Shrimp & Quinoa Grits

Shrimp & Quinoa Grits is a twist on the Southern classic.
Shrimp & Quinoa Grits is a twist on the Southern classic.

My apologies to friends who wish that the quinoa trend would just go away. (Most of them feel the same way about kale.)  But my Standard-Examiner column this week has a recipe for using quinoa in the Southern classic Shrimp & Grits.

Several years ago in New Orleans, I had shrimp and grits at Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA restaurant and was hooked. Plump Gulf-caught shrimp, nestled on a bed of creamy, cheesy grits is a great combination, and I look for it every time I’m in the South.

I asked a chef in Birmingham the secret behind his luscious grits and he smiled and said, “Tons of butter and cream.”

When I started devising my own recipe, I wanted to be able to make it in about 30 minutes. I gave it a twist by using quinoa instead of grits. Quinoa is an ancient crop that has become popular as a gluten-free alternative to wheat. It’s also high in protein, fiber, iron and calcium.

I chose to use the tan-colored quinoa (instead of the red-brown color) because it looks more like grits. I didn’t use cream, but the cheese and bacon gives it a decadent flair.

If you’d rather use grits, you are welcome to do so.

Shrimp is America’s most popular seafood today. But many people don’t realize that about 90 percent of the shrimp eaten in the U.S. comes from fish farms in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil and Ecuador.  This is a dilemma for seafood lovers, as you have to wonder what the growing conditions are like in these foreign countries. After all, China doesn’t have the greatest food safety track record. But wild-caught shrimp is a lot more expensive, and there’s not enough of it to satisfy the American hunger for it.

How can you tell if shrimp is caught in waters around the U.S., or farmed?  At the grocery store, some packages may have a “Certified Wild American Shrimp” label. Look for the country of origin label. In small print it will say something like “Product of Ecuador” or “Product of Thailand” or “Product of U.S.A.”

Unfortunately, if the seafood is an ingredient in a processed product, such as a frozen meal, the country of origin label isn’t required.

A couple of tips for buying shrimp:

• Buy frozen. Unless you are living near the coastline, the “fresh” shrimp sitting in the supermarket meat counter was likely shipped frozen, and then thawed for display. It’s the same shrimp as a the frozen bag in the freezer aisle. And it hasn’t been sitting in the meat counter all day.

• The lower the count, the bigger the shrimp. So if you see, “31-35 count,” that means you need 31 to 35 shrimp in order to equal one pound. What is considered “jumbo” is 21-25 shrimp per pound.

Pre-cooked, tail-off shrimp can be found in the freezer section in most supermarkets. If you use raw shrimp, add a few more minutes to the cooking time, to make sure the shrimp is thoroughly cooked.

Shrimp & Quinoa grits.
Shrimp & Quinoa grits.


Prep time: 30 minutes

Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped onions (1 medium onion)

1 red or green bell pepper, chopped

2 ribs celery, sliced or diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1-1/2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning, divided (more if you want more heat)

4 cups chicken broth

1 12-ounce package (about 1 2/4 cup) quinoa

1/2 cup cooked, crumbled bacon (optional)

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (or Monterey Jack with hot peppers if you want more heat)

1 pound pre-cooked tail-off shrimp (medium, 36-40 or 41-50 count per pound, thawed if frozen)

Green onions for garnish

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add green onions, bell pepper, and garlic, and sauté 5 minutes, or until tender.

Then add 4 cups chicken broth and bring it to a boil.

Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in cold water through a sieve.

When the broth mixture comes to a boil, stir in the quinoa and 1 teaspoon of the Cajun seasoning and bacon, if using.

Reduce the heat to low, so that the liquid is barely bubbling, cover with a lid and cook about 15 minutes, or until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa has a translucent look, a spiraled look.

Stir in the cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese until well-blended.

Arrange the shrimp on top. Sprinkle with remaining half-teaspoon Cajun seasoning and green onions.

Turn off the heat, leaving the pot on the burner. Place the lid on top of the pot, and let the shrimp heat through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve.

Options: You can add slices of Andouille sausage, or spread the shrimp with a half-cup of canned, chopped tomatoes and more Cajun seasoning.


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