Recipe Makeover: Shrimp with Turmeric and Kaffir Lime Leaves

My Kaffir Lime tree (best xmas present ever) has gotten a little leggy, so it was time to prune it back. So what can I do with a few leaves on a weeknight?  I feel like making a curry or tom yam soup, so I hit the Google. I have some frozen shrimp, and some about-to-bolt lettuce in the garden, so what could I do for a light meal with what I had?

I came up with two recipes: One from Ming Tsai which sounded simple but perhaps not very adventurous, and one from a spice company that added a couple more flavors in that sounded like they’d work together well. I then kicked it up a little bit (neither recipe used fish sauce? no garlic?), making the flavors closer to tom som (green papaya salad). This made a nice light meal for two, with a little left over for lunch.

Sorry, no photos today — we ate it too quickly.

Recipe: Shrimp with Turmeric and Kaffir Lime Leaves

12 oz (340g) frozen shrimp, thawed, peeled, deveined
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1/2 to 1 jalapeno chile, sliced into rings
2 full (double) kaffir lime leaves, center vein removed and shredded
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric
a few grinds of black pepper
juice of 2 limes
1 Tbs fish sauce

3 cups leaf lettuce, cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/3 cup scallions, sliced into fine rings
juice of 1.5 limes
2 Tbs (30ml) olive oil
large pinch of sugar
pinch of salt and a few more grinds of pepper
2 full (double) kaffir lime leaves, center vein removed and minced

  1. Combine the shrimp, onion, chile, shredded leaves, turmeric, pepper, the juice of two limes and fish sauce in a nonreactive bowl and marinate for ten minutes.
  2. While the shrimp marinate, prepare the salad using the rest of the ingredients.  Toss to mix flavors
  3. Heat a large nonstick pan on medium-high heat with the oil
  4. Drain and discard any liquid from the marinading bowl, and add everything but the shrimp to the hot pan, stir fry until the onions have softened just a bit (a minute or so)
  5. Add the shrimp and continue to stir fry until they are opaque
  6. Remove from heat
  7. Distribute the salad on plates, top with the cooked shrimp/onion/chile


Tiger Cry Beef

Tiger Cry Beef – from “Simple Thai Food” by Leela Punyaratabandhu

Last week, a beautiful new cookbook arrived, authored by fellow Chicago-area cook Leela Punyaratabandhu. You may know her better as “SheSimmers” – a blog on home Thai cooking. The day I received it, I made a batch of Panang (Phanaeng) Curry, which I didn’t photograph, and last night a batch of Tiger Cry Beef. There’s no doubt in my mind that this book is a winner. Continue reading

Shrimp DeJonghe with Beagle

True love means no restaurants on Valentine’s Day

For many years now, we’ve decided not to fight crowds for “special” (read overpriced and overdramatic) Valentine’s Day menus, and made dinner at home.  Which is why we had Steak ‘n’ Shake the night before.

Often the Valentine’s Day dinner will be lamb chops (Costco’s loin chops the shape of the Great Pyramid of Cheops are a frequent feature)… this year I said, “Wow, it’s been a long time since we’ve had Shrimp DeJonghe.” The point is that it’s a lot more romantic to serve each other.

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Begin the Tagine – A Slow (Cooker) Dance

Monday night, I had an urge to make a tagine – the sweet warm spices, long cooked to make a relief to this endless Chicago winter. I didn’t have time to prep it before the workday ended, so it got put off to Tuesday.

There’s something amazing about the profile of sweet spices that appears in Persian and Moroccan cuisine (with a few similar dishes in the Indian and Middle Eastern kitchens). Fruits, cinnamon… and meat?  In the words of Anthony Bourdain, “Yes, Please!”

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That’s not Kung Pao! (but this is)

I really want to memorize the following Chinese phrase:

Zhè bùshì gōng bǎo jī dīng. Nǐ de zǔxiān huì gǎndào xiūchǐ.
(That’s not Kung Pao Chicken. Your ancestors would be ashamed.)

The number of times I have ordered Kung Pao chicken in a Chinese restaurant and not received it is, sadly, far too often. My first exposure to it, and Sichuan cooking, was a place called Mandarin Village in Northbrook, IL, in the mid 1970s (but long since gone). My favorites there were Kung Pao Chicken, and Beef with White Onion.  The latter was a sesame-oil-rich dish with sweet sauteed onions, really very basic.  And the Kung Pao? It was also oily, and spicy, garlicky, with a hint of sweet and a hint of vinegar. Chicken. Peanuts. Scallions.  That’s it.

Only a couple places in Chicagoland are capable of it, and since they make so many other great Sichuan dishes, I don’t tend to order it (Lao Sze Chuan in Chicago’s Chinatown and elsewhere, and Asian Bistro in Arlington Heights). Everyone else makes the following errors, that basically boil down to “any old stir fry, with peanuts and chiles added.”

  • Vegetables by the dozens. Mushrooms, peapods, onion, bell pepper, carrot, bean sprouts, broccoli and that dreaded celery.  I can tolerate (and even like) some bell pepper and other crunchy veg, but this should be all about the chicken.
  • Slices of bland chicken breast. Nope. It should be precise cubes of thigh. It needs to taste of poultry.
  • Bland bland bland. Partly because all those veg are in there, and lousy chicken, but mainly because there’s not enough garlic and ginger, too little chile, and no vinegar. This shouldn’t be a mouth-searing spicy dish, but it should be pleasantly hot.
  • Glop. Too much cornstarch. This shouldn’t be a typical Chinese brown sauce.

