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Bert Greene's Kitchen

The Shrimp Dreams Are Made Of

March 17, 1988|Bert Greene | Greene is a New-York based food writer

I am a logical man, not given to flights of fancy in or out of the kitchen. But sometimes the supernatural throws me a curve I cannot quite ignore.

Trying to find a radio station in downtown Los Angeles recently, I became hopelessly lost. Driving along the Harbor Freeway, I finally pulled off an exit ramp to ask directions. The neighborhood in which I found myself was almost totally vacant; great yawning warehouses devoid of any street life whatsoever. The few pedestrians I stopped spoke no English and all public telephones were either smashed or inoperable. Growing desperate--for I was scheduled to be interviewed in less than half an hour--I noticed an old woman several blocks away. She was standing on a street corner, arranging piles of tattered magazines on the sidewalk, presumably for sale.

When I drove alongside the display and showed her the address I was looking for, she shook her head.

' . . . Like an Open Book'

"You're miles out of your way," She said gravely, "but you're in luck. I know this city like an open book."

The truth is, she did. After scratching her chin several times, she dictated the route verbatim. When I thanked her, she grinned.

"If you're so grateful, buy a book."

I stared at the dismal array spread out on the pavement without much real enthusiasm. Before I could choose, however, she seemed to read my mind. Reaching into a cardboard box, she handed me a tan pamphlet; not unlike some volume of privately printed poems.

"This one has your name on it," she said knowingly. "Only $5, too."

The cover had a design of cabalistic symbols inscribed with a legend printed over it. "Dr. Bert's Book of Magic, Dreams and Occultism," it said. That might have given me real pause if I had not been so late. Instead, I handed over the money, stashed the book in my raincoat pocket and took off for the interview. In the rear view mirror, I could see the old woman on the curb, laughing and laughing.

Actually I never thought of the book again until several weeks later when I returned home to New York. My cleaner discovered it when the raincoat had to be pressed.

"Did you write this?" he asked.

"No. Just a coincidence."

'Dreams of Cooks'

But was it? When I took up the book for the first time, the pages flipped open to a section entitled "Dreams of Cooks." Scanning that, I came upon a long list, some of which appeared to be underlined.

"To dream of prawns . . . means great ambition. To dream of onions . . . means tears without a serious cause. To dream of hot pepper or fiery seasoning . . . means you must be on guard against the devil's wiles."

Now you must understand that up until this point, I had absolutely no visions of those ingredients in any form. But I certainly did that night.

I dreamed I was in a well-appointed kitchen preparing a wonderfully spicy dish of shrimp, bacon, green onions and chili powder. While I cooked, the old woman stood at my side, nodding. When I awoke, I wrote down all the ingredients I put together in my dream and made the dish shortly afterward. So far it has not made me rich or famous. But it tastes supernaturally delicious all the same.


1/2 pound sliced bacon

2 bunches green onions, white bulbs and green tops, chopped separately

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper

1 chili, seeded, deveined and minced

1 large tomato, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder

1/2 tablespoon mild ground chiles or paprika

1/4 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup vodka

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce


Freshly ground pepper

Hot cooked rice

Saute bacon in large heavy skillet until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Crumble and reserve.

Discard all but 2 tablespoons bacon drippings from skillet. Add chopped green onion bulbs and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat 2 minutes. Add garlic, sweet peppers and chile. Cover and cook 1 minute.

Add tomato and basil and cook 1 minute longer. Toss in shrimp. Sprinkle with chili powder and mild ground chiles. Continue to toss until shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes.

Add chicken broth, vodka, chopped green onion tops and reserved crumbled bacon. Continue to toss, until slightly thickened, but not dry, about 2 minutes. Add hot pepper sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over hot cooked rice. Makes 4 servings.

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