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Archive | April, 2017

An Oasis of Calm and Great Flavors at NIOSA

An Oasis of Calm and Great Flavors at NIOSA

It’s Shrimp Parilla time at NIOSA. What are you waiting for?

Once the parked traffic on North St. Mary’s decided to move Tuesday afternoon, I was finally able to find a place to park and then rush several blocks to the Villa Espana area at A Night in Old San Antonio. I was late for my shift at the Shrimp Parilla booth, but chairman Mark Swanson didn’t seem to mind.

Booth chairman Mark Swanson displays his Shrimp Parilla.

His first crew had already begun assembling the shrimp skewers that would be grilled after NIOSA opened while he finished putting up the decorations, which included a pair of stuffed shrimp, strings of lights and more to brighten even more the already colorful booth.

I quickly fell into the habit of skewering alternate layers of marinated shrimp, green bell pepper and onions while chatting away with the rest of the team, which included several volunteers who work with Swanson beyond their volunteer time on behalf of the San Antonio Conservation Society. 

In midst of the convivial chaos that is NIOSA, the Shrimp Parilla booth proved to be an oasis of calm. Taking their cue from the laid-back Swanson, the team did their jobs with a sense of dedication but without rushing. While Swanson’s son, Wesley, chopped peppers and onions, we put enough skewers together to last longer than our two-hour shift. Swanson, who has worked the booth for about 12 years and has been chairman for the past two, paid attention to the grill and the heat level of the coals underneath. Others sold the skewers once they were ready, and two marched out front with signs designed to lure in the hungry masses.

For the past 18 years, I’ve worked at a different food booth each NIOSA. I started with Maria’s Tortillas and have gone through the booths that produce fried mushrooms, Yak-i-tori skewers, Cowboy Klopse, shypoke eggs, bean tacos, Bongo-K-Bobs, escargots, fried green tomatoes, anticuchos and more. I can honestly say that I haven’t worked a booth as straightforward and stress-free as this one. After the hassle of the traffic and the pace of the workday, it was a welcome relief. 

And the Shrimp Parilla tasted great, too.

“We really do not have a secret recipe,” Swanson insists. 

A customer gets his Shrimp Parilla.

Perhaps that’s why Shrimp Parilla would be an easy treat to recreate at home.

All you have to do is marinate jumbo shrimp as well as the chunks of peppers and onion in Italian salad dressing. Then thread the pieces onto moist kebab sticks, starting with a pepper or an onion, the alternate each with a shrimp in between. Place the kebabs on the grill over high heat and grill them until the shrimp turn from translucent to white and the tails begin to look crisp, Swanson says. The grilling takes no more than 15 minutes and includes turning the skewers once. If you pay attention, you should know just what to look for after your first batch. 

When you remove the skewers from the grill, top them with your favorite spicy seasoning before serving. The booth uses what Swanson calls “lemon pepper and redfish seasoning.” (Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme marketed his own Blackened Redfish Magic, but here’s a recipe if you want to make your own. Or you can tone down the heat if it’s not to your liking.) The end result is both fresh and refreshing, something I can see myself serving at home in the future.

It’s time to make the shrimp skewers.

 

“Even though there’s nothing really special done to them,” Swanson says, “they sure taste really good.”

If you’re looking for a snack at NIOSA that won’t leave you feeling heavy, give Shrimp Parilla at NIOSA a try. You’ll likely take this flavor of NIOSA home with you, too.

A Night in Old San Antonio, which benefits the San Antonio Conservation Society, continues through Friday. For more information, click here.

Mark Swanson finishes decorating the Shrimp Parilla booth at NIOSA.

Other scenes from the opening of NIOSA include images of San Antonio partygoers enjoying the great weather and some time spent with friends.

What’s NIOSA without some wonderful hats?

Churros fresh out of the fryer.

Lines for the fried mushrooms are always long.

Great weather and great crowds at NIOSA.

 

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Texas Treasures: Green Pea and Apple Salad

Texas Treasures: Green Pea and Apple Salad

Some food lovers go for Saveur or Bon Appetit, leafing through issue after issue in search of new recipes. I have a habit of scouring Texas cookbooks from all corners of the state. That’s how I came across this spring-time salad recipe, which features green peas, apple and mint.

