Cooks Corner

Coaxing big flavors out of small recipes

Shrimp and lime lettuce wraps get a kick from dried sriracha seasoning.
Shrimp and lime lettuce wraps get a kick from dried sriracha seasoning.

This week’s mail brought more fun suggestions from readers for the four-ingredient recipe file. If you’ve got one, share!

I’m struck by how much these reader recipes depend upon a “find” — a commercial product that shortcuts the prep time for putting out good-tasting food. Last week a reader mentioned Trader Joe’s ginger peanut salad dressing, which I consider one of the “musts” in my pantry as well. I not only use it often on salads, but use it to perk up ramen and even boring rotisserie chicken.

This week one reader recipe calls for “good pesto” and suggests the Costco version, while another uses a bottled mojo.

So my thought is that if you’ve found a Must Have on Hand commercial product that you use all the time, we should share our secrets. Write or send me an email with your nominations.

Bobbi Fitzsimmons of Wilmington, North Carolina, gives us her “easiest four-ingredient pasta entree ever.” She says the creamy, juicy and garlicky dish earns raves. I know I’ll be making it often. The key is making sure you’ve got a great commercially prepared pesto; Fitzsimmons uses Costco’s house brand.

Joe notes that we’ve neglected to mention a Miami classic four-ingredient wonder: lechon asado. Here’s how he does it:

“I put a pork shoulder roast, about 3 pounds or so, in a crockpot. Add the whole bottle (24 ounces) of mojo. Throw in a couple of thick-sliced onions and a bay leaf or two and let it simmer on medium for 6 or 8 hours. Shred into chunks, take away any fat, and serve. Couldn’t be simpler.”

Not everyone will be happy with the idea of bottled mojo, but I always have a bottle in the pantry. The key, I think, is finding one that lists sour orange or other citrus as one of the first ingredients. If you can’t find that, then add orange juice to whatever you do find.

For those unfamiliar with mojo, sometimes called mojo criollo, it is a marinade with not just the citrus but also olive oil, lots of garlic, oregano and cumin. You can find it in most supermarkets if there is a Latin community, or buy it online.

Tried and New

Just found a dried version of sriracha seasoning from McCormick at my supermarket, and I like the versatility of being able to add a powder rather than a liquid to recipes — think dry rub, or creating your own taco or chili mix. It’s not quite as heady as bottled sriracha, since it has paprika along with red chile peppers, garlic and vinegar notes, but you can always add more at the table.

Cook’s Inbox

Q. Help. I am maid of honor for my best friend, and I’m hosting the shower next month. I need something that I can serve for a brunch that is both vegetarian and gluten-free. Any ideas?


A. Serendipity: I just snagged the recipe here for gluten-free lemon ricotta pancakes and made them for a Shrove Tuesday gathering. (I’m a pancake fiend, and love recipes that work as well for dinner as for breakfast).

These are wonderfully delicious, will appeal to most, and you can make the pancakes in advance and reheat in the oven. I’d make it festive by adding a toppings bar with sliced berries, bananas, chopped nuts or toasted oats, whipped cream and different flavors of syrup. The recipe is from a website for finding bed and breakfasts; that for fun showcases lots of recipes contributed by accommodations across the country. This recipe is from the Inn on Randolph in Napa, California.

Linda Cicero: @TasteMemories. Write to Cook’s Corner at Food, Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.

Goat Cheese, Pesto and Tomato Pasta

You can choose any small pasta, but Fitzsimmons says the cup-like shape of these “little ears” is perfect.

1 cup fresh, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (or 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes)

4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled or cubed

1/2 cup good-quality prepared pesto

8 ounces orecchiette pasta

Put tomatoes and goat cheese in a large bowl; set aside. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain pasta, then pour over tomatoes and goat cheese. Add pesto on top, mix everything together, and serve immediately.

Yield: 2 servings

Sriracha Lime Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

If you prefer, wrap the shrimp in grilled tortillas or in rice paper at the table. From

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon dry sriracha seasoning

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup raw jasmine rice

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon sugar

8 Bibb lettuce leaves

Optional garnishes: Chopped cucumber, shredded carrots, sliced green onions

Mix oil and seasoning in large bowl. Add shrimp; toss to coat well. Refrigerate 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook rice as directed on package. Mix cilantro, lime juice and sugar. Add to rice, fluff with fork until well blended. Keep warm.

Grill shrimp over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes per side or just until shrimp turn pink. Spoon rice and shrimp into center of each lettuce leaf. Top with sliced cucumber, shredded carrots and thinly sliced green onions, if desired. Fold sides of lettuce over filling and roll up to serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Lemon Ricotta Gluten-Free Pancakes

If you’re not gluten intolerant, all-purpose flour works fine. And yes, you can cut the recipe. But these freeze wonderfully to reheat another day. From

5 cups gluten free flour blend (Pamela’s flour blend suggested)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

6 cups ricotta cheese

1 cup half and half

Zest and juice from 5 Meyer lemons

15 large eggs, separated

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 bunch fresh basil leaves

Maple syrup for serving

Stir together flour, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the zest, ricotta, lemon juice, egg yolks, half & half and butter. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined. Whip the egg whites to firm peaks and gently fold into batter.

Heat griddle to medium heat. Cook pancakes about 2 minutes on each side. (Keep warm, uncovered on a cookie sheet in a 300-degree oven while cooking all the batter). Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup and chiffonade of basil, or with fresh fruit.

Yield: 20 servings