Pumpkin Grits with Spicy Jumbo Shrimp

It was just a regular pandemic weekday. I was trying to figure out how to stretch the leftovers of a vegan dinner of the previous night into a meat centric dinner with minimal effort. I decided on the old go-to: Herb Roasted Chicken Legs. I set the oven to preheat and asked my 14 year old son, Madiba, to keep an eye on it. Grabbing my bicycle helmet, I headed for the door when my son said,

“Where are you going?”

“To Landis.” I replied, (Landis Pork Store – our neighborhood Italian butcher). Cupping his face he declared,

“Meatballs!” in a loud whisper.

“Great idea!” I said taking off my helmet. “You go to Landis for meatballs and I will cook pumpkin with shrimp and grits.”

After vigorous verbal warfare in which he strenuously objected to the indignity of peeling his bottom off the chair and his eyes off the videogame screen, I stood firm.

I will cook pumpkin and grits with shrimp and you can join me for dinner. Or you can get meatballs and take care of yourself. Here’s my debit card. Your choice,” I stated, feigning sweetness – knowing full well that he hated shrimp no less than I hated the thought of foraging for food in a supermarket before dinner.

And so this little masterpiece was born.

Yellow Grits with Sauteed Pureed Pumpkin and Shrimp with Herbs and Red Pepper Flakes

Guyanese Pumpkin

Full confession: I LOVE PUMPKIN. It was my favorite vegetable as a child growing up in Guyana. Guyanese pumpkin looks different that what I have been able to find here in New York City. It is meatier and larger and the skin is not as tough. I am planning a blog post dedicated to pumpkin coming soon… but this pumpkin, shrimp grits meal jumped the queue.

Pumpkin is a commonly used vegetable in Guyana. The photos below taken by my Auntie Faye in Guyana show guyanese pumpkin at Bourda Market – the second largest outdoor and indoor market in Georgetown, Guyana. The sight of all this bounty… sigh! (Notice the bora on the stands near to the pumpkin.). This makes me take a trip down memory lane. When I was a child from about the age of 10, my mom used to send me by bus to this market to shop for produce. I loved it.

But I digress… Pumpkin with shrimp is very popular in Guyanese households usually served with roti or rice. The shrimp most used for this dish is a tiny shrimp which we call “fine shrimps.” My mom also made pumpkin fritters and pumpkin pone – both yummy desserts that are popular in Guyana. There is a lot more I can say about pumpkin but it deserves a post of its own so stay tuned…

Grits

I was wholly unfamiliar with grits until I came to the USA. Once introduced to grits, I kept trying it as a breakfast food with eggs then recently with fried fish and have slowly fallen in love with grits. But I never cooked it. I first got the idea of pumpkin and grits from a recipe I saw on the website of the cookware company Le Creuset. The recipe involved pumpkin seeds, capers and heavy cream – none of which I had on hand and none of which was missed. The original recipe rejected the use of “quick cooking grits” and involved the use of canned pumpkin purèe. I use fresh pumpkin. And, as for not using quick grits – remember, this was on a day when I was trying to make a quick dinner so quick grits it was.

Grits have a long history in North America beginning with the First Nation people who used corn as a staple. You can read about the history of grits and much more on The Spruce Eats website where it is described as “the quintessential dish in Southern cuisine.”

Grits are known as a quintessential dish in Southern cuisine that has gone from a humble breakfast or side dish to the base for a tasty shrimp entree featured on restaurant menus. Grits actually have a much longer history; the word “grits” refers to any coarsely ground grain and was eaten by the Native Americans.

The Spruce Eats https://www.thespruceeats.com/grits-definition-and-difference-from-cornmeal-101711

What Gave This Dish it’s Punch?

Herbs, herbs, herbs… I cannot overstate the benefit of creating a series of Herb Blends and keeping them handy to punch up the flavor of all your meals. Visit my blog post on Herb Blends to learn more and to create your own flavor enhancers. Herbs in a blend are excellent supporting actors. They never upstage the meal but make it possible for the stars of the meal to wow the audience every time.

  • Fresh pumpkin is sauteed with onions and herb blend.
  • Shrimp is marinated in herb blend 2 hours to several days (frozen) ahead of time, then cooked in a mixture of onions and herb blend. Red pepper flakes add the final punch.
  • No surprise, fresh ingredients make a huge difference: Buy pumpkin at your West Indian market or wherever you can find it fresh in your community.

Time to Cook

Preparing the Pumpkin

  • Start with a piece of pumpkin that will give you at least 2 cups of diced pumpkin.
  • Peel the skin off and wash thoroughly
  • Carefully cut the pumpkin into cubes and set aside
  • Coarsely chop 1/2 a medium onion and set aside.
  • In a non stick skillet heat a little oil on medium high heat.
  • When the oil just begins to smoke add the onion and turn down the fire.
  • Cook the onion, stirring continuously until the onion begins to turn translucent.
  • Add a heaped teaspoon of herb blend to the skillet and stir to coat with oil. Cook until fragrant but not brown.
  • Add the pumpkin cubes and stir to coat with oil and herbs. Add salt and pepper to taste, cover the pot with a transparent lid and let cook.
  • As the pumpkin begins to soften, sprinkle 3/4 teaspoon of brown sugar and stir.
  • Let the pumpkin cook until tender. Add 2-3 tablespoons of water, cover and cook. Keep adding small amounts of water as needed until the pumpkin is all soft.
  • Turn off the fire and use a hand blender to puree the pumpkin until well blended.

Preparing the Shrimp

Arrange shrimp in a single layer on herbs, butter, oil and red pepper flakes
  • Start with 10-14 jumbo shrimp cleaned, peeled and deveined.
  • Squeeze 1/2 a lemon on the shrimp and add 1 tablespoon of herb blend along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and leave to marinate for 2 hours and up to several days (in the freezer).
  • Coarsely chop 1/2 a medium onion and set aside.
  • Heat a large non stick skillet over medium high heat.
  • Add 1 tbsp oil to the pan (olive oil or other neutral oil preferred). As the oil heats up, add 2 tbsps butter.
  • When the butter is all melted, add the onion and turn down the fire.
  • Cook the onion, stirring continuously until the onion begins to turn translucent.
  • Add 2 teaspoons of herb blend to the skillet and stir to coat with oil. Cook until fragrant but not brown.
  • Sprinkle some hot pepper flakes into the mixture and stir to combine well.
  • When the herbs, onion and pepper are well blended and fragrant, lay the shrimp in one layer on top of the herbs in the pan.
  • Cook the shrimp until it changes color and gets a bit of browning from the herbs and butter (3-4 minutes per side). Shrimp should look like it was grilled with some browning.
  • Turn over each shrimp and cook the other side. When done, turn off the fire and cover the pan.
Turn shrimp over to ensure both sides have a chance to cook in the herbs

Preparing the Grits

  • Use 3/4 cup of white or yellow instant grits according to your preference.
  • Prepare according to package directions.

Putting it All Together: Pumpkin, Grits, Shrimp

Pumpkin Added to Grits. Whisk
Pumpkin Added to Grits. Whisk to Combine
Add pumpkin to hot grits and blend well

Place shrimp in a single layer on pumpkin grits.
Served with homegrown tomatoes and crusty toasted sourdough bread.

Leave me a comment below to share how you and your family prepare pumpkin or grits or both!

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