It was a gorgeous afternoon, little more than a dozen months back. There was a subtle note of crispiness in the air that day. The deciduous conifers hadn’t taken on the nature’s autumn palette by then. Not completely. The fall had almost just picked up a paint brush and started little touch ups of colors here and there…on the sugar maple leaves, the hickories, oaks, beeches or the dogwoods and others. It would be another month until the trees put on the show, their fiery bright autumn hues. The kids were on a vacation at their grandparents, with Ma and Baba. S and I drove for an hour that day to a beautiful and quiet neighborhood in Pennsylvania. A very kind lady, a family friend, had humbly requested us to visit her new house and join them over for supper.
Upon arrival, we saw our little lady of the big house, out to greet us. And apparently, her house, which was in effect a huge mansion, spectacularly hailed us in its own way. The lush front lawn wore a rich velvety smile of autumn bloom. The asters, goldenrods, heleniums, fall crocus, Mexican and Russian sage, sweet autumn clematis and a selection of a couple other perennials. The million and half English-style stone house stood tall, embracing the view of a plush golf course from it’s backyard and breathing in all the greens and scenic charm around this colonial town.
One step into the home, and aesthetics stirred in an unsaid wave in the art enthusiast in me. Each wall, every nook and corner was adored with choicest little things…and these little nothings were very artsy. The home had best in class infrastructure, pub-house, a humongous entertainment area, a complete floor dedicated for sports, spa room, indoor golf course, party and dance floors, a huge theatre hall…all complete with the latest facilities, equipment’s, sound-light systems and luxury. But what riveted me most was the generous love for art. There were proud timeless Indian silk and cotton sarees that were awe-inspiringly twined into the décor. Then there were a multitude of the traditional “Kansa” (Indian bell metal) plates tastefully displaced as antique wall art. They made an exceptional impression. Isn’t it a beautiful thing to pay a sweet tribute as this to our heritage’s small souvenirs? My hostess was compassionate enough to escort us for a quick yet detailed tour of her country house. Each room had its own unique story, was designed intricately around an exclusive theme and was ornate with antiques in plurality. It all swept me away. Being the staunch art and history buff that I am, for once my heart felt like an adamant child perseveringly refusing to move out from the camaraderie of artistry.
Supper time and we all got together at the table. There were sparkling Victorian porcelain laid out over neat, ironed floral table linen and placemats. The dinner spread was simple, delightful and very fulfilling. Amidst a couple momentary interruptions from our gossips and laughs, we enjoyed our meal of soup, salad, fish, vegetables and seasoned rice. In seafood, there were catfish, salmon and shrimps. One distinctive dish I savored most was one where the shrimps were cooked with lima beans, corn, peppers and onions. The blend of ordinary ingredients made it quite extraordinary, on the plate! Later, as I sipped on my tea from a vintage European cup embossed with roses and gold rim, I was still silently admiring the taste. I had never had shrimps with lima beans before. The combination wasn’t common, and yet it brought out a whole new level of taste together.
I inquisitively asked about the dish I just had. I was told that it was called Shrimp Succotash. Succotash means “broken corn kernels” in Rhode Island’s (now extinct) native Narragansett language. The dish was part of America’s traditional native staple food, and was regional to Pennsylvania and the New England states. It originated during the Great American Depression and economic crisis in the 1930’s…and utilized the most available, affordable and sustainable harvest of corn and local shelled beans, to feed and nourish the crowd with minimalistic food. Eventually, over the years and through succeeding generations, the original field corns and shelled cranberry beans were replaced with sweet corn and lima beans in succotash. Then the new world also paved way for meat, fish and seafood to find their way into the dish as add-ons, to complete the veggies with animal protein and other goodnesses. That night I drove back home with memories. Lots and lots of them. Memories of art, of warm hospitality, of Succotash and it’s flavorful impression on my taste buds.
Succotash makes a classic American thanksgiving meal…so much so, that there’s also this story that claims the dish was part of the pilgrim’s *first thanksgiving* menu in Plymouth, Massachusetts sometime in 17th century. Owing to the all-year bountiful supply of it’s ingredients, it also remains a great summer recipe. It’s been a little shy from 2 years that succotash has been a regular feature on my home’s weekly food menu. I’ve made it the umpteenth time. You can never go wrong with this dish. I do not like tomatoes in mine, and I also use some fresh ground pepper and paprika flakes to deck up the spice levels of my dish a little. Again, it’s very forgiving. And yet the taste pays off much more than the little effort it takes to make it. Sometimes after a long exhausting day’s work, if I need an express salad or dinner and have no life left to do the chopping, I would end up throwing in frozen chopped onions and green peppers in my wok along with corn and lima beans, and quickly stir fry my way through it in no time! Succotash makes a great side, a salad-sort of a dish or a great snack in itself! Again, it’s simple, uses easy ingredients, is quick cooking and very nourishing. And that was exactly the purpose why someone invented did this dish, remember?
Try this rewarding dish and leave me a comment here so I know how you liked it. It’s all about diffusing the aroma and flavors of a delightful timeless food, after all!
Serves 3 to 4
- About 15 jumbo shrimps, cleaned and tail on (1 lb or 600 oz) – fresh or frozen
- 6oz or 150gm chopped onions (1 heaped US cup)
- 6oz or 150gm chopped green bell peppers (1 heaped US cup)
- 6oz or 150gm baby lima beans (1 US cup) – fresh or frozen
- 5oz or 100gm sweet corn – fresh or frozen
- 5 tbsp ground black pepper — *Optional (skip for less heat)
- 5 tbsp paprika flakes — *Optional (skip for less heat)
- Salt to taste
- 1/4 US cup (60 ml) light olive oil
- If using frozen shrimps, thaw them. Rub the shrimps with 1 tsp salt and all of the ground pepper.
- Heat all the olive oil in a wok over medium heat. Line up the shrimps in wok in a single layer, so they don’t overlap (do this in batches if required). Fry shrimps for 2 minutes on each side. When done and with slight reddish tinge, spoon out the shrimps in another bowl for use later.
- In the same wok, add all the onions, peppers, lima beans, corn, paprika flakes and salt to taste. Stir fry them for about 5 minutes on medium-high heat. Add the shrimps. Cover cook on medium-low heat till all is cooked and done. Check for salt and seasoning and take off from heat.
Serve your Succotash hot, as a side with a dash of lime juice, with bread or rice. Or eat it as a snack or a salad with some greens. Or make a sandwich and eat away!
Skip the shrimps for a vegetarian version. For added punch, use cooking grade mustard oil in place of olive oil. For vibrant colors, you may use 0.5 tsp of turmeric powder (haldi) to this dish. Substituting chopped green bell peppers with a mixture of green and red peppers reduces down the heat and add adds a bright color to this dish. Half a tomato could also be added – I don’t like mine tang, so don’t use tomatoes. Shrimps can be substituted for fish or meat of your choice. I have made my succotash without corn (I know it infringes the entire definition of this dish!), and it still tastes almost as great! And of course, for a non-spicier milder version, you may totally avoid adding ground pepper and paprika or pull down their amounts per your taste preference.
On those bad busy weekdays, I would fry the shrimps a day before and refrigerate, plus chop the onions and bell pepper and store in the fridge. I have also thrown in and used frozen chopped onions and peppers and the dish tasted just as good. This dish really is a time and life saver when it comes to quick nutritious meals!