I am proud to welcome Denise Fletcher, the author of the book Quickies: Morning, Noon and Night. Her knowledge of the kitchen is only rivalled by her uncanny wit and beguiling charisma. I am glad I can call her a friend. The blog absolutely got much smarter tonight. Enjoy!
Hello Lazaro Cooks readers and followers! I’m Denise and I blog at Quickies on The Dinner Table. I’m proud to say I’m a friend and big fan of Lazaro, who has very kindly and graciously invited me to do a guest post. I was so flattered when he approached me with the idea and I am honoured and happy to be contributing to this stellar blog, the brainchild of Lazaro and Nancy. Lazaro is nothing if not a gentleman and a generous soul and has given me cart blanche to post whatever I am happy to.
In keeping with my kitchen philosophy of quick, easy and delicious, I have for you a dish that is very simple to put together but one that I hope you will find a delightful mix of bold flavours, vibrant colours and richly contrasting textures. It's a spicy Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern hybrid, featuring grilled calamari, tender chickpeas, a handful of racy spices, refreshing cucumber to balance the heat, and a finishing flourish of fresh, wondrously fragrant basil leaves. Of course, you won't find this anywhere in Southeast Asia or the Middle East as it's something I concocted to calm constant cravings for calamari, cucumber, cumin.....and alliteration ; )
Before I go on to the recipe, I'd like to add that while many seem to almost fear calamari or squid, and resolutely refuse to go anywhere near it, for me, it's one of the most gratifying of edible delights. The thing about calamari (trust the Italians to make even monstrous looking squid sound romantic) is that it has to be fleetingly cooked over a fierce flame or lovingly and lengthily simmered over the gentlest heat, if you are to enjoy it at its best. Anything in between will leave you with something best given to teething pups to ease their itching gums with.
Calamari should shimmer like glass, have bulging, shiny, jet-dark eyes, and smell pleasantly of the sea. Choose midsized ones as anything over 15 cm (6 in) in length, excluding tentacles, will tend to be chewy. When washing the internal cavity, make a sizeable snip with sharp scissors at the pointed end of its body, so that when you rinse the inside, any grit or sand will easily wash out. Drain and dry very well so they will crisp up nicely when grilled. If you're squeamish, your fishmonger will be happy to clean them for you. Just ask! Alright then, on to the recipe.
Prep 30 mins Cook 5 mins Serves 4 as a light main course or 6 as a starter
8 medium sized calamari, clean, wash, drain and cut into broad strips or slices
1 Tbsp light vegetable oil (soy, canola, or grape seed)
1 can well drained cooked chickpeas
2 medium Japanese cucumbers, halve lengthwise and slice across thickly or as desired2 handfuls sweet basil leaves (or whatever kind you can get) reserve a few for garnishing
A little flaky sea salt (I like Maldon sea salt) for garnishing
A little freshly ground black pepper for garnishing
1 scant tsp cumin seeds, toast and coarsely crush, for garnishing
6 fresh large red chillies, discard seeds and cut up roughly
1 tsp hot red chilli flakes (optional - for extra heat)
2 shallots, peel and cut up roughly (use 1 very small regular onion if unavailable)
2 fat cloves garlic, peel
2 Tbsp lime juice (or to taste)
2 Tbsp light vegetable oil
1 ¼ level tsp salt (or to taste)
½ level tsp sugar (or to taste)
• Preheat electric grill on "High", if you have one. If you don't, use a stove top grill plate.
• Prepare dressing by combining all the ingredients in a blender and processing to a sauce-like but not overly smooth consistency. I find a stick blender works best for this. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, playing around with salt, sugar and lime juice until you get a nice balance of spicy, sour, salty and ever so slightly, sweet. Cover and chill until needed.
• If using a grill plate, heat on stove. Combine calamari and oil and toss until coated. Check grill. When very hot, lay calamari slices on it in an even layer and cook until calamari begins to turn white and grill marks have formed. Flip over slices and cook other side very quickly. Total grilling time should not exceed 3 minutes for both sides. Remove from grill and cool on a fine wire mesh cake rack. If you put them on a plate while hot, they will start to leak their juices and turn soggy.
• In a large, clean mixing bowl combine cooled calamari slices, chickpeas, sliced cucumbers and most of the basil leaves. Pour over the dressing and toss gently so basil leaves don’t bruise. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
• To serve, divide salad amongst four plates or bowls. Garnish each portion with a few of the reserved basil leaves and a tiny sprinkling each of flaky sea salt, black pepper and crushed cumin seeds. Serve immediately.
Note on Japanese Cucumbers : These are dark green, thin skinned, slim cucumbers with very tiny seeds and firm, crunchy, juicy flesh. They are mildly sweet with no trace of bitterness. They come from Japan and are my favourite cucumber variety. Use whatever variety is available to you, as long as you enjoy it.
Drink Pairings: For whites, I would suggest Sauvignon Blanc, dry Riesling, Gewurztraminer if in a flighty mood. For reds, a dry, fizzy Italian Lambrusco or a Rhone Valley rose such as Tavel. If you don't like wine, a really cold, Asian beer is never wrong with spicy seafood. Alcohol a no-no? Cold San Pellegrino with a lime wedge would totally rock this.