Quinoa Bowl with Harissa Shrimp / by Chelsea Zwieg

While it's possible that I have declared March to be the second most boring month of the year on numerous occasions (following just behind the most boring month ever, BYE February), it does have a few redeeming qualities. This year it has Easter, aka the perfect time to use my family as guinea pigs in all sorts of baking experiments, and it also has the birthdays of a few of my very favorite people. I'm a big fan of birthdays and, in this case, an even bigger fan of the people that they celebrate. In case you missed all of the fanfare and press coverage, Friday was the national holiday known as my mom's birthday. 

I'm sure I've mentioned it on here before, or if you've ever had a conversation with me in real life, you've probably caught on to the fact that my mom definitely falls into the most favorite people category. At the risk of sounding super sappy, she has been one of my best friends through the very best and very very worst times of my life. She is always there to give advice, listen to me complain or get overly excited with me about things that probably aren't that exciting to anyone else. She is the person I have always looked up to, always want to talk to and have always hoped to be like when I grow up. She is also the only person that will tolerate and reciprocate my excessive use of emojis on an acceptable level and laugh at all my jokes. So, come on. 

Last year, I was lucky enough to get to celebrate her birthday in Tennessee with her where we did all of the important birthday week activities like going to movies, eating at PF Changs and feeding coconut cake to our favorite Sheepdog. This year we were separated by our usual 700 miles and so I figured that the least I could do was make all of her blog post dreams come true. Whenever I am stuck on an idea for my next blog post, I will send a text asking for ideas and always, always, always her response is "something with meat". Since all of my recipes tend towards the roasted vegetable or baked goods categories, meat tends to be a little bit of a rarity around here.  

But no more. The mother demands a meat recipe and I will deliver! In the form of harissa shrimp and quinoa bowls. It took me a long time to get on the shrimp bandwagon but now that I am on, I am ON. Obsessed. They are so easy! And versatile! And cute! I never thought shrimp would elicit so many exclamation points from me. 

These shrimp get a quick soak in a spicy harissa marinade. If you are not familiar with harissa, it is a North African pepper paste, usually made with roasted red pepper and mix of other hot chilis such as Ancho, Pasilla and Guajillo. It's also loaded with other spices usually along the lines of coriander, caraway and cumin. It's obviously got a lot going on and, depending on the brand you use, is typically very spicy. The marinade is balanced out with lime juice and honey, which you can definitely add more of if you are looking to go more the way of sweet and flavorful with just a hint of spice. Personally I prefer in-your face-knock-you-over heat with a just a hint of sweet.

The shrimp are added to the top of a simple and delicious quinoa salad with spinach, cucumbers, sun dried tomatoes (which make an appearance in many varieties of harissa) and almonds. It's a quick and simple lunch or dinner that can be ready in 30 minutes. Just the kind of thing you will want to have as the warm weather starts to show it's face. (did you hear that spring? show your face.)  I did not include a dressing with mine and instead gave it a heavy handed squeeze of lime juice and called it a day. If lime juice is not your thing, a citrus vinaigrette or even a creamy, yogurt based dressing (maybe with some herbs? oh man, now I need to try this) would be great. 

So, happy mom's birthday, go hug your moms and cook them some meat (or whatever they repeatedly request until you break down and comply). 

Quinoa Bowls with Harissa Shrimp

Serves 4

| Ingredients

1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 cup harissa

1 tbsp. fresh lime juice

1 tsp. honey (or more if you want to tone down the spice)

1 cup quinoa

2 cups spinach

1 large cucumber, chopped

1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped

1/3 cup almonds, chopped (and toasted, if you really want to do a happy dance) 

| Instructions

In a bowl, combine harissa, lime juice and honey. Add the shrimp, tossing to coat, and let sit for 10 minutes. 

In a medium saucepan, bring quinoa and 2 cups water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the liquid has absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy, about 15-20 minutes. In the last minutes or so of cooking, add spinach and cook, stirring often, until spinach is wilted. Transfer spinach quinoa mixture to a large bowl. After it has cooled slightly, stir in cucumber, sun dried tomatoes and almonds.

Meanwhile, heat a drizzle of olive oil or pat of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and saut√© a few minutes on each side until they are cooked through and have a nice golden color. 

Divide quinoa in four bowls, top with shrimp and serve.