You know what you think when someone walks into a gigantic closet filled with various types of clothing and proclaims: “I have nothing to wear?” I suspect people could think the same of me when I stand in front of shelves of cookbooks and say “I can’t think of anything new to make for dinner.” That problem may be solved once and for all with the latest book from Melissa Clark, Dinner: Changing the Game. First, it’s full of great-looking recipes, but each of those comes with options for tailoring it to suite your taste or what ingredients you may have on hand. And, there are suggestions for what to serve with the main dishes to help you make a complete dinner plan. It starts with a whole chapter just for chicken; then there’s one for other meats, a ground meat chapter, fish and seafood, eggs, pasta, tofu, beans, grains, pizzas, soups, salads, and dips and side dishes. I always mark interesting pages with sticky flags as I read a new cookbook, but this time, it got out of hand with the number of flags attached to pages. I cooked from the book for three days in a row, and I have another page marked for dinner tonight. I started a weekend with the shrimp balls shown here for Friday night dinner. Then, I made the Sticky Tamarind Chicken with Crisp Lettuce for a Saturday night meal, and the options for that include using bone-in, skinless chicken thighs or boneless thighs or breasts or wings depending on your preference. The flavorful, marinated, roasted chicken was served over a fresh lettuce salad with sliced jalapeno and cilantro leaves. The next morning, I made the Chilaquiles with Tomatillo Salsa and Baked Eggs for brunch. The layered corn tortillas with spicy green salsa and lots of melted cheese was a delicious base for the eggs that baked on top. I added some chopped greens between the tortilla layers just to include more vegetable goodness in the mix. Tonight, I’m going to make the Warm White Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto and Preserved Lemon. And, all those other marked pages? There are too many to mention, but a few include Cumin-Chicken Meatballs with Green Ghile Sauce, a savory Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby pancake, Pasta Carbonara Torte with Tomatoes and Sage, Chile and Ginger-Fried Tofu Salad with Kale, and Leek Tomato and Farro Soup. None of the recipes are over-complicated or too time-consuming, and you’ll see the time required listed next to the number of servings.
I was actually surprised at how quickly the Thai-Style Shrimp Balls came together. The dipping sauce was a quick mix of soy sauce, rice vinegar, minced fresh ginger, lime juice, sesame oil, and sliced green onions (I tend to skip the sugar in sauces like this because I prefer the tartness). Shelled and cleaned shrimp were chopped into small chunks, and there’s no need to worry too much about how small the chunks are. The shrimp does not need to be minced, just quickly chopped into little pieces. The chopped shrimp was combined with more minced ginger, minced garlic, finely chopped chives, an egg white, lime zest, and some salt. The mixture was formed into little one-inch balls. They’re not as firm as meatballs, but they hold together fine. Just line up the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. To steam, I used a bamboo steamer with its own top in a large skillet, but any type of steamer will work fine. Napa cabbage leaves were used to line the bottom of the steamer, and I was lucky to get the last of Boggy Creek Farm’s Napa cabbage for the season. The leaves I was using were small enough that I could arrange them with two shrimp balls on each. Once the steamer was placed over simmering water, it only took a few minutes to cook the shrimp balls. I removed each cabbage leaf with the shrimp balls sitting on it, and served it in the same arrangement. Last, I garnished with more chopped chives and some black sesame seeds.
As mentioned in the recipe head note, you could serve the shrimp balls with rice noodles or plain rice, but I went for more of a pick it up with some cabbage like a little wrap kind of thing. And, these diminutive balls packed incredible flavor. The ginger, garlic, and lime zest brought a lot of zip. With this new book, I definitely have no excuse for not coming up with something new to make for dinner.
Thai-Style Shrimp Balls with Napa Cabbage
Reprinted from Dinner: Changing the Game. Copyright © 2017 by Melissa Clark. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Eric Wolfinger. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
These juicy, ginger-scented shrimp balls are like the filling inside your favorite shrimp shumai, sans the wrappers. And since you don’t have to enfold each one individually in dumpling dough, they come together really quickly and steam up in minutes.
If you don’t have a steamer basket, it’s a good thing to pick up. They are inexpensive, and the collapsible ones don’t take up much space. Or, a decent hack is to crumple up four large foil balls (at least 1½ inches in diameter) and place them in the bottom of a pot with a tight-filling cover, filled with ½ inch of water. Rest a plate on top of the foil balls to keep it above the water, bring the water to a simmer, and put the food directly on the plate to steam. It’s not ideal, but it works in a pinch.
Serve these shrimp balls over white rice (page 276) or rice noodles coated with a little sesame oil, which will give you a dumpling-like texture if you eat some shrimp ball and noodles in the same bite. A salad made from pea shoots and drizzled with a little of the dipping sauce, below, would round it out nicely. They also make nice hors d’oeuvres for a dinner party.
4 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons light or dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons sliced scallions (green parts only)
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and chopped into small chunks
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, grated on a Microplane or minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus more for serving
1 large egg white
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 to 6 napa cabbage leaves, for steaming
TOTAL TIME: 25 MINUTES
1. Make the dipping sauce: In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon ginger, lime juice, sesame oil, and brown sugar, and whisk until the sugar dissolves; then add the scallions.
2. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the shrimp with 1 tablespoon of the ginger and the garlic, chives, egg white, lime zest, and salt. Mix well, and form the shrimp mixture into 1-inch balls. Place them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Chill them up to 4 hours if not steaming immediately.
3. Lay one or two cabbage leaves over the bottom of a steamer basket to just cover the surface. Put the steamer in a pot filled with an inch of water and bring the water to a simmer. Working in batches, place the shrimp balls on the cabbage leaves, cover the pot, and steam for 3 minutes, turning them over halfway through. After each batch, transfer the shrimp balls and the cabbage leaves to a plate. Use fresh cabbage leaves for each batch.
4. Garnish the shrimp balls and cabbage with chives, and serve with the dipping sauce on the side. You can eat the cabbage or not, as you prefer.
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