Anyway, too much sitting and not enough moving has been the order of my days, so when Jeff asked me if I wanted to go on a hike with him, I knew I had to do it. This winter "muffin top" was beginning to feel like an alien, and I'm not going to stop enjoying my food. So the only option is to chug up a mountain. Or two. Grumbling and complaining all the way, of course, but smiling, too. And asking Jeff to please get the car and bring it so that I wouldn't have to walk back.
Now, I may walk like I've got a Rotweiller chasing me, but when it comes to hiking into canyons or up mountains, I've never been particularly speedy. I remember taking a hike in Bandolier National Monument with a group of people ranging in age from about 25 to 65. We spent hours hiking down into this canyon and exploring the caves, and then we hiked back out towards the end of the day. I was one of the younger people in the group, and I was the next to last one out, preceded by all those in their 60s. I was huffing and puffing my way to the top, and they were all grinning and drinking deeply from their canteens by the time I got to the parking lot.
The main difference between then and now is the food waiting for me when I got home. Back in those days, Bob did the cooking, and I never grew tired of it. Now I'm the one in the kitchen, trying to come up with variations on a theme. And recently that theme seems to be fish. Any and all kinds, with or without a shell - halibut, shrimp, scallops, tuna - anything from the sea. I think it might have been my friend Kathye's birthday party that started it. She had ordered a shrimp cocktail as one of the hors d'oevres, and when I tasted one of those giant shrimp......well, as they say, the rest is history. But a shrimp cocktail can only take you so far. After a while, I started casting around for something else to do with shrimp. Somehow I decided to cast my eyes towards Africa for inspiration.
In northern Algeria as well as Tunisia and Morocco, every village and family makes it's own charmoula - a marinade used mostly to flavor fish (though it can be used for other things as well). It's made primarily of oil, lemon juice and herbs and spices - garlic, cumin, coriander, etc. In other words, it is to north African cuisine, what Masala is to Indian food.
I found the recipe for this particular version of charmoula in the February issue of Gourmet. It was perfect, as I had all of the ingredients except the shrimp and shallots, and Whole Foods is a mere 10 minute walk from my house - on pavement. Flat pavement, in fact!
1 lb large shrimp in shell (21 to 25 per lb), peeled, leaving tail fan attached, and deveined
3 large shallots, finely chopped (1 cup)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small leek (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 fresh serrano chile (optional), seeded and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons mild honey
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro
Cook shrimp in a large pot of boiling water until just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and cool.
Cook shallots in 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until very tender, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, wash leek and pat dry.
Add leek, garlic, and chile (if using) to shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add paprikas and turmeric and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and juice, honey, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 cup oil.
Toss shrimp with sauce in a glass or ceramic bowl and marinate, covered and chilled, at least 8 hours. Season with salt and serve in sauce. This will keep in the fridge for an extra day, especially if your shrimp is very fresh. You could serve this as is, with a side of salad or asparagus (another "must have" on my list these days). Or you could top a salad with this. In either case, you will have charmoula left over. I tossed mine into some rice along with a few frozen peas (and leftover asparagus, of course).
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