Jill Santopietro's Braised Fennel with Meyer Lemon and Parmesan
Dinner Frustrations

Florence Fabricant's Asian Seafood Risotto


What a night it's been! First, I feared I'd totally offended the gods - or at least the one God that counts on this particular night. Then I tasted sweet relief when Wikipedia came to my rescue. Then the rest of the internet dashed my hopes for an entirely damnation-free evening. And I had such good intentions! Such is the path of the unrighteous. Let me explain.

You see, this evening I was host to an old friend who didn't want her usual Passover feast. Life had semi-recently gotten complicated, in the way it sometimes does, and she realized a few days ago that all she wanted tonight was a good meal and, perhaps more importantly, easy company. No family, no rituals, just her own quiet way of being grateful.

Having been brought up a bit of a heathen, and being in no mood on a plain old Monday night to cook everything from matzo ball soup to haroset, I thought up a simple meal for the two of us - an Asian-tinged risotto chock-full of pink shrimp, and a delicate little salad of shaved fennel and radishes dressed with sharp cider vinegar and crunchy little flakes of salt. With a crisp glass of white wine and plenty of fodder for a catch-up chat, I thought we were golden.

Until, of course, I started to wonder about the kosher-ness of the rice in my risotto. Wasn't there some kind of distant memory left over from the seders I was invited to as a child in Brookline, something about grains being forbidden and the Jews crossing through the dessert with nothing but matzo crackers and definitely, absolutely no grains of any kind? Unfortunately, it was a bit late for this kind of thinking. After all, the rice was stewing away on the stove and Becca was sitting happily and expectantly at the kitchen table.

Then Wikipedia swiftly came to the rescue, telling me that as long as wheat, oats, rye, spelt and barley weren't involved in my dinner, I wasn't leading my friend down a dark path. What sweet relief! I had myself a glass of wine.

But, of course, as perhaps many of my readers are chortling to themselves this very instant (it's not nice to make fun, you know), rice is a ridiculous thing to worry about when you've got shrimp, those dirty little bottom-feeders, resting plumply and placidly in their white and creamy starch-bound risotto beds, practically smug with pinkness and really, truly, totally un-kosher to the core.

Yes, that's right. I made my dear friend eat shrimp on Passover. I might just be on the express train to hell.

In my defense! I had no idea! I was all fixated on not feeding her any bread! Or forbidden grains! I'm not a very good half-Jew. In fact, technically, I'm not really one at all. I couldn't possibly have known!


(Luckily - though I don't really want to get into it here, you know, wrath of the gods and all - the risotto was quite good, even though there's something about Asian flavors that really require sort of crisp, sharp textures and risotto, of course, is anything but crisp and sharp - it's like the world's most famous comfort food and is, therefore, by nature pillowy and soft, so I'm not entirely convinced that the flavor profile and the textural character of the dish is something to write home about, but I can't complain, really, because at the end of the day, I served shrimp on Passover and the fact that I wasn't smitten down at the table must have had something to do with the food. Or?)

(By the way, the salad was fantastic, but I don't think it's getting me a Get Out Of Jail For Free card anytime soon.)

I suppose I should note that Becca ate her dinner happily and with gusto. She had no problem with the bottom feeders and questionably immoral grains on her plate. In fact, she seemed grateful for the evening and the meal. She's such a good friend. Which leads me to my next question: if she vouches for me when we get to The Big Dinner Table In The Sky, do you think I'll be okay?

Asian Seafood Risotto
Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 bulbs fresh lemon grass, chopped
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups fish stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce)
Juice of 2 limes
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
3 tablespoons minced mint
Salt and ground white pepper

1. Heat oil in a heavy saucepan. Add lemon grass, ginger, garlic and shallots, and saute over low heat until soft. Meanwhile, place coconut milk, stock, 1/2 cup wine, fish sauce and lime juice in another saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer.

2. Add rice to saucepan with lemon grass and cook, stirring, a minute or two. Add remaining wine and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed. Add 1/2 cup coconut milk mixture and stir until it is absorbed, then continue adding the mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly. Rice should be al dente after 20 minutes.

3. Stir in shrimp; cook until they turn pink, 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in mint. Season with salt and pepper and divide among plates. Serve hot.