Around this time every summer my children spend a week with my parents in Connecticut, and while I miss them (stop snickering I do miss them) I also enjoy having a week free to do, see and cook all the things I don’t ordinarily get to. You would expect the overwhelming quiet, greatly reduced laundry and lack of sibling bickering to be what makes they’re absence feel so profound, but in fact it’s the little things. The way I can walk from the front door to the kitchen without stepping on or tripping over anyone’s shoes, the way a gallon of milk can actually last for more than two days and the way I can go a week without uttering any of the following phrases: “stop yelling” “would you like me to treat you like that” “leave the dog alone” “turn down the tv” “no you can’t play video games” and last but not least “go to bed…go to bed…go to bed…GO TO BED!…” Yeah, I miss them. Terribly.
I consider my kids to be fairly adventurous eaters (for an 8 and 4 yr old) and easy to please when it come to meals. Yes my daughter would eat pasta for every meal if she could and my son could live on turkey and cheese sandwiches; but they also happily eat things like sushi, smoked ribs, grilled asparagus, shrimp stir-fry, sautéed grouper and garlicky hummus without complaint. What they won’t eat is anything too spicy, which is of course exactly how I like things. So while they’re away enjoying New England I get the opportunity to throw caution to the wind and cook the spicy dishes that make me most happy.
Given the freedom to make whatever floats my boat is actually a bit more daunting than you would think. To quote the charming Miss Veruca Salt “I want the works, I want the whole works…” There are so many recipes I tuck into my “just for me” file that when the time comes to actually pull one out, its tough to narrow it down. I really want to try to replicate the spicy ceviche I had at dinner the other night, there’s a chicken vindaloo recipe that looks easy whose ingredients I happen to already have on hand and a spicy West African peanut soup that sounds incredibly good. But in the end the dish I ultimately decided to kick my week of freedom off with was a is a dish of spicy steamed mussels.
I have a weakness for mussels, they happen to be one of my all-time favorite foods. I eat them whenever the opportunity arrises and can’t eat them without thinking fondly of the night my husband and I spent in Honfleur, France so many years ago. We sat for hours at a little table alongside the Vieux Bassin in the center of town, sipping rosé and enjoying the sights, the sounds and a steaming pot of mussels in a curry cream sauce. It was sheer perfection. Honestly, if you know my husband or myself then you have no doubt heard our story of Honfleur. Perfection! However, as big as that build up was and as much as I love that classic French preparation of mussels, I love the combination of coconut, chilies and lemon grass even more. So the decision was made and Spicy Coconut Mussels with Lemon Grass was the winner.
It was delicious and something the kids totally wouldn’t have appreciated, which made it all the tastier. They’ll be home tomorrow and I’ll have to start cooking to please their palates again, but I’ll always have the memories of these spicy mussels…
Spicy Coconut & Lemon Grass Mussels
These are perfect as an appetizer or as a main dish along with a tossed salad.
4 tbsp. coconut oil
1 medium onion, halved and sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 stalks fresh lemon grass, outer layers removed, cut into 3 pieces and smashed with the side of a knife
1 tsp. garam masala
2-3 small hot chiles (I used a fresh cayenne), finely chopped
3 cups unsweetened light coconut milk
4 lbs. fresh PEI mussels*, scrubbed
zest of a lemon
juice of a lemon
2 tsp. Asian fish sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
sliced and toasted crusty bread
- Heat the coconut oil in the bottom of a large pot. Add the onion, garlic, lemon grass, garam masala and chiles and cook over medium heat until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and mussels. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook until the mussels have opened, 5 to 7 minutes (discard any mussels that remain closed).
- Remove from heat and using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a large bowl, leaving the liquid in the pot. Fish out the lemon grass and stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, fish sauce and cilantro. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce and/or lemon juice if desired.
- Slice and toast several pieces of crusty bread. Place the mussels in four wide bowls, ladle the broth over them and serve with the sliced bread.
*adapted from NY Times