One of the very valuable qualities my mother instilled in me from a young age is my love for a good deal and shopping economically. Whether it’s clipping coupons for the grocery store or finding the absolute best online deal for a cute dress, Katherine Powers truly is a bargain-hunting, money-saving ninja. She is patient and dedicated in her efforts, as she is not tempted by the same need for “instant gratification” that the rest of us are. If she wants a new purse or a specific brand of coffee, for example, she has no qualms waiting months on months on MONTHS until she can get it for the best price possible.
Though I am definitely not as strong-willed nor self-possessed as my mom is in this arena, I am grateful for the lessons her cautious spending habits have provided me. These lessons have been very instrumental in shaping how I grocery shop and, as a result, how I cook. I set budgets, I make lists, I seek out deals. The first step of my weekly menu planning process is to figure out what’s on sale, and then brainstorm how to combine those ingredients into several delicious, healthy meals.
This process has not only saved me money, but actually changed the way that I view and relate to food. So often, all focus is on the final dish. There is little attention or appreciation paid to the individual ingredients, as they are simply seen as the means to an end. My mother’s grocery shopping lessons have forced me to take a step back and understand that the end is a beautiful combination of the means. Rather than always “starting with the end in mind,” I start from the bottom up and I place value on the building blocks of a meal rather than just the finished product. This difference is subtle yet important, and allows for a more creative, engaging cooking process.
Now don’t get me wrong– you are not going to see me on the next episode of TLC’s “Extreme Couponers.” Just like everything else in life, smart shopping is not to be taken to the extreme. I splurge on ingredients and buy things that aren’t on my list. For special occasions, I plan out entire menus without paying attention to whether the ingredients are on sale. However, I think we all can benefit from paying a bit more attention to how we shop. Mindful consumers make for mindful eaters, which is what we all should aim to be.
These Thai Shrimp Tostadas are a perfect example of a delicious meal born from on-sale ingredients. I had received an email that shrimp were on sale at The Fresh Market, and knew Harris Teeter was running deals on avocados, cucumbers and colored peppers. I had my building blocks, and now needed to determine how to transform them into a finished dish. While searching my fridge and cabinets for inspiration, I spotted cashews, fish sauce and corn tortillas. These ingredients reminded me of Salt & Wind’s recipe for Thai Shrimp Tostadas that I had seen a few weeks earlier, so I decided to make my own version.
I absolutely love the flavor and texture combinations in these spicy, crunchy, sweet, melty tostadas. They are fresh and light, yet bold and savory. They provide a fun and interesting twist on a typically Mexican dish, and I just can’t get enough of them. What’s also great about these tostadas is that you can really add whatever ingredients you have on hand or are on sale as toppings. Sub out cashews for peanuts. Leave off the cucumbers, and add in different types of peppers. Think cilantro tastes like soap? Make a different type of dressing! The corn tortilla is your canvas, and you can do as you wish. The below recipe should be used as a spring board to the perfect thai shrimp tostada for you.
- 8 (5-inch) corn tortillas
- 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 3 teaspoons packed brown sugar, divided
- Juice of 1 lime, divided
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- ¼ cup coconut milk (I used Trader Joe's)
- Salt and Pepper
- ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves plus more for garnish
- 2 medium garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 medium avocado
- 2 red bell peppers, cut in strips
- 1 poblano pepper, cut in strips
- 1 cucumber thinly sliced
- 24 cherry tomatoes, halved
- ¼ cup cashews, chopped
- Heat oven to 450°F. Bake corn tortillas until crisp and lightly browned, about 5 to 8 minutes.
- Heat tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook pepper strips until tender.
- Toss shrimp with 1 tablespoon of oil, 2 teaspoons of brown sugar, juice of half the lime, Sriracha, ginger, coconut milk, salt and pepper. Mix until coated.
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add shrimp in a single layer and cook about 2 minutes per side (until pink). Flip and cook 2 more minutes.
- In a blender, add ½ cup of cilantro, the remaining olive oil, juice of half a lime, garlic, cayenne pepper, fish sauce, and remaining teaspoon brown sugar. Blend until smooth.
- Spread mashed avocados over tostadas and top with cooked peppers, cucumber and tomatoes. Place shrimp and cashews on top, and drizzle with cilantro dressing. Garnish with cilantro if desired.