For Catholics, the practice of forgoing the consumption of meat during Lent (Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday) has its roots in the early days of the church and the “Black Fast,” when the righteous were expected to partake of no more than one meal each day throughout the season, with that one repast being devoid of meat, dairy, oil, or wine. Over the ages church law evolved to view the seasonal avoidance of meat on Fridays-only to be sufficient to fulfill the Lenten obligation for penance. 

In Louisiana, the absence of meat is replaced by an abundance of seafood, which starts to hit its annual stride in early spring—fortuitously right about the time when Lent hits. Crawfish season is underway, both brown and white shrimp are available, finfish are plentiful, crabs are just coming in, and oysters are still going strong. Yes, truly, in a region so rich in delicious seafood this penance seems less of a sacrifice and more an indulgence. Regardless of your religious affiliation, which would you rather have, another pot roast or this vibrant shrimp-based meal? Thought so. 

Because I am not ashamed to ask favors of friends in high places, I asked Michael Nelson, executive chef at GW Fins, to create a custom, Lent-appropriate, seasonal recipe for our NOSH readers. This easy, healthy, flavorful meal is the result. Enjoy. 

Gulf Shrimp with Quinoa Tabbouleh and Roasted Beets

Created by Executive Chef Michael Nelson, GW Fins

Serves 4

1-pound small, fresh beets (yellow, red, or Chioggia (the red and white swirled ones) or any combination)
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, in all
1 cup traditional white quinoa
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup thinly sliced chives
1 large lemon, juiced (about 5 tablespoons), in all
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound large (at least16/20 count) peeled and deveined Gulf Shrimp
1 tablespoon diced shallot
1 tablespoon sumac (see NOTES)

1. Preheat an oven to 350ºF.

Rub the beets with vegetable oil then wrap each individually in foil. Bake until just softened, 30-60 minutes depending on the size of the beets. In 30 minutes, test the beets with a wooden skewer. If it can be pushed through the center without too much force, the beet is cooked. Check each beet for doneness. 

2. Allow the beets to cool inside the foil for 20 minutes. Slip off the foil and gently rub the skins off using a paper towel (use gloves if handling red beets). For the best visual impact kept the beets separated by color. Place the beets in the fridge to cool. Beets can be prepared one day in advance and kept refrigerated.

3. Cut beets into quarters. If the beets are large cut them in a 1/2-inch dice. Place the beets in a bowl and add the capers, red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Return to the refrigerator.

4. In a small sauce pot combine 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. When done, the grain will appear soft and translucent and the germ ring will be visible along the outside edge of the grain. Transfer the quinoa to a bowl and allow it to cool uncovered in the fridge for 30 minutes. This can be done one day in advance. When cool, add the parsley, chives, two tablespoons olive oil, a pinch each of salt and pepper and half of the lemon juice (about 2½ tablespoons).

5. Divide the Quinoa Tabbouleh among four plates, top with the beet mixture. Set aside.

6. Pre-heat a large, preferably non-stick, skillet over high heat. Add the butter and carefully add the shrimp. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper. When brown on one side, about three minutes, flip the shrimp over and continue cooking until fully opaque, about one minute more.

7. Arrange the shrimp on the plates with the quinoa and beets, reserving the leftover butter in the pan. Return the pan to the heat, add the shallots, sumac and remaining lemon juice. Use a spatula to scrape the pan to remove stuck on bits (the fond). Gently spoon the mixture over the shrimp. 

  1. Take the time to pick through beets in the grocery or farmer’s market. Acquiring small to medium-sized beets that are all about the same size will ensure even cooking and a nicer final presentation.
  2. If buying shell-on shrimp that you will peel and devein yourself, start with two pounds as you will lose half the weight to shells (use them to make a quick stock for the freezer). If buying shrimp that are pre-peeled and deveined, they will most likely be frozen. You will need one pound. Factor in time for them to defrost before starting the recipe.
  3. With a deep red hue, a glossy appearance, and trademark citrusy tartness, sumac is a common spice in Middle Eastern cooking and lauded worldwide for its bold flavor and health-giving properties. Its culinary history dates back beyond the Roman empire. It is inexpensive and available locally at Mediterranean markets such as Mona’s Café & Deli, 3901 Banks St., 482-7743,; and the International Market, 3940 Barron St., 888-8832.