It's cold outside and people are bundling up and staying inside, doing what people do when the weather turns sour and thoughts turn indoors ... Watch sports, of course! And what's the perfect accompaniment to watching sports, besides a comfortable couch, a cozy blanket and maybe a beer? Snacks!! So I got out my trusted Top Chef Cookbook, looking for a good snack recipe - something a little different - off the beaten path from your average snack. And Harold came through for me, with his Ecuadorian Ceviche with popcorn cakes.
Making the "Tomato Water": I was excited and intrigued by this recipe because the ceviche marinade called for "tomato water." Making the tomato water was not hard - it simply required advance preparation. The recipe called for pureeing 3 large tomatoes in a food processor to obtain one cup of liquid. I found that all that was needed were 2 large tomatoes.
After pureeing them, I placed them in a mesh sieve lined with two layers of cheesecloth over a bowl, and left that in my refrigerator overnight to obtain the "tomato water" which slowly seeped through the sieve into the bowl.
The Marinade: The next day, I put together the dish. First I had to make the ceviche marinade, which was composed of the tomato water, fresh orange juice, fresh lime juice, sugar, chopped red onion and salt and pepper. Red onions are great for things like ceviche and salads because they are mild and a little bit sweet - much easier on the stomach and the taste buds when eaten raw than white or yellow onions. The tomato water:
Juicing the limes:
The three citrus juices:
The chopped red onion:
The marinade all mixed together:
Cleaning and Preparing the Squid and Shrimp: For the squid, I rinsed them thoroughly and was easily able to cut the bodies into rings and the tentacles into bite-sized chunks with kitchen scissors.
I peeled all the shrimp, and also took the time to butterfly and devein them. Deveining the shrimp is a step that a lot of people don't like to do, but it really isn't hard or that time consuming. Just run a sharp knife down the back of the shrimp and scoop out the vein (which may or may not be dark in color) with your finger under running water. Not only does this process remove the vein, but it butterflies the shrimp, making them look much more attractive after they've been cooked, and provides more surface area (important for a dish like this) for the marinade to seep into.
Then I very quickly cooked the shrimp and squid - under two minutes for both.
At this point in time, the shrimp and squid are almost, but not quite, completely cooked, but this is fine, because they will continue to "cook" in the ceviche marinade, due to its acidity. (There is more on "cooking" with acids in the "Bonus Materials" below!)
Combining Everything to Make the Ceviche: Next I added the shrimp and squid to the marinade, stirring through to make sure everything was completely coated.
Now all I really had to do was wait - the shrimp and squid needed to marinate in the refrigerator for between 3 to 8 hours. When the ceviche was ready, I chopped up some fresh cilantro and added that in just before serving.
The Popcorn Cakes: The popcorn cakes sounded like a great idea, but were a real disappointment. They were easy to make, however. All I had to do was pop some microwave popcorn (I got the "natural" flavored - non-buttered - popcorn). Then I made the batter for the popcorn cakes out of seltzer water, an egg, salt, pepper, and chives, which I whisked until light and frothy.
Then I whisked in the all-purpose flour.
To this batter, I stirred in the popcorn until just coated.
I dropped the popcorn mixture by tablespoonfuls (in batches) into hot, but not smoking, vegetable oil and fried them for about two minutes, flipping them about halfway through to get them golden brown on both sides. Then I removed the popcorn cakes from the oil and drained them on paper towels. After that, I sprinkled them lightly with salt.
Plating the Dish: To plate the dish, I put some of the shrimp and squid ceviche in a small bowl and placed that bowl on a larger dish, where I placed a couple of the popcorn cakes on the side. I then garnished the dish with some more fresh cilantro.
My Suggestions To Make This Fabulous Dish Even Better: Unfortunately, the popcorn cakes were not so terrific. I found that they had a soft cardboard-like texture and we still a bit damp on the inside. To be honest, I didn't have more than one bite of the popcorn cakes and would have preferred as an accompaniment to the ceviche, just some freshly popped popcorn. I would make one other adjustment (in my opinion, an improvement) to this dish. I would have added finely chopped tomato to the ceviche right before serving when incorporating in the cilantro. I think that would have added to the brightness and variety of color, and accentuated the flavor that the tomato water added to the marinade.
Final Word On this Dish: The ceviche was an absolutely beautiful dish. The colors were bright and the ceviche smelled wonderful from the citrus juices (a tomato is officially a citrus fruit!) and the cilantro. A yummy, low-fat and definitely unique snack! One more thing to note about this recipe: If there are any leftovers (and it does keep well in the refrigerator for several days), just discard most of the marinade from the ceviche. If you leave the seafood in the marinade for too long, it will continue to "cook" and take on too acidic a flavor.
BONUS MATERIALS: "Cooking" proteins by marinating them in acids: The citric acid from the citrus juices break down the proteins in the seafood in a similar way to how heat breaks down proteins. In this way, the seafood is "cooked" without heat!