“Do I dare to eat a shrimp?”

The other night, my stomach and brain needed a break. I needed something light and relatively easy for dinner, but I had these silly banana leaves I’d bought on impulse at Whole Foods. (The leaves perplexed the cashier so much that he gave them to me for free.)

I’d also purchased some of Whole Foods’s “Whole Catch” frozen shrimp, farm-raised in Indonesia, because I’d just read Barry Estabrook’s fascinating piece on shrimp in this month‘s Gourmet Magazine. (“Do I Dare to Eat a Shrimp?” starts on page 81.) The article is an eye-opening glance at the American shrimp trawling industry. In the end, it basically supports the Seafood Watch‘s advice to generally avoid imported, farmed shrimp (if you’re looking to eat sustainably).

Anyway, I was surprised to see the Indonesian variety on the shelf at WF, given their track record as champions of sustainably-produced fish. I thought I’d buy it and start seeing if I could taste the difference between various shrimp.

Banana leaves are just that – leaves from a banana tree. They’re used often in Southeast Asian cooking for wrapping and effectively steaming foods in an oven or over a fire. I’m sure there are “right” ways to use them, but in my exhaustion that night, I couldn’t be bothered to learn them. I thawed out some frozen Indonesian shrimp, dumped my leftover veggies in the center (be creative here, you could add almost anything) with some ginger and miso, and wrapped the whole thing up like a little gift before shoving it in the oven. (Hint: don’t tie the string too tight; the leaves shrink up a bit during cooking and need a little wiggle room.)

I thought it was adorable, healthy, and interesting. My husband thought it was an appetizer.

Of course, I completely forgot to really taste the shrimp. I think I’ll have to get a few more kinds, poach them, simply, all at once, and have a shrimp-off.

Banana leaf packages, cookedShrimp in banana leaves

Recipe for Ginger Shrimp in Banana Leaves
Recipe 76 of 365

If you want a quick, healthy, exotic-looking dinner, you’ve found your recipe. Of course, the shrimp themselves have a decent amount of saturated fat, so if you’re really feeling like you need to detox, substitute a small piece of fish for the shrimp.

Serve the contents of the banana leaves with long-grain rice.

Note: you will need kitchen string to tie up the banana leaf bundles.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 2 servings

2 banana leaf pieces, roughly 12” square (each)
12 (31-40 piece-per-pound size) raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Handful broccoli florets
Handful snap peas
2 scallions, sliced (green and white parts)
1 small carrot, sliced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon white miso
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the banana leaves with water, and set aside to drain. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

Cut 4 pieces of kitchen string, roughly as long as the banana leaf pieces are wide (so about 1 foot long). Arrange the strings in two plus signs on the baking sheet – the goal is to arrange the string so that you’ll be able to cover each of the plus signs with a banana leaf, fill the center of the leaf, wrap the leaf over the food, and have the strings in the right place to tie them over the banana leaf like a gift.

Place a piece of leaf over each set of strings. Pile equal portions of the shrimp, broccoli, peas, scallions, and carrots in the centers of the leaf pieces. In a small bowl, mix the ginger, miso, and soy together with a fork until blended, and drizzle this mixture over the shrimp and vegetables.

Fold the banana leaves over the filling into little packages, as if you’re wrapping a gift: first, working with the sides of the leaves parallel to the lines running through them, fold the sides to meet in the middle. Use your finger to secure the leaves together, then fold the open ends together and up (like the ends of a gift), and secure each “package” with the two pieces of string, like this:

Banana leaf packages, uncooked

Bake for about 17 minutes, or until the shrimp are bright pink and the vegetables are al dente. Serve hot.

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Filed under kitchen adventure, media, recipe, shellfish, vegetables

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