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Add Some Spice!

Minneapolis’s own Sameh Wadi, co-owner and chef of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge [1], competed last summer in Iron Chef America. He was up against Morimoto (his choice) and the secret ingredient was Mackerel.  The show aired Sunday, January 24. To celebrate, Sameh and his brother Saed hosted a party at the Hotel Minneapolis to watch the competition. I believe everyone who was there that night would agree:  he was robbed! Regardless, it was a great night to congratulate a very talented, rising star and enjoy the cuisine inspired by their restaurant.

Chef Wadi has created a line of spice blends from his restaurant kitchen, including mixes influenced by North African, Middle Eastern, and Indian cuisines.  Don’t get me wrong and don’t think I’ve gone soft, as I still fully embrace cooking from scratch. However, when one needs to prepare a quick dinner and doesn’t have time to toast, grind, and mix spices, these are a great alternative.

Not long ago, I was in that very predicament. I had a couple of chicken breasts in the fridge that needed to be cooked. By the time it took my indoor grill pan from Le Creuset to heat, I had rubbed the chicken with a little olive oil, salt, and some Ras El Hanout blend. While the chicken was cooking low and slow, I quickly prepared some couscous and sautéed some vegetables. Within half an hour, a delicious weeknight dinner was on the table and deserving of a glass of Riesling to enjoy with it.

I was in the same boat yet again not too long ago and knew that I had a couple dozen large shrimp in the freezer. Here’s the recipe.

24 Shrimp, 13-15 count
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons Dry Harissa blend
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat a grill pan over medium flame. Using a paper towel, pat the shrimp dry. Toss them in a bowl with the oil, spices, and salt.  Cook the shrimp about 3 minutes per side or just until no longer pink.

A green salad with grapes and avocado shared the plate with the shrimp, as did a small bowl of spicy cocktail sauce. Having a bottle of Hou Hou Shou sake in the refrigerator, I thought, “Hey, I wonder how sake would pair with the shrimp?”  It was quite nice, actually, with its clean, sparkling character against the spices of the Dry Harissa.

If you don’t have time to make your own spice blend, be sure to check out the wonderful combinations from Iron Chef Contestant and restaurateur Sameh Wadi.