July 8, 2010
A day or two after news of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill broke, I spotted beautiful, wild-caught Gulf shrimp on sale at my neighborhood grocery store—fat, never frozen, $5.99/lb. I bought 5 pounds, suspecting that it would be a while before I saw such beautiful Gulf seafood at such an amazing price again. Little did I know, right?
I really have no idea how to respond to something like this. Clearly, I take for granted that, in our world of obscenely rapid technological advancement, we should be able to solve this problem. How is it that we don’t know how to fix it? And what is it that I should be doing, other than feeling really, really depressed and making donations to help the humans and wildlife affected by the spill?
There’s no neat little conclusion to this post, just that all of this damn oil is, among other things, another notch in my mental belt of wondering what the proper balance is between apathy and obsession. How much time should I spend in my, let’s face it, really comfortable life, thinking about all of the shitty things happening all over the world at any given moment? And is there some hierarchy of disaster, things I should care about more than others? And where does all of my care and concern go, if I do choose to exert it?
Choosing our positions along these blurry lines is a matter of personal ethics and conscience, and I like to think that thinking rigorously through my positions is at least worth something. Part of my job as a teacher is getting my students to care about something other than themselves, and convincing them that by engaging with the world, they alter it. But sometimes I wonder if I’m not just setting them up for disappointment.
Last weekend, I thawed half of the shrimp I had purchased in April and cooked them simply, with traditional Indian spices and over high heat until they pinked and firmed. My house was pleasantly swollen with friends and loved ones, who fought over the last shrimp and left the tails scattered in shallow bowls. Maybe, at times, that’s the best we can do, and that’s not so bad.
MUSTARD-SEED SHRIMP WITH CUCUMBER RAITA
We ate these straight-up, with raita drizzled on top or alongside as a dipping sauce, counterbalancing the heat of the shrimp perfectly. The dish didn’t seem to suffer for lack of a “vehicle,” but surely they would be delicious tucked into a pita, wrapped in some naan, or served atop some rice or couscous.
2 ½ lb. Gulf shrimp, peeled & deveined
2 tsp. black mustard seeds
1 tsp. coriander powder
1 tsp. cumin powder
½ tsp. turmeric powder
½ tsp. cayenne pepper (less if you’re heat-shy)
special equipment: a heavy-bottomed pot with high sides & a lid
Swirl some oil into the pot, letting it heat until the oil shimmers (medium-high on the stove). Throw in the mustard seeds and turmeric, then immediately bring the lid down to cover the pot. There will be spluttering! Shake the pan and let it sit on the heat for a minute or two more, then remove from the heat.
Add the shrimp to the pot—all of them if they fit—then return to the burner. Using a large spoon, gently turn the shrimp regularly to ensure even cooking. Toss in the remaining spices, including a teaspoon of salt. After 3-4 minutes, turn the stove down to medium, letting the residual heat finish the shrimp.
Continue to turn the shrimp until they have all pinked and are just cooked. Remove immediately from the pot so they do not overcook. Taste for salt and serve warm.
You can also add a finely chopped Serrano pepper if you’d like a little fire in your raita.
2 cups plain, thick yogurt
2-3 small cucumbers, peeled & grated
¼ cup buttermilk
¼ cup mint, roughly chopped
1 T cumin powder*
juice of 2 lemons
salt, to taste
Squeeze the grated cucumbers in a cheesecloth or paper towel to drain the excess liquid, then combine them in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. Stir. Thin with a bit more buttermilk if necessary.
Raita will keep in the fridge with an airtight container for a few days.
*If you like, toast your own cumin seeds until fragrant and then grind them. They will add great depth of flavor.