Shrimp Couscous Vegetable Chowder

I’m a big fan of shrimp, cooked in nearly any manner. I ate shrimp often as a teenager, since our mother took us, my three younger siblings and I to Florida’s beaches for Christmas break. There, I acquired a taste for shrimp cocktail, served with lemon slices and hints of a spicy cocktail sauce. I love eating chilled shrimp this way when I dine out! Eating shrimp as a main dish is delicious too; it serves as a break from heavier meat and or pasta dishes, mostly combined with vegetables. Nowadays I purchase shrimp frozen when it has been cleaned and deveined. Although I’ve done the time-consuming-part of shrimp preparation (like removing the tail, the head, feet etc.) and cleaning it a fair amount of time; now however, it feels decadent, easy as I buy shrimp uncooked, frozen, and ready to toss in any dish.

Couscous too adds an alternative touch to many main dishes and salads. Although it’s a pasta, it’s uncommon and cooks quickly; basically it’s flour mixed with water, olive oil and salt, cooked in a certain manner. It’s quite versatile and soaks up liquid well, perfect for this soup. I had never heard of couscous as a child or even as an adult. But in the last few decades its become popular in the United States for hot or cold dishes. For centauries it’s been a staple in Mediterranean countries, like Morocco and Algeria. It supposedly originated in North Africa, but there is some confusion as to its exact date of origin. Some historians say it originated around the 11th or 13th century, while others believe it appeared in the 7th century . It’s popular when combined with meats, fish, chicken, carrots and other vegetables. And it ‘s also used as a fill-in for rice or oats. For a Moroccan or Mediterranean flare, add spices such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, even raisins and pistachio nuts. See tips and tweaks below for further cooking ideas using couscous.

INGREDIENTS serves 6-8

1 1/2 cups Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend, or plain couscous

1 1/2 lb uncooked shrimp, any size, cleaned, ready to cook, mostly defrosted

2-3 Tbsp olive oil

2 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp Italian herbs

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

2 carrots, chopped

3 medium zucchini, cut in half-in rounds

2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

4 medium sized Yukon or red potatoes, cut in half-inch chunks

2 containers, 32 oz each, chicken or vegetable stock, plus more, if necessary

2 Tbsp cornstarch, mixed in a small bowl with1 Tbsp water and 1 Tbsp milk or half and half. Stir until a smooth paste forms – Don’t prepare this too much ahead. Do it at step 4.

PROCESS

1 In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil to medium. Add the carrots, three minutes later add the celery and onions and cook for 3-5 minutes, until translucent and slightly golden, Add zucchini, cook for 3-5 minutes while zucchini browns some. If the vegetables seem to brown too much, add more olive oil. Add the garlic, turn the heat low and cook for 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle a half teaspoon salt and add pepper to taste.

2 Make a small space, about 2 x 2 inches in the bottom of the pot and stir in the tomato paste as you gradually mix the paste in with the vegetables. Slowly add one container of broth. Add the potatoes and then the other container of broth. Bring everything to a boil, lower the heat and simmer covered for about 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are nearly tender.

3 Add the Harvest Grains Blend or only the couscous and the herbs. Cook on low 10 minutes covered if using the Harvest Grains Blend, or only 5 minutes covered if cooking couscous. Add the shrimp when about 3 minutes remain of cooking time. This depends on the size of the shrimp; larger shrimp will need a bit more time, but be cautious and do not overcook the seafood

4 Stir in the cornstarch, water, and half and half. Bring the soup to a boil, cook just 1-2 minutes as it thickens overtime. Do not overcook. It will thicken. If too thick, add a little more broth or water, or milk. Adjust seasonings.

TIPS AND TWEAKS

  • Add 1-2 teaspoons of fish sauce at step 3.
  • Use other vegetables you prefer or have on hand in step 1., such a broccoli or bok choy
  • Once the potatoes and shrimp are mostly cooked, remove about one dozen pieces of potatoes, roughly mash them with a fork; stir once or twice, return them to the pot as they help thicken the soup with an umami flavor.
  • Add other seasonings, such as thyme, dill, winter savory, and cayenne pepper if more spice is desired.

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