Cuban Shrimp Creole (Enchilado de camarones)

I am beginning to take a liking to Cuban food.  Partly due to my fascination in exploring different ethnic dishes and finding many similarities, such as Greek Moussaka is similar to Italian Lasagna.  Every nationality has distinctive staple foods and styles of preparation. 

Shrimp Creole is one dish I have ordered several times at our favorite Cuban restaurant.  Cuban cuisine is not known to be spicy, but it is well seasoned.  This dish however, does have a bit of a kick and that may be one reason I enjoy it so much. 

In attempting to recreate it, I was aware that Cuban’s prepare their own sofrito (not to be confused with soffritto, which is the Italian version) of onions, garlic and sweet peppers and spices such as cumin, bay leaf and cilantro.  Taking that and adding what I know of sauce making, I made my version of Shrimp Creole.  Traditionally it is served with white rice.  We chose to have Cuban bread to sop up the sauce and round out the meal with an Avocado Salad. 

Shrimp Creole

1 1/2 lbs peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp, leaving the tails on
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped large onion
1 cup chopped sweet peppers, I used a mix of yellow, orange & red peppers
3 garlic cloves minced
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine
pinch of cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a large pan, heat the olive oil.  Add the onions and sweet peppers and saute until the onions and peppers become soft.  Add the garlic cloves and lightly saute.  Stir in the tomato sauce, tomato paste, wine, water, cayenne pepper, cumin, oregano, sugar and salt and pepper.  Simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.  Add the shrimp and simmer for 15 minutes until the shrimp turn pink and curl up.  Serve over white rice or with Cuban bread as we did!  Makes 4 servings.

Avocado Salad

You won’t find many vegetable dishes in Cuban cuisine; but you will see this salad.  The avocado used is the larger Florida variety.  It is less buttery and flavorful than a California Haas; however, in this salad the taste is creamy and refreshing especially when paired with a somewhat spicy dish such as the Shrimp Creole.  The traditional dressing is simply oil, white wine vinegar and salt.  I added lemon juice to brighten the flavor as well as pepper and a dash of Complete Seasoning. (Complete Seasoning is used in Latin cooking; a blend of salt, pepper, cumin and other spices.  It does contain MSG so I use it very sparingly.)

Avocado Salad

1 large ripe Florida avocado, cut in chunks
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste
Dash of Complete Seasoning

Place avocado chunks and onion slices in a bowl.  Pour over dressing and lightly toss.  Serve immediately.

Vinaigrette, a simple basic version leading to many variations

When my daughter left for college last week, she requested three of my basic recipes; 1)Vinaigrette, 2) Hummus and 3) Granola.  I agree these are good foundation recipes that can be tweaked and incorporated into many dishes.  Of course, I can think of so many more, but it’s a good start!

Those close to me know that I prefer to make my own dressings, marinades, stock or whatever than to purchase pre-made.  It does take a bit more time and planning ahead, but in the end, I know exactly what is in it and it simply tastes so fresh! 

The vinaigrette evolves from my mother’s simple olive oil and red wine vinegar which she seasoned lightly with salt and pepper.  My dad would simply drizzle the oil & vinegar right on his salad; truly a freshly dressed salad!  I prefer a bit more zing, adding Dijon, dried or fresh herbs, minced garlic, balsamic vinegar for a richer flavor or lemon juice for a lighter citrus flavor.  The possibilities are endless and I change it up based on the type of salad I am dressing.

My best friend, Ayesha who share my passion for cooking and is an amazing “go to” girl for inspiration and ideas showed me her mother’s recipe adding Dijon and fork crushing garlic with kosher salt.  A tip I learned about adding soy sauce to the dressing led me to using tamari sauce which is less salty and less “soy sauce” tasting.

Basic Vinaigrette

1/3 cup vinegar
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2  tablespoon tamari sauce(optional)
1 tb. fresh or dried herbs (optional)
salt & pepper to taste
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Using a 3:1 ratio, 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar (the “acid” part which could be lemon juice), you can adjust to your preference or quantity.

My quick method:  Combine all in a small glass jar and shake!!  Or, combine all except the oil in a bowl.  Slowly pour in the oil while whisking to incorporate the oil into the blend.  For a creamier dressing, especially when adding a marmalade or parmesan cheese, use a blender.  Use immediately or make ahead to marry the flavors. 

The variations are many.  I will change up to using a champagne vinegar, a white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar depending on the dish and the look of the dressing.  For a sweeter dressing I use orange marmalade or a touch of honey.  For an Asian spin, a rice wine vinegar with a few drops of toasted sesame oil!