Prawns with Lemon, Chili, Garlic and Feta
Here's the scenario.
You have, thanks to a particularly generous offer at the supermarket one day, one whole kilo of the largest, spindliest, most succulent raw tiger prawns in your refrigerator. They are sitting there quietly (okay, they're dead, so they'd better be quiet!), awaiting their fate, which really must be decided soon, or else all that sweet succulent prawniness is going to slowly rot away. You know that they probably won't need more than a flash fry with a little bit of garlic and lemon, but something about the ordinariness of that preparation is still bugging you. You decide to give it a bit more thought and see if something better comes to mind.
Later that day, you conveniently find yourself in your neighborhood bookstore, which has a moderately-sized cookbook section. Your steps are taking you naturally in that direction out of normal book-browsing habit, when you realize this might be a perfect place to seek some inspiration for your dinner - just a few ideas, nothing more. You browse your way through a few uninspiring books and then pick up a book you've seen there several times before, one you've been secretly admiring, a book dripping with beauty and style, but alas, a book that is (for the moment anyway) just a little more than you can afford. However, upon lifting it up and resting it on your forearm to browse, it falls open, as if by magic, to a recipe for Prawns with Lemon, Chili, Garlic & Feta. You stop and stare. Not only does it offer a use for those prawns at home, but the only way you could ask for more of your favorite things together in one pot would be to add chocolate. And speaking of the pot, the recipe (as if reading your mind) calls for some type of large, cast-iron pot for this dish, and what do you happen to have back at home, just waiting to be called into action? You know even before you've finished reading the recipe that this is it. Your dinner has found you.
But what to do? The recipe has multiple components, it contains involved instructions, and really, you want this dish, not some half-hearted attempt at recreation. Do you buy the book? You can't afford it. Do you put the book back on the shelf with a sigh of resignation? Of course not. You need that recipe. You will do anything to get that recipe, short of anything overtly illegal.
So you glance over your shoulder to make sure no one's watching, you duck into a quiet corner where no one will bother you, and you spend twenty-five whole minutes memorizing that recipe. You scrutinize every last gram of every last ingredient and you don't give up until you can recite the entire recipe by heart. Then you stealthily slip the book back on the shelf (no worse for wear, naturally), and run home as fast as your legs will carry you in order to write down what you've memorized before the details start to fade.
And was it worth it, all the nail-biting and heart-racing and mental fatigue that memorizing that recipe entailed? Wouldn't it have been easier to just try to improvise something similar? As if you needed to ask.
It was more than worth it. It was AMAZING. The prawns were so tender and succulent we barely remembered to peel them before inhaling one after the other. The sauce was so good we drank the last spoonfuls from the pot, and we licked our fingers so clean we didn't even touch the fingerbowls.
So yes, it may sound crazy, but I'm certain that faced with the same kind of dinner dilemma you'd have done exactly the same as me.
[Vacation Announcement: For the next three weeks, The Traveler's Lunchbox will be on the road and coming to you from the other side of the globe! It won't exactly be uncharted gastronomic territory, but it will be a change of scenery, at least from this end. Stay tuned for all the excitement...]
Prawns with Lemon, Chili, Garlic & Feta
Source: Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros
Serves: 2-4 (I cut the original recipe in half)
2 lbs/1 kg raw prawns, in the shell (the bigger the better)
7 tablespoons/100g butter
8 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon hot chili powder, or to taste (Tessa calls for South African piri-piri)
1/4 cup chopped parsley (or cilantro)
7 oz/200g good-quality feta
2 large lemons
If you want, prepare the prawns by cutting the shells open along the spine and removing the intestinal tract. I didn't bother.
Spread about 1/4 of the butter in the bottom of a large heavy cast iron or enameled iron pot. Put 1/3 of the prawns on top, and sprinkle with 1/3 of the garlic, a little salt, and some of the chili powder. Cut in more butter on top. Repeat with two more layers, using half the remaining ingredients for each layer. Cover the pot, place on a large burner and turn it on to high heat. Cook, shaking the pot from time to time, for 8-10 minutes, or until the prawns have all turned pink and the garlic is smelling very fragrant (I found it took less time). Remove from the heat and uncover. Crumble in the feta, sprinkle in the parsley or cilantro and squeeze in the juice from the lemons. Cover again, return to the heat and cook for another ten minutes, shaking from time to time, until the feta starts to melt into the sauce.
Bring to the table in the pot, and serve immediately with lots of napkins, crusty bread and some fresh green salad (and little finger bowls of lemon water, if you're intent on preserving your dignity :)