Ever since I arrived in California, I’ve been over-buying produce. That’s not to say that I’m wasting it—it’s quite possible that I’m eating a closer-to-vegetarian diet than I have ever eaten in my life—but it is requiring me to come up with interesting ways to use what I’ve got in fairly short order so I don’t end up with a full refrigerator of wilted, over-ripe, slightly moldy vegetables and fruits.
I also have a 15-minute commute to and from work. On foot. (I know, I know. Do you know how many people I know want to kick me in the knee just so I can feel the pain they feel when they hear this? Don’t think I don’t know how lucky I am…) That means that when I leave work in the evening, assuming I’m not on my way out to meet friends for dinner, I have the perfect window of time to evaluate what’s in the fridge and how I can combine it in the most tasty manner.
Earlier in the week, I’d mixed up a batch of nuoc cham, that godsend of a condiment served in all Vietnamese restaurants. Lydia of A Perfect Pantry inspired me to make it—I’ve been eating it for years and thinking it couldn’t be that hard to recreate at home, but it took me an awfully long time to actually try to do it. Now that I’ve done it once, I may never be able to go without having some in my refrigerator again. It’s that addictive. And that dead-easy to make.
I am also a huge fan of leeks, particularly when they’re roasted alongside a chicken, or caramelized, slowly, until they’re soft and sweet. Leek and potato soup is one of my favorites, and I adore braising them. I picked up some beautiful leeks at Friday’s Old Oakland Farmer’s Market, and decided, during my walk home, that tonight was the night they would give it up for the cause.
I caramelized them up in some local olive oil, then tossed in some of the leftover nuoc cham, which braised them just a bit before cooking down to a lovely sauce. Toward the end of the process, I tossed in some shrimp for protein’s sake, let them turn pink and opaque, and served it all up together. It was a simple, delicious combination that I plan to return to—a little bit sweet, and just barely savory from the chili-garlic sauce in the nuoc cham. If I make it again, the only thing I might try next time around is tossing in a little chili oil just to bump up the spicy side of the flavor combination. Otherwise, it’s all good.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
8 leeks, trimmed (remove the ends and the tops) and sliced thinly
1/3 c. nuoc cham (See Lydia for the ideal recipe)
2 dozen uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined (Leave the tails on, if you’d like)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan.
- Add the sliced leeks and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook the leeks, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and caramelized, approximately 40 minutes. At the 30-minute mark, add salt and pepper and taste. Adjust seasonings if need be.
- Once the leeks are caramelized, add the nuoc cham. Continue cooking until the sauce is reduced by at least half and is fully coating the leeks.
- Add the shrimp to the pan and cook, stirring every minute or so, for approximately five minutes or until the shrimp are opaque and pink. Be careful not to overcook.
- Serve immediately. For a prettier presentation, serve the shrimp on top of a bed of the leeks.