Think Tropical

By Beacon Staff

I’m in a tropical mood these days because, as I write this, it’s just a few days until I’ll be leaving on an annual vacation to the tropics – an island known to many as “The Gastronomic Capital of the Caribbean” – and my next couple of columns will be written from there.

Frequently I’ll think – and eat – tropical because the fresh fish and seafood, fruits, herbs and other flavorings always stimulate the taste buds uniquely. Exploring tropical cuisines is always adventurous because over the centuries the islands of the world have incorporated so many cuisines from both the conquerors and the conquered.

The nice thing is you don’t actually need to be in the tropics to have the taste of the tropics on your dinner table tonight. With readily available ingredients in every supermarket, you can duplicate the flavors easily. Ethnic food sections expand as our tastes and immigrant populations expand.

The particular dish that I want you to try blends a number of elements from at least four different cuisines to achieve sweetness, spiciness and richness, as well as a feeling of satisfaction once you’ve eaten your dinner.

This dish plays on the Italian concept of risotto, except that you do not have to make regular additions of liquid or stir continually as you would were you using the traditional risotto recipe. The creaminess of the rice in this dish comes from the addition of coconut milk.

Mild or sweet curry powder plays a role as well, as does pineapple – both the crushed fruit and the juice. And the mild heat (you can make it more intense if you like) comes from canned green chilies.

So there you have Italy, India, Thailand, Hawaii, and more all coming together in one pot to make a delicious tropical shrimp “stew.”

Try it, close your eyes and let the aroma and flavors carry you to an island paradise and forget the bitter cold of winter.

Here’s my recipe for Tropical Shrimp Stew:
2 lbs. Roma tomatoes
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1 15-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup long grain white rice
1 4-oz. can chopped green chilies
1 8-oz. can crushed pineapple in juice (reserve 1/4 cup of the juice)
2 Tbsp. curry powder (sweet or mild)
1 tsp. salt
12 ounces cooked shrimp
1/4 cup water

Core tomatoes, chop and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and chopped tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened, about 3 minutes. Add coconut milk, rice, chilies, pineapple juice, 1/4 cup water, the curry powder and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover and simmer until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in the shrimp and crushed pineapple and simmer briefly until the shrimp are warmed through, taking care not to overcook them, just about 1 minute.