A stroll through a farmers market during the summer is as tempting to me as a walk through a candy store is to others.
Booth after booth is piled high with multicoloured tomatoes, corn and bell peppers. This is the time of year I like to take full advantage of what’s out there, and this dish of prawns with summer vegetables from Dallas chef Kenneth Temple let me do just that.
Corn scraped from the cob adds a delightful freshness here, but you can use frozen or canned as well. He tosses in multicoloured cherry tomatoes and red or orange bell peppers, so the dish is full of bright colours. Minced jalapeños give the vegetables heat and lemon juice and zest add zing. Then, right at the end, he stirs in fresh spinach and parsley to wilt and fresh garlic for a little additional bite.
The vegetables – still slightly crisp – walk a line between sweet and spicy, making them ideal to serve with grilled seafood and meats. (I actually enjoy eating a big bowl of the vegetables, which are similar to a succotash, all on their own.)
For Temple, however, they are an ideal foundation for one of his favorite cooking techniques: blackening.
When he was about eight, Temple said the first thing he ever cooked was a smoked sausage that he fried in a pan until it was dark and charred on the outside. He added it to an omelette and loved the combination of creamy eggs and crusty pieces of sausage.
Here, the vegetables are the milder complement for the highly seasoned prawns, slightly charred in fat over high heat.
“To me, this is the perfect example of a balanced dish,” he says. “You want to season everything, but you have to understand the flavours you’re building. With the milder vegetables and the spicy prawns then it is all balanced.”
If you want to try blackening the prawns, Temple’s technique is simple. First, he advises to remove your prawns from the fridge at least 30 minutes before starting to cook. Then turn the vent on over your stove, as it can get a bit smoky.
The prawns are then tossed with melted butter and seasoned with your favorite spicy seasoning mix. Temple, who is originally from New Orleans, likes to use a Creole or Cajun blend.
“If your protein is cold, it’s going to cool off the butter and resolidify,” he says. “They will begin to steam, not blacken, when added to the pan.”
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan, such as cast iron, for a couple of minutes over medium to medium-high heat, add additional butter and watch as it melts and starts to bubble. The butter should not be smoking. Then, add the seasoned prawns, cooking them about a minute on each side. (The prawns are done when they are opaque throughout.)
“It happens really fast,” Temple says.
If you are not comfortable with blackening, he recommends adding a tablespoon of oil. “That will help keep the butter from burning.”
If you are cooking the prawns in batches and your butter does begin to burn, start over with a clean pan and fresh butter.
Also, he notes that you can make the prawns in a neutral oil, such as vegetable, instead. The oil should be hot before the prawns are added; shimmering, but not smoking.
“For those who don’t know any better, they associate [blackening] with burnt, so it may be off-putting,” he says. “They don’t understand how the high heat brings out all of the herbs and spices in the blackening seasoning.”
Temple loves to teach people to cook because he still gets inspired by learning new techniques and flavour combinations. This recipe was created for his online cooking classes, the Hunger Trap, says Temple, who is working on a six-class cooking show for the Food Network Kitchen App and conducting online classes for kids this summer.
“When people trying something new, it can be intimidating, but it opens you up to world of flavours and cuisine, trying new things,” he says.
Prawns with summer vegetables
Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Make ahead: The vegetables can be made up to 1 day in advance.
Storage notes: Leftover prawns and vegetables can be refrigerated in separate containers for up to 3 days.
Where to buy: Creole or Cajun seasoning can be found in well-stocked supermarkets.
Note: Temple leaves the tail shell on the end of the prawns to protect the tender tip in the blackening process. You can do this or peel the prawns completely.
For the vegetables:
2 tbsp vegetable oil
450g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 medium onion (225g), chopped
1 red or orange bell pepper (200g), chopped
2 jalapeños, seeded, ribbed and minced (optional)
450g fresh or frozen corn (if frozen, no need to defrost)
1 lemon, finely zested and juiced
60ml cup no-salt-added chicken broth or water
170g baby spinach
15g chopped fresh parsley, plus more (optional) for serving
2 cloves garlic, finely grated or minced
For the prawns:
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided, plus more as needed
24 large prawns, peeled and deveined (see note)
2 tbsp Cajun/Creole seasoning, preferably low or no-salt
Make the vegetables:
1. In a large, nonstick frying pan over medium heat, add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until blistered, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the onion, bell pepper and jalapeño and cook, stirring, until just starting to soften, about 2 minutes.
3. Pour the corn on top and let it sit undisturbed for about 2 minutes. Stir to combine and cook until the onions are translucent, and the bell pepper softens, about 3 minutes.
4. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, chicken broth or water and cook for about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, then stir in the spinach, parsley and garlic until the spinach is wilted. Cover to keep warm.
Make the prawns:
1. Turn on the vent over your stove, if you have one. In a large, microwave-safe bowl, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Toss the prawns in the butter to lightly coat. Place the prawns on a platter and season liberally and evenly on both sides with the Creole/Cajun seasoning; it’s OK if some of it falls off.
2. In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter until bubbling. Increase the heat to high and add the prawns in a single layer to the pan. Cook undisturbed until they turn deep brown, about 2 minutes, then flip and cook until deep brown on the other side, about 2 minutes more.
3. Watch carefully, the butter will turn brown, but should not smell burned. If you’re cooking in batches and the butter does start to burn, carefully wipe the pan clean and start over with fresh butter for the next batch. To check if the prawns are done, cut one in half – it should be opaque throughout.
4. Divide the vegetables among plates, top with the prawns and sprinkle with parsley, if using.
Nutrition per serving (4 prawns, plus 1 cup vegetables) | Calories: 282; total fat: 14g; saturated fat: 6g; cholesterol: 114mg; sodium: 650mg; carbohydrates: 27g; dietary fibre: 5g; sugar: 10g; protein: 15g.
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