Note: This is installment #4 in the “Fridge to Fork” series. Here are installments #1, #2, and #3 for those who may want to read a matched set. Since at the moment, we’re fully entrenched in a gluten and casein free diet trial for our older child — and it happens to be the last concert week of the season for my choral group, meaning that I’m rehearsing with the Philharmonic pretty much every night this week — this meal needed to be simple, healthy, and totally without wheat and dairy. Luckily, it tasted good, too. (You could also substitute any meat you’d like for the shrimp, but we’re seafood eaters, and shrimp cooks QUICKLY.)
I had a pound of deveined shrimp in the freezer, which I thawed in the refrigerator while I was at work. A quick rinse under cold water and a minute or so of peeling (which you could, of course, avoid by purchasing peeled shrimp) got them ready to go. They waited on their paper towel padding, releasing the last of the water, while I got some quinoa cooking. (I had a picture of that, but quinoa cooking is really no more exciting than water boiling.)
Often, when we do lettuce wraps, I tend towards Asian flavors; but tonight I wanted something different. I grabbed paprika, chili flakes, and saffron from the spice rack and got to work with the shrimp. Really, it’s so simple to pull this together that it’s almost embarrassing: Just heat up some olive oil in a skillet, add a few cloves of chopped garlic (or, in our case, MANY cloves of chopped garlic, because we are either scared of vampires or really into garlic in our food), and throw the shrimp into the mix. They only need to cook for a few minutes, until they’re pink; as they’re getting their blush on, add 1/4 tsp. of chili flakes, 1 1/2 tsp. of paprika, and 1/2 tsp. of crumbled saffron threads to the pan. You’ll also want to season generously with salt and pepper.
While the shrimp are taking their brief turn in the pan, you’ll have just enough time to dismantle some vegetables. There’s no need to cook anything. Peel the leaves off a head of butter or bibb lettuce, leaving them as intact as possible for wrapping purposes. Cut a bell pepper or two into matchsticks, then do the same to a few carrots (you could also grate the carrots, if you’re not great with a knife). Slice, dice, or otherwise make a cucumber into little pieces — we use English cucumbers because not only are the skins nice and edible, but there are very few seeds in them, so they’re easier to deal with and more pleasant to eat.
Throw all the vegetables onto a plate. I mean, arrange them neatly on an attractive platter. Yeah. That’s better.
By this point in time, the quinoa that’s been quietly and secretly cooking in the background of all this lettuce-wrap business should be just about done. I usually go ahead and cook mine with a little olive oil, garlic, and homemade chicken stock, so it’s already flavored when I spoon it out of the pan and into a serving bowl. Less work for me, more yum for the family.
Ready for the final tasks in this oh-so-challenging meal? Grate a little lemon zest — don’t bother measuring, just use about half of the lemon — into the shrimp pan. Squeeze that same half of the lemon over the top. Get the shrimp into a serving bowl or onto a plate. Take everything to the table. Place the back of your hand to your forehead and let everyone make sympathetic noises about how hard you worked to cook a healthy, from-scratch dinner for them.
Then fill your lettuce leaves with a whole bunch of stuff, wrap it all up like a taco, and bite in. J. and I happen to like these with just a dash of hot sauce, and if we’d had an avocado in the house, you can bet it would have gone on top. But you can fill YOUR lettuce wraps any way you’d like to. I’ll never know.