Isn’t it great when family members can help other family members with academics, college or careers? One of our nieces, Meg, reached out to her Uncle Jimmy for help with a skype interview for a summer internship. We’re so happy to learn she got it! When Delta Airlines made moves to open a reservations office in San Juan my aunt, Madrinita, helped me out and secured an interview for me. It was certainly no guarantee of being hired but it got my toe in the door. The rest was up to me. Hundreds and hundreds of people were interviewed for 13 positions. I was just out of college, young and foolish and completely unaware of any competition for these highly coveted positions. With the beauty and confidence of one in their early 20’s, I sailed through all my interviews happy to be on a mini-vacation during the day while spending precious moments with my family at night, secure in the knowledge that the world truly was my oyster. I scored that position myself but had my aunt not let me know, had she not set up the initial interview, that chapter of my life would have been rewritten. I lived with my relatives for some time and although we had a few disagreements, (for instance, how can I be home by 10:00 pm if I’m not leaving the house until 11:00pm. Right?), we all enjoyed this unexpected gift of time spent with each other. I gained a fierce loyalty and love of the island and its people, from the cool, wet mountains down to the white, hot beaches. I had some great times and, of course, some not so great moments but regardless, Puerto Rico is my safe haven, my refuge, the stuff of my dreams. My hope is that you’ll pour “dos dedos”, two fingers, of rum, crank the salsa and explore this island recipe. Buen provecho!
This recipe has so many Caribbean flavors. Sweet potato and pumpkin are huge in the islands and linger softly in the background tone of so many dishes such as beans, soups and curries. Coconut milk is used in both sweet and savory dishes while cilantro plays a major role in countless savory dishes. I put a whole scotch bonnet pepper in the the pot and fish it out before serving. If one of your guests mistakes it for a chunk of tomato they’re in for one helluva bad surprise. If you like your food screaming hot then, by all means mince two or three of the peppers and throw them in but I find one is just fine. This curry is served over rice and I prefer an organic, short grain brown. Short grain is sweeter than long and pairs well with this dish. Please know all these ingredient amounts are easily changed. If you’re not crazy about pumpkin then leave it out and double up on the sweet potato. Not a fan of zucchini? Add carrots or potatoes instead. And basil is brilliant in place of cilantro so play around with this forgiving dish until you come up with your own island version. Enjoy!
Island Shrimp, Sweet Potato and Zucchini Curry
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped, approximately a generous 1/2 cup
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 2-3 bay leaves, preferably fresh
- 1 medium size bell pepper, seeded and cut into small thin strips
- 2 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
- 2 13.5 cans unsweetened coconut milk, lite or reduced fat is fine
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 pound calabasa squash, peeled and cut into 2 1/2″ pieces
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper, optional
- 4 medium size zucchini, cut lengthwise into quarters then chopped into 1/2″ pieces
- 1 1/2 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, with or without the tail, it’s your choice
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped and divided
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large, deep-sided saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook until soft but not browned, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add the bay leaves, bell pepper, tomatoes and curry powder, stirring for several minutes.
- Add the sweet potatoes, coconut milk and water and gently stir.
- Simmer 10 minutes then add the squash and scotch bonnet, if using. Gently stir.
- Simmer 10 minutes or until sweet potatoes and calabasa are fork tender.
- Add the zucchini and cook 3-4 minutes.
- Add the shrimp and 1/2 cup of the cilantro and cook just until the shrimp turn pink, about 2-3 minutes.
- Taste for salt and pepper.
- Scatter remaining cilantro over curry and serve.