I was so skinny in my early 20s that I wore a belt with everything. Then I began dating a foodie. He was five years older, more travelled, more cultured and always on a quest to find something exotic and tantalizing to nosh on. He introduced me to Vietnamese pho, Korean barbecue, Chinese dim sum, Himalayan momos, Cuban steak, Turkish cigar-shaped pastries (sigara böreği), Moroccan chicken pie, Ethiopian vegetable curries and the spongy bread which accompanies it. I loved it all. It wasn’t until I had my first encounter with ceviche on a trip to Miami, though, that I knew what true love really was.
The ceviche was mouthwatering and refreshing, especially in the heat. It was the perfect harmony of tangy and sweet, with powerful undertones of lemon, lime, cilantro, red onion, jalapenos, garlic and ginger. The way all the ingredients fused together in the citrus juice, which had permeated and seasoned the fish and shrimp, was just incredible.
When we got back from Miami, I found myself searching for ceviche on restaurant menus in D.C. Since very few places had it I just gave up, until a few years ago when I saw a travel show featuring cuisine from South American, coastal countries such as Peru and Chile. Each country had their own version of seafood soups and ceviches and it all looked divine. As the ingredients and preparation were quickly encapsulated on the show, it finally occurred to me that I could’ve been doing it myself the whole time!
Feeling empowered, I quickly began thumbing through online recipes, searching for one which replicated what I remembered tasting the first time. I didn’t find an exact match so I began experimenting with different versions on friends and relatives. Though my preference was always fish and shrimp ceviche, identical to the first dish I had, I found myself altering it.
The first few times that I made ceviche, I didn’t devein the shrimp. Gross! My poor, poor family. In later trials, my husband always complained it was too sour which led me to increase lemons and reduce limes. Then I added grapefruit juice and tried mango salsa. My aunt thought the fish was too soft and the shrimp too tough so I began using only shrimp. It took me a few years to create the best blend to satisfy everyone in the family. I must have mastered it because whenever I’m invited to a potluck these days, they ask me to bring my ceviche whether it’s in or out of season.
Though I can buy the ingredients in just about any supermarket, I find myself picking up a lot of the vegetables from the weekend farmer’s market in our neighborhood of Columbia Heights. When it comes to shrimp, I’ve tried large chains and the D.C. Fish Market but more recently I’ve found a Latin Grocery store on 14th Street which has really good seafood. The lines are long, but it’s convenient and worth the wait.
The great thing about ceviche is that you can make it to scale. There are certain primary ingredients you have to use such as the seafood and juices, but the garnishes are completely discretionary based on your taste and preference. Though I must warn you that ceviche isn’t very delicious without cilantro, onion and tomatoes. While not part of my recipe, you can also add beans, corn, cucumbers, potatoes and any other vegetable (the heartier the better) or spice.
(Perfect for gatherings)