the halibut cold for our trip back to the condo with a view.
The place we stayed at was on the beach and our window had a picturesque view of the ocean. On the little balcony was a café table just for two.
I made mushroom risotto for dinner and halibut in my clay pot. We ate outside on the balcony with just a candle to light our dinner. As I looked at him, the light was like a Vermeer painting, or a Rembrandt. If I could paint that memory like a Dutch master, I would not have the ability to capture the delicate fragrance of ocean air mingled with herbs from our risotto, nor could my paintbrush translate the way his fingertips traced the line of my neck. There was a rolling, fluttering feeling in the center of my stomach. I held my breath in and paused as he tasted what I had made for him. Thrill. Summer heat was in his gaze. Desire. His hand caressed underneath my apron. Passion. My bare skin, damp thigh, heat of his palm. He loved my cooking. Happiness. Some moments will stay within me, always.
We stayed there twice within the months of August and September, and both times I made egg tartines for breakfast. The first time was an egg tartine made with pesto and cheese on English muffins. I found a blue and white China bowl in the cabinet that was just lovely for serving the coconut yogurt and blueberries. I was able to plate the morning creations and make tea just how I like it; strong English tea with half and half and honey. Balsamic crème drizzled on the eggs. I added the homemade pesto and decorated the egg tartine with torn leaves of basil, chives, Gouda cheese. I must have added ham for his egg serving because I wanted so much to impress him. Yes, I think it was honeyed ham. I tried to do everything with nonchalance, like serve breakfast as if it was easy to put together. He loved the yogurt and berries, which surprised him.
After that weekend, he began drinking tea instead of coffee. He started eating yogurt, which he used to dislike. As I uploaded photos back at home, I gazed at his reflection within the spoon in a photograph of an egg tartine. I was reminded of our breakfast on the balcony. And I wanted to capture that memory forever.
We visited the little place on the beach again about a month later for another romantic hideaway weekend. At the farmers’ market he gathered shrimp, watermelon, corn, cucumber, cilantro, mint. He had a plan to cook for me.
I wasn’t expecting to react the way I did. As I watched him cook, I felt like a teenage girl with my eyes glazed over in adoration. He was the rock star in the kitchen, whisking vinaigrette together casually, chopping mint and cilantro with confidence. It was like going to a concert and watching the handsome lead guitarist play his solo. All I could do was sigh. It was silly of me I am sure, but I had never had such an immediate sense of love overwhelm me. I had real passion, suddenly. Passion for everything. Oh I felt like such a cliché. I was in love and everything I had read about falling in love was happening to me. I felt ridiculously foolish and I didn't care. I was in love. So what if I seemed cliché? It was all true, all the jazz ballads about it, all the sappy greeting cards, all the hokey love poems. And I was giddy with every minute of it. I deserved it, the happiness. It was about darn time.
When I think about what I want in a relationship, there are some things I know that are important requirements. Cooking together was at the very top of my list. As I look back on past relationships, what I realize is that I need a compatible partner in the kitchen. I have longed for that someone special to cook with me as well as cook for me. Really, it’s true. I want to create marvelous dishes with my tango paramour. Dancing together or cooking together, it’s sort of the same thing. Chef and sous chef, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Cooking together can be a great way to keep the passion going. It's a romantic date in the kitchen.
So during the moment that my new lover was cooking something just for me, I realized that my wish had come true. It wasn’t just that particular wish, however, that caused me to shiver with delight. It was the shrimp dish he presented me with. Colorful with cubes of red juicy watermelon, diced cucumber, a confetti of yellow corn, cilantro and mint chopped fine and blended into a light vinaigrette, dressing the shrimp so pink and joyous on the plate.
My knees felt weak and shook under the dining table as I tasted his shrimp in mojito dressing, which was his name for the dish, and with each bite I felt my whole body tremble with pleasure.
We just celebrated our first year together and we are even happier with each other than we were before. To celebrate that romantic time by the sea, I am sharing this recipe. I am sure you will find it to be just as much an aphrodisiac as I did.
Summer Shrimp in Mojito Dressing with Watermelon, Corn and Cucumber Salsa
1 dozen prawns or shrimp
1 cucumber diced, cored, seeded
1/4 watermelon diced
1 ear fresh corn uncooked, raw
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch mint
drizzles of olive oil
dollop of honey
1/2 shallot minced
1 clove garlic minced
dash sea salt/black pepper
1 lime squeezed
Poach the shrimp in brined water. Chill and save for later. Keep them moist and succulent.
Dice and cube the watermelon and cucumber. Remove corn from the cob. Cooking is not necessary. The taste of fresh sweet corn is wonderful and adds texture to the salsa.
Mince the shallot and garlic. Add black pepper and salt. Finely chop equal portions of cilantro and mint. You can use a mortar and pestle or a blender. Add in equal parts lime juice and olive oil. Add a little honey, just a little. Whisk.
You can marinate the corn and cucumber early, but be warned there will be water extruded from the cucumber because of the salt and the lime juice.
Dress the shrimp with the mojito vinaigrette and serve with the salsa (at the last minute to keep the individual flavors separate and as not to “cook” the shrimp more with the citric acid like a ceviche).