The Saline Courier Weekend

Cooking is a predictabl­e, comforting meditation in ever-changing times

- By Lynda Balslev

You might agree when I say that life feels uncertain right now. There is a new normal replacing many assumption­s and expectatio­ns we had taken for granted.

Some of this is organic: We evolve, kids grow, parents age, paradigms shift. Some of this is external: Our world as we know it changes, affecting jobs, homes, security -- even the weather. Yet, the only sure thing is that there is no sure thing. And this is a reason that I like to cook.

The act of cooking is predictabl­e and methodical, an essential daily routine that grounds and comforts us. When I cook, I surrender to its principles, meditate on the process, and revel in its artistic shape. Cooking tells a story that is both personal and reflective. Cooking is a thread that tethers us, reminding us of the past while planting seeds for the future, reinforcin­g and creating new traditions. It connects a family, old friends, new acquaintan­ces and travelers with whom we intersect.

The power to create and provide sustenance that feeds and links us to people is a most simple and powerful gift that we can realize for ourselves and loved ones every single day. I might not have a crystal ball, but I can predict my dinner, and I will make it happen.

This recipe is not fancy. It’s inspired by a glowing food memory of a trip I took to the wilds of Alaska a few years ago.

Shrimp and Kale Couscous

Active time: 30 minutes Total time: 30 minutes Yield: Serves 4 Extra-virgin olive oil 2 cups pearl (Israeli) couscous

2 cups plus 1/4 cup chicken stock

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus extra for garnish

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails optional

1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes

1 bunch purple or curly green kale, tough ribs removed, torn into large bite-size pieces

1 garlic clove, minced 1/4 cup mixed chopped fresh Italian parsley, dill and chives

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the couscous, stir to coat, and cook until the couscous is toasted light golden, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add the 2 cups stock (it will sizzle). Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, the cumin, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Keep warm.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a clean skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp in one layer to the skillet. Cook until bright pink and lightly seared on both sides and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.

In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the red chile flakes over medium heat. Add the kale and garlic and saute until the kale leaves begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup stock and continue to saute until the liquid evaporates, about 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

To serve, divide the couscous between serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with the kale. Arrange the shrimp over the kale. Garnish with the fresh herbs and additional lemon zest.

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