Scallop Ceviche with ALL the Veg
Seven months ago, I lived in a town of white. I left my white house, shoveled white off my stairs so I could get down them, and navigated treacherous white streets, surrounded by