Tapado: Caribbean Coconut Fish and Plantain Soup

 

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Somehow we ended up with a table-full of green plantains last night, which it turns out are NOT the ones you make yummy sweet fried plantains with. Is that common knowledge? I felt totally uninformed and unworthy of my food blogger status. Well, now I know (and so do you!).

The internet told me I could deep fry them, tostones style, or make a dough out of them and stuff them with meat or whatever, bolo style. All options sounded fine, but in a eureka moment, I remembered cooking with green plantains once (I think they were green bananas then, but I believe they can be used fairly interchangeably), at a very steamy cooking class in Livingston, Guatemala.

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I got out my journal, go me for being obsessive about notebooking, and immediately found the recipe I jotted down after the class. It was a very simple affair, made of what was local and available, namely lots of coconuts and fresh fish, with very little else.

Livingston, Guatemala is totally different from the rest of the country. It’s a Garífuna enclave on the Carribean coast, where it is steamy, humid, and damn tropical. Almost all food has to be brought in by boat and is hence pretty pricey. Its budding tourism industry is one of the prime sources of income for the area, but there’s not much to do in the oppressive heat — despite being on the coast, the only nice beach is accessible only by boat and the hostel options are all of the dreaded “party” variety, where invariably some huge Australian dude has slept all day and now has 40s of beer taped to his hands and is challenging other dudes into pull-up contests. #yolo #traveltolearnaboutothercultures #ohmy.

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Some enterprising folks at Rasta Mesa started a cooking class to teach us bumblers how to make the traditional and ubiquitous soup of the region, tapado. It was a laid-back, steamy afternoon, with children running around and intermittently (and impressively) playing drums. “Class” was in the loosest sense of the word — I got the feeling the instructors were just making themselves dinner and we were around to help chop some vegetables and maybe babysit. Which was totally fine with me. The experience was only tainted by the one hostelbro who decided to get over his hangover, leave the hostel for the first time, accompany us to class, and flirt with all the women present. Despite his presence, it was a tranquil and delicious afternoon that I’m glad has come back to me.

tapado-4Note on recipe: When we made this in Guatemala, we used small white fish, hacked into thirds, with their bones and eyeballs still intact. The versions I saw around town had all sorts of seafood; I decided to use just shrimp but use whatever you prefer. For a vegan meal, you could use roasted sweet potatoes or green pepper chunks instead of fish. If you don’t have access to green plantains, don’t use bananas or yellow plantains, they’re too sweet and soft. The green variety is not sweet at all — it’s very starchy. Try subbing potatoes or yuca.

one year ago: rice noodle salad with carrot-ginger dressing and unstuffed eggplant with yogurt sauce 
two years ago: kale Caesar salad and black bean mango corn salad
three years ago: easy rhubarb cake and roasted beets + greens with mint yogurt sauce

more Guatemalan food: rellenitos de plátano (for when you need to get rid of yellow plantains) and quichon de verduras (Mayan veggie stew) 

Tapado

adapted from cooking class at Rasta Mesa

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound raw shrimp (mine were tail-free but either way is fine)
Pinch each of: garlic powder, granulated onion powder, cayenne
Salt
1 onion, diced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped (save the juices)
1 jalapeño, diced
2 cans full fat coconut milk
Small handful fresh basil leaves
2 green plantains, peeled and in bite-sized chunks
Juice from ½ a lime
Chopped basil and/or cilantro, to serve (optional, but nice)
Cooked white rice, to serve

Heat a big saute pan (for which you have a lid) over a high heat. Toss shrimp in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of oil, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, and salt. Add to very hot pan and cook on each side for just 2-3 minutes, or until they just turn pink. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to same pan. Lower to medium heat. Add onion and a bit of salt, and scrape up any bits left by the shrimp. Cook onion for 3-4 minutes, or until it’s just turning translucent. Add tomatoes and their juices and jalapeño. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the onion and tomato have broken down and become somewhat jammy.

Add both cans of coconut milk, one can’s-worth of water, small handful whole basil leaves, the green plantains, and bunch of salt. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until plantains are totally cooked. Partially mash some of the plantains with the back of a wooden spoon to thicken the soup. Add lime juice and shrimp — cook for another 2 minutes or so until shrimp are reheated.

To serve, ladle into a bowl, add a spoonful of white rice, and sprinkle with fresh basil and cilantro.

 

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Italian Egg Drop Soup

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I haven’t posted here since 45’s inauguration. It has felt… inappropriate, I guess. Like, don’t I have something better to do with myself than take photos of food, obsess over editing them, and write these ditties? There are environments to protect, women to march with, immigrants and Muslims to use my voice to shout with. There are politicians to be called, postcards to be written, articles to read and discuss, news briefings to shake my head to and hold back tears. There are “resistance” book clubs to organize and political arts events to attend. There are science and arts budgets and Planned Parenthood to defend. It just seemed like documenting my most recent grain-and-roasted-beet-bowl would seem … inappropriate.

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And then — someone (not sure who) found the Swanky Sweet Potato Instagram account I started well over a year ago but never followed through with. (I thought that shit was private, oops.) And although it’s silly — like, the silliest ever — these continuing notifications about people who have started following the Instagram account for this little blog are convincing me to get my butt back at it. Peer pressure — it works. So you, you out there… you like these rambles? These photos and recipes? You’re okay being distracted from the headlines and the John Oliver monologues and the protests to read a little ditty about soup? Well, okay, you’re right. Sometimes we do just need to think about soup. I will keep the soup coming.

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This soup says spring is on its way, loud and clear. Fresh spring onion, tender greens, parsley, and egg — it is bright, clean, and wholesome. (Also, curiously, has a lot of overlap with what you’d find at a Passover seder. Coincidental, I swear.) Eat it and you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself than after you eat the gloopy, flavorless, plastic-packaged variety from your local take-out joint, promise. And hopefully also more equipped and ready to handle the unending sea of stupidity and devastation that 45 is serving up daily (though this part I can’t promise). 

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one year ago: roasted chickpea and kale stuffed sweet potatoes with tahini sauce and charred chipotle broccoli tacos
two years ago: simple pasta with smoked scamorza cheese and tomatoes

Italian Egg Drop Soup

adapted from Serious Eats

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 spring onion (or regular), bulb and light green parts, chopped small
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
7-8 Swiss chard leaves, stems minced and leaves chiffonaded (see here for how-to!)
4 cups broth + 2-3 cups water (or use broth cubes)
Dash of (freshly grated) nutmeg
1 14-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup small uncooked pasta (I used orecchiette)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 eggs
Juice from ½ a lemon
Big handful chopped parsley
Cheese to sprinkle, optional (parmesan is typical, I’ve used both swiss and cheddar)
s&p

In a big soup pot, heat up the olive oil. Add onion (bulb + light green part), garlic, and pepper flakes and sauté on medium heat for about 4 minutes, until translucent. Add the chard stems and a big sprinkle of salt (not leaves yet!) and cook for another 3 minutes.

Next, add broth and/or water, nutmeg, chickpeas, and pasta. Cover and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, uncover and cook at a rollicking boil for another 3 minutes. Add soy sauce and cook for another 2 minutes. Next add Swiss chard greens, return to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes.

Beat eggs together in a spouted measuring cup. Turn down to a simmer and pour eggs into soup while stirring continuously. Cook for another two minutes. Just before serving add a big grind of black pepper, lemon juice, and parsley. Top individual portions with cheese if desired.

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Black-Eyed Pea New Year’s Stew

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The day before New Year’s Eve, my co-worker told me she had so much prep cooking to do that night. Not someone I had pegged to be a big cook, I asked what all she needed to do. She told me that every year she has a tradition of making black-eyed peas, greens, and noodles (from her Southern and Chinese heritage) for the new year. I love this idea of canonized end of the year traditions, but the furthest I ever get is rereading last year’s list of goals and usually rewriting many of the same ones. (“Restring guitar”, “get better at yoga”, and “think about grad school” have all graced each list from the past three years…) Inspired by her lead, I decided to play around with these simple ingredients.

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I’d heard of the black-eyed pea tradition before; supposedly it is lucky to eat them on New Year’s Day because the spotted peas look like coins (and who wouldn’t want a little more of that in the coming year). According to this article, looks like the Jews started this tradition over 1500 years ago, eating the peas on Rosh Hashanah. (Don’t know if I buy that, though.) It may have come to America in the early 1700s with the Sephardic Jews or (seemingly more likely) as part of the slave route; regardless, it has evolved into a classic Southern soul food tradition.

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I’ve also heard of noodles being lucky — I’ve repeatedly been tempted by the “longevity noodle” dish at Biang! that looks like a whole platter of noodles but is in fact just one very long one that comes with a pair of scissors. Long noodles represent a long life, as long as you slurp them up in one mouthful and don’t chop them off partway. Makes sense to start a new year with an ode to long life.

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And the greens I’m a little confused about. I think they also represent wealth (greens=the color of money?), but for me, they will represent a pledge to eat healthfully in the coming year. Combine these three together, and I give you… quick and simple black-eyed pea stew! Perfect for New Year’s, or really any time you need a quick meal. The peas are traditionally cooked with some sort of pig product; I added smoked paprika and liquid smoke to replicate some of that flavor. (Although Daniel did put bacon on top of his bowl and was pretty happy about it.) To be honest, we both enjoyed this more with rice, but if you want the lucky triple whammy, spaghetti away! Nothing like a symbolic meal to start this uncertain year off on the right foot.

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one year ago: …I was in Guatemala and didn’t update the blog, BUT let me take this moment to let you know I JUST updated my Recipes page! check it out! 
two years ago: Bengali egg curry 

Black-Eyed Pea New Year’s Stew

a Swanky original

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped small
1 bell pepper (preferably red but other colors work fine), chopped same size as onion
1 rib of celery, chopped same size as onion
1 jalapeño, some seeds removed, minced
2 big cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 small tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup veggie broth
1 can black-eyed peas (don’t toss the liquid!)
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (optional, but adds nice smokiness)
2-4 cups kale, ribs moved and torn into bite sized pieces
Fresh parsley
s&p

Heat olive oil in a medium large pot over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, celery, and jalapeño and sauté for 6-8 minutes, or until veggies have softened and onion has become translucent. Add garlic, smoked paprika, thyme, and a bit of salt and pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until garlic is fragrant and veggies are evenly coated in spice mixture.

Next, add in the chopped tomatoes and their juices, broth, black-eyed peas and the liquid in the can, and the liquid smoke, if using. Add a bunch of salt here too. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until peas soften and most of the liquid evaporates.

Right before serving, still with pot on medium, add in your kale and stir until it wilts, about 3-5 minutes. Serve with rice or spaghetti and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

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Mizuna Miso Soup

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I made this soup while listening to the 2003 All American Reject’s self-titled album (“Swing, Swing“, anyone?). Man, if there were ever an album to bring me back to a specific time, this is it. I remember choosing it for myself at a CD store, not knowing who they were but wanting to find an “indie” band that none of my friends liked yet so I could be cool. (Was indie a word in 2003?) My 8th grade bestie sat next to me on our field trip to Montreal, me listening to my beloved All American Rejects and her listening to Simple Plan. We both thought ours was the way better option. I was devastated when their next album came out, a total pop-y cop-out in my mind; why oh why did beautiful Oklahoman blue-eyed bassist/lead singer Ty have to get so mainstream? Ugh.

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The album popped into my head today because of a wily connect-the-dot narrative. Last night some friends and I went to see the brilliant ‘70s movie Dune (please read: not-so-brilliant) at the actually brilliant bar Syndicated in Bushwick, where they show old movies in a beautiful space for just $3 and you can order food and drinks while you watch) (this time I do actually mean brilliant). And “syndicated” rhymes with “vindicated” which leads me to that Dashboard Confessional song, which was a pretty big deal during freshman year student council, so obviously I had to listen to it to remind myself of the words (all I could remember was “I am, vindicated, I am la di da di dahhhhh,” which Daniel got fairly tired of hearing on repeat), and so one thing led to the next and voila, All American Rejects-underscored soup-making.

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Which is all a way to say, this soup is easy. Really easy. You can make it while floating down memory lane and singing song lyrics you haven’t encountered in over a decade (shudder). This sort of soup been a go-to around here lately, with me throwing in any veggie odds and ends that I find in the fridge. The only necessary bits are the miso, something green, and some sort of noodles (although I think the tofu really makes it and would never miss an opportunity to add toasted sesame oil to my food).

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one year ago: that time I made a wedding cake (also) tomatillo peach salsa
two years ago: spicy micheladas

Mizuna Miso Soup

Inspired by justhungry
Makes a very hearty lunch for 2, but probably should be closer to 3-4 servings.

5 cups water
2 packets dashi stock  (or try with a simple veggie broth)
1 carrot, peeled and ribboned with your peeler
1 scallion, minced
¼ c firm or extra firm tofu in small cubes
80 g soba noodles (one bundle)
½ bunch mizuna, chopped into thirds, abt 2-3 cups, divided (or another tender green)
2 tablespoons miso
Soy sauce, a drizzle

Optional toppings
½ a sheet of nori, torn into strips
Lime wedges
Sesame seeds
Toasted sesame oil
Sriracha

Bring water to a boil in a medium-large soup pot. Add dashi stock powder and stir until it dissolves. Lower heat to medium-high. Add carrot and scallion. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add tofu and soba noodles and cook for another 4 minutes. Add most of your mizuna and immediately bring heat to low.

Put miso in a small bowl and add about a tablespoon of broth from the soup pot. Mix with a spoon or chopsticks until an even paste forms (no clumps!). Pour miso into soup pot and stir to disperse. Heat for another 2 minutes on medium-low heat. Don’t let soup come to a boil once you add miso or it will kill all its beautiful health qualities. Give soup a try — depending on your miso it may be plenty salty. If not, pour in a healthy glug of soy sauce.

Spoon soup into a bowl and top with nori, lime, sesame seeds, and reserved mizuna, chopped small. If you’d like, drizzle in sriracha or a tiny bit of toasted sesame oil.

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Roasted Eggplant and Pepper Soup with Orzo

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As soon as that well-deserved mythical short-lived apparition called Spring in New York City appears, I notice my fellow city-dwellers in what can only be called trendy clothes. Gone are the layers of coats, grandma hats, tights-under-leggings-under-jeans, and here is…fashion. As someone not particularly privy to this world of fashion, due to a combination of genes, money, and just not caring very much, I still feel the pull to present myself as, well, presentable. And instead of rushing to a thrift shop or *gasp* an actual store with regulated price tags and employees who are really freaking good at folding, I head to the strange and wonderful world of the back of my closet.

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And so this is how, year after year, I find myself wearing this same dumb light purple, zip-up, three-quarters sleeved, stretchy-fabric abomination. Originally purchased circa 2005 at Marshalls/TJMaxx, the shirt has since made an appearance in my senior yearbook photo and whenever I try something high-waisted.

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Today is one of those days. Today I feel 10 years younger, stressing out about my geometry test and writing notes to the cute boys who would play poker during class as our batty teacher Mrs. Corbasero looked the other way and I memorized lines for my Starring Role of the Moment, and I angstily daydreamed about moving to New York City and Living the Life, which probably involved frosting for breakfast and a movie star boyfriend. Well, 10 year ago me, frosting for breakfast leads to expensive dental appointments and actors (tend to) suck as boyfriends. Try soup instead. (And programmer-climber-photographers.)

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leftover vegetable-skin detritus has taken over the table.

This soup is goooood. For dinner or breakfast or whenever. It tastes freaking delicious and doesn’t give a shit about your 15-year-old (or 25-year-old) insecurities. Also I didn’t follow a recipe, so who needs math now, Mrs. Corbasero?

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Roasted Eggplant and Pepper Soup with Orzo 

a Swanky original

3 bell peppers (I did 2 red and 1 green)
1 large eggplant
olive oil
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
3 sprigs rosemary
1 head garlic (or ¾ of a head, if that’s what you’ve got…)
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 T sherry
½ c dried orzo
1.5-2 c veggie broth
¼ c parsley, roughly chopped, plus extra for garnish
1 big T tahini

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Okay, you’ve gotta roast 4(!) separate vegetables. But don’t worry; it’s easy! Stick all trays in the oven at the same time.

  1. Arrange whole peppers on roasting tray. Stick in oven. Turn peppers every 12 minutes or so with tongs. Don’t worry when skin darkens. Peppers are done when they’re completely charred, anywhere from 35-50 minutes. Out of the oven, wrap peppers individually in foil and let sit for about 10-15 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Peel, discard skins, and roughly chop. Two peppers will be pureed for soup; 1 should be reserved to give texture (if that’s your kinda thang…)
  2. Cut stem and bottom off eggplant. Cut in half lengthwise. Score inch-thick diagonal lines across eggplant halves, careful not to pierce skin. Working quickly, rub olive oil on scored flesh; about 1-2 t per side. Place on roasting sheet, cut side down, and stick in oven. Eggplant is done when skin is puckered and flesh is soupy and browned. Depending on the size of your eggplant, this could take anywhere from 20-40 minutes. Check frequently! After eggplant cools for 5 minutes or so, scoop flesh into a bowl; discard skins.
  3. Cut garlic head in half lengthwise. Rub with olive oil and s&p; wrap in foil. Toss in oven (on eggplant or pepper tray) for 45-60 minutes. When cool enough to touch, smoosh out individual roasted segments and add to eggplant. Discard skins.
  4. Drain canned tomatoes, reserving liquid. Cut tomatoes in half; place on a third roasting tray with rosemary, a drizzle of olive oil, and s&p. Cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are a bit browned and shrunken. Discard rosemary.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot with 1 T olive oil to medium-low heat. Add onions and a big t salt and sauté for about 10 minutes. Add carrots; cook for another 10 minutes. Add sherry, scraping up any browned bits that have stuck to the pot. Keep on a low flame until ready to use.