So, I make it at home, using Fuschia Dunlops version, with a couple changes. The first time I made it from her book, Land of Plenty it was a revelation: This is the flavor I’ve been missing for about 30 years. I make this regularly, adding a bit of veg to fill it out and add more crunch — a separate green vegetable would be the right way, but this makes it a little easier for weeknight dinner.

Kung Pao Chicken

Serves 2 or 3. Adapted from Fuschia Dunlop.


About 3/4 lb (340g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs (breast permissible, but not as good)
3 cloves of garlic, chopped, and an equal amount of ginger
5 spring onions
4 tbs oil, divided
1/2 cup (50g or so) bell pepper, diced to 1/2″ (1.5cm)
1/2 cup (50g or so) carrot, cut into 1/2″ (1.5cm) cubes
about 10 chiles de arbol (if you can find Facing Heaven chiles, drop me a note)
2/3 cup (75g) roasted peanuts
½ tsp (2.5g) salt
2 tsp (10ml) soy sauce
1 tsp (5ml) Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry, but get the wine)
1½ tsp (7.5g) potato flour or a little more than that in cornstarch
1 tbsp (15ml) water
3 tsp (45g) sugar
¾ tsp (4g) potato flour, or a little more than that in cornstarch
2 tsp (10ml) soy sauce
3 tsp (15ml) Chinkiang vinegar — THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE
1 tsp (5ml) sesame oil
1 tbsp (15ml) water


  1. Trim any large pieces of fat from the chicken, then place it in the freezer in a single layer, for a half-hour to an hour to make slicing easier.
  2. Remove the stems from the chiles, and break into 1-2″ pieces, trying to keep as few of the seeds as possible
  3. Remove the whiskers from the scallions, and cut 1/2″ rounds, only into the areas where it’s still a solid round (I go a bit past the pure white, but not much).
  4. Place in a small bowl with the chopped garlic and ginger. You don’t want pressed garlic or grated ginger here, but chop into small pieces.
  5. Slice about half of the remaining greens parts of the scallions into very thin rings — about 1/4 cup (60ml) is plenty.
  6. Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a measuring cup.  Add the starch last, sprinkling while you stir vigorously, or you’ll get potato-starch dumplings.
    I keep meaning to try this with the starch left out, to see if I get the oily texture of Mandarin Village, but I never remember when I’m reading from Dunlop’s book.
  7. Remove the chicken from the freezer and dice into 1/2″ (1.5cm) pieces, trying to keep everything the same size.
  8. Place chicken in a bowl. Add the marinade ingredients and toss to mix. Allow to sit while the rest of the preparation is done
  9. Heat a wok on high heat for at least a minute. Add two tablespoons of oil, and allow it to heat up for 15 seconds or so. 
  10. Add the carrots and peppers, and stir-fry until they’re tender but still crisp. Remove to a serving dish.
  11. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, allow to get back to temperature.
  12. Add the chiles and allow to toast for about 15 seconds.  You can remove these to the serving dish to avoid scorching.
  13. Add the chicken and marinade, and spread in the wok.  Don’t stir too much initially, you want a little searing.  Turn them after about a half-minute, then stir fry until just opaque.
  14. Add the garlic, ginger and scallion disks, stir fry for a half minute
    This is another of the essential steps: cook the garlic and ginger at the start, like most stir-fries, and their flavor is mellowed out by the time the chicken is done. This keeps the garlic and ginger flavors strong.
  15. Pour the vegetables and peppers back into the wok and add the sauce (stirring first to distribute the starch), stir fry until it thickens
  16. Add the peanuts and scallion greens and serve

Note: Dunlop calls for Sichuan Peppercorns to be toasted with the chiles. I’m not fond of their texture (Sue feels even more strongly about that), and it’s not a big part of the flavor here.  You can add them, or a sprinkle of Sichuan Peppercorn Oil.

I just made a double batch of this last weekend for a party and thankfully had leftovers which I discovered in the fridge today… but I never got around to taking a picture when it was fresh and hot.

Creamy Garlic Dressing

Bonus post for today. Since I’m talking about salad dressings, here’s a recipe of what to make with those condiments.

Most of the time, I’ll make my own dressing: most often just a simple vinaigrette. This is one of my favorites, modeled after Dave’s Italian Kitchen in Evanston, and it’s a pretty good match after some experiments. You have to let this sit, as the garlic blooms over time.

You can definitely get away with light sour cream. I haven’t tried it with greek yogurt but it would probably still be pretty good.

1/2 Cup Sour Cream, can use about 3 parts sour cream to 1 part mayo if you like it a little tangier
3 or more cloves garlic, grated on a microplane
1 tsp lemon juice and some grated rind
large pinch salt
large pinch white pepper
Thin to desired consistency with buttermilk

Mix together and let sit for at least an hour before serving.

For the real Dave’s experience, the salad should have shaved carrots, shredded mozzarella, and pepperoncini.

Note: I previously posted this recipe at