After a long winter filled with incalculable amounts of beans, hearty soups and depressing tomatoes, it’s time to lighten up. As soon as I can go outside without layers of down and wool I begin fantasizing about the culinary possibilities. Strawberries! Rhubarb! Tomatoes! Usually I get ahead of myself, and this was especially true this year. After all, I was wearing a winter parka deep into April. With the unrelenting cold, things have been slow to emerge, but there are signs of life. Asparagus and rhubarb, the earliest of the spring vegetables, are beginning to make an appearance.
Also back to my local farmers market is Blue Moon Fish, purveyors of immaculate seafood fresh from the Atlantic. I was feeling giddy when the temperature was over 60 degrees and splurged on some lovely scallops from Blue Moon. Scallops are great because they require minimal preparation and cook in minutes. Before cooking, be sure to remove the little muscle that’s attached to the side of the scallop. While perfectly edible, it’s rubbery when cooked. And so are over-cooked scallops, so keep an eye on these babies!
For the following recipe I went a little crazy with some obscure ingredients. My local grocery store happened to have lemongrass and galangal, so I picked up both. I’m including the details of these ingredients here more as a novelty than a necessity. Consider my experiments a few minutes shaved off your own prep time if you’re not feeling adventurous and prefer to skip these ingredients.
Lemongrass is not a citrus at all, but an edible variety of grass native to Asia and common in cuisines from that region (especially Thailand and Vietnam). To prepare, first peel off a couple of the tough outer layers, and then slice it, beginning from the bottom. Then finely chop the slices.
Galangal, also a native of Asia, is a relative of ginger. You can see from the photo that they look quite similar (the large piece on the left is ginger, the two smaller pieces on the right are galangal). Galangal’s skin is waxier than ginger, and the flesh itself is much harder. I grated it with a metal box grater, but I had to put a lot of elbow grease into it. To be honest, I don’t think galangal is worth going out of the way for (apologies to galangal lovers). The flavor itself is more sharp and bitter than ginger, and most store-bought Thai curry pastes incorporate galangal into the recipe anyway.
I served these scallops with asparagus, fresh from New Jersey, and a ginger mango red rice, though any rice, white, brown, jasmine, etc. will do.
Scallops for Springtime (serves about 4)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 lb scallops
2 tsp finely chopped lemongrass (optional)
1 Tbsp ginger or galangal
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 ½ cups cups coconut milk
¼ cup lime juice
3 Tbsp green Thai green chili paste (more or less, depending on how spicy you like it and the brand you’re using. I used Thai kitchen, which I find pretty wimpy.)
Fresh cilantro and basil for garnish
In a large skillet, heat oil on medium high heat. Place scallops in pan, but don’t crowd them; they like a little breathing room! Cook on one side until browned, about one-and-a-half minutes. Flip them over and do the same on the other side. Once they are nicely browned on both sides, remove them from the pan and place on a plate.
Add a tiny bit more oil to the pan if necessary, and then add your mixture of garlic, lemongrass (if using) and ginger, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add in the curry paste, the coconut milk and lime juice. Whisk the mixture so the curry paste is incorporated into the liquid and bring to a gentle boil. This should only take a minute or two.
Add the scallops to heat through, only another minute or two, and add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh chopped basil and cilantro and serve.
Ginger Mango Rice
1 cup rice of your choice (I used Bhutan red rice.)
1 1/2 cups water (or whatever the package directions indicate)
1 T grated ginger
1/3 cup diced mango (Fresh or frozen is fine. No need to defrost first if using frozen mango.)
Combine rice, water, ginger and mango in pot and cook according to package directions (usually about 25-35 minutes).
Rinse the stalks really well; they tend to have a lot of grit or sand in the tops. You can even soak them in a bowl of water, changing the water if necessary. Once clean, snap off the woody ends; they will naturally break where the tough part ends and the edible, tender stalk begins. Place in a steamer basket in a large pot with an inch or two of water in it and steam just until bright green, usually about 5-7 minutes, depending on how thick the stalks are. Don’t overcook!