In small saucepan, cook orzo according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Once all parts are ready, it’s blender time! Combine: eggplant, roasted peppers (reserving one to give the soup some texture), half of roasted tomatoes, most of onion-carrot mixture, 1.5 c broth, and parsley. Puree until smooth, adding extra broth and s&p as needed.

Pour pureed soup over remaining onion-carrot mixture in big pot; add sliced roasted peppers, chopped roasted tomatoes, tahini, ¼ c tomato liquids, s&p. Simmer together until warmed through.

Serve topped with orzo and chopped parsley.

Cilantro Quinoa Soup with Spicy Pan Seared Shrimp and Corn

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One summer when I was in college, my sister and I went to Ecuador. Highlights of the trip included an Amazonian tour guide singing “My Heart Will Go On” in Spanish as he rowed the two us back to civilization, playing barefoot volleyball on a deserted stretch of beach and needing to continually run into the sharp “pica pica” plants to fetch the ball, and peeing from a composting toilet in the Andes, where the mountains and fields literally sprawled out from the bathroom’s edge.

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a pee with a view!

The trip was all roses until the last night, when our evil hostel-mate in Quito stole Rachel’s cell phone. After Rachel had continuously berated me the whole trip for misplacing passports, money, cameras, bus tickets, etc. I would like to state for the record that even though my things get disorganized, I don’t lose them. Preach it.

The culinary high point of the trip for me was consuming the world’s most perfect scrambled eggs in a rundown roadside inn outside Papallacta. This is not a knock at the food I ate in Ecuador, it’s just that those eggs were SO GOOD. I would give anything to know the secret (probably minutes-old eggs and more butter than I want to think about.) I also fondly remember dinner from the night we stayed at the hostel connected to the World’s Most Beautiful Bathroom. It was a simple brothy quinoa stew, probably made with vegetables from the yard and quinoa from the neighboring hilly farm patches.

This version is similarly simple and delicious. We used spicy pan-fried shrimp and corn from the cob, but you could easily add stewed chicken, avocado, little potatoes, cotija cheese. Etc.

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Quinoa Cilantro Soup with Corn and Spicy Pan-Seared Shrimp
from palate/palette/plate

olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 box (4 cups) veggie broth
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves (1 big bunch, or 1.5 smaller bunches)
1 T ground coriander
1/2 t ground Ancho chili powder
s&p
1 lime
3 ears of corn
1/2 pound of raw jumbo shrimp (about 10)
1 t dried chili pepper flakes
1 t smoked paprika

In a medium large pot, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add onions and garlic and cook on medium-high heat until the onions start to soften and everything smells good, about 5 minutes. Add the quinoa and stir constantly for a minute, until the quinoa is incorporated, toasty, and evenly coated. Next add broth, cilantro, and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, and then simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes, until quinoa is cooked. Keep an eye on it, and add water or extra broth if too much liquid evaporates.

Meanwhile, cook corn in desired methods. We simply husked the ears and boiled them, and then cut kernels off the cob and it was delicious. Feel free to roast or grill instead.

Five minutes before soup is ready, prepare shrimp. Heat a large pan til it’s super steamy hot. Meanwhile, shell shrimp and rinse. Coat with olive oil, pepper flakes, and smoked paprika. Pour into pan and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until just pink and cooked throughout. (Perhaps a wise idea to disconnect your fire alarm before attempting.)

Before serving, add chili powder, coriander, and juice from a lime. Spoon into bowls and top with extra chopped cilantro, shrimp, and corn!

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SIDENOTE: This is the artichoke we ate as an appetizer. It’s just so darn cute.

Also it was only $1. Somehow, I’ve never made myself artichokes before and had to call my Mom to ask a) how to cook them, and b) her amazing sauce recipe from my childhood. Turns out it’s just mayo + lemon juice. But ya know what tasted great as a 10 year old also tastes great as a 24 year old. Thank goodness.

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LIKE, OMG, DON’T YOU WANT TO EAT THIS?! cooking quinoa ain’t a pretty task but someone’s gotta do it