The recipe was in the 1980 collection, “Waco Cotton Palace Cookbook: A Legacy of Gracious Dining,” which marked the 10th anniversary of the Waco Cotton Palace Pageant. The title of the book wasn’t promising. Who cares about a cotton pageant court? You might not, until you notice that there, opposite a picture of the Royal Court of 1976, is a recipe for Great-Grandmother’s Orange Pie with sherry in it. Or Dwight’s Picnic Chicken coated in Dijon mustard on the same page as Chicken Breasts Supreme with a topping of chipped beef and bacon.

In this fairly unassuming book are Texas recipes well worth exploring.

In the case of the Green Pea and Apple Salad, the appeal was first in the layering of favorite flavors, followed by the ease with which it all came together. The longest thing that took in making of this salad is chopping the apple. 

The only problem I had is that horseradish today isn’t like the horseradish of 37 years ago, when the cookbook was printed. The jar I bought simply had no zip to it. So, even though I more than doubled the amount, the salad lacked a slightly spiky quality that I think would have helped. In that case, the salt really helped. So, taste and adjust as necessary.

This salad was great with lamb. I’m sure it would be just as versatile with everything from picnics to potlucks.

Green Pea and Apple Salad

4 cups frozen peas
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon horseradish
1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions (include some of the tops)
1 tart apple, unpeeled and finely chopped
Salt, to taste

You can add the apple to the dressing to keep the color fresh before stirring in the peas.

Thaw peas. Do not cook. Mix sour cream, horseradish, mint and onions. Add peas and apples and season with salt. Chill.

If fresh mint is not available, a few drops of spearmint or peppermint flavoring may be added, but add sparingly and taste — it doesn’t take much.

Makes 8 servings.

From Mrs. Edgar Jablonowski (Beth)/”Waco Cotton Palace Cookbook: A Legacy of Gracious Dining”

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What Do You Do with Mamey Sapote?

What Do You Do with Mamey Sapote?

Mamey sapote in the market.

I was walking through the produce section of my neighborhood H-E-B the other day when I first spotted them. They looked like overgrown sweet potatoes crossed with a football, but they weren’t with the tubers. They were in the exotic fruit section, next to layers of dragon fruit, guavas and fingerling bananas.

Mamey cut in half

The sign indicated that they were mamey sapotes and the price was close to $4 a pound.

Pricey to be sure, but I can’t resist something new — or at least new to me. So, I Googled the fruit on my phone and found out that I wanted one that was soft without it being bruised. I took one of the smaller ones, which still rang up at about $12.

Despite the size, the mamey can be cut in half lengthwise, like an avocado. There is a long black pit at the center, also like an avocado. You don’t eat the peeling, but you do eat the soft flesh inside. But there the similarities between the two fruits end.

Mamey tastes earthier, more like an dryer papaya. That could be a polite way of saying it is boring or too subtle to be truly enjoyable by itself. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the thick texture and the almost dehydrating pucker that it brought to my mouth. 

A mamey milkshake with ice cream and milk

But you don’t have to eat mamey by itself. Many of the recipes I found online referred to mamey milkshakes, so I hauled out the Vitamix and filled it with a bit of fruit, milk and vanilla ice cream as well as an extra splash of vanilla. You’ll want a strong blender, because the fruit is dense and absorbs a lot of extra liquid, so you’ll need a strong motor as you add more and more milk to dilute it to get the texture you want. The result was comforting without being especially exciting — which I find strange when you consider that it had ice cream in it. What isn’t made more wonderful by the addition of ice cream? 

I read up on the fruit. It grows in Mexico and Central America as well as Australia on trees that can gain up to 148 feet in height. That is, at least, if you believe the Wikipedia entry on pouteria sapote.

Just add rum

So, it likes tropical climes. It might like complementary tropical flavors, like coconut milk. So I started over and created a non-dairy milkshake with a can of coconut milk and a little water. I also added cinnamon this time, which brought out a really comforting, pumpkin pie like flavor. That was what the first milkshake needed, not more vanilla.

And then I got an even better idea.

Out came the spiced rum and suddenly everything fell into place. That was the real lift the mamey milkshake needed.

Or maybe it was just the lift I needed.

By the way, I thought about planting that pit, but I doubt I will. I don’t think the neighbors would appreciate a tree approximating Jack’s beanstalk shooting up out of my backyard. 

So what do you do with mamey sapote?

 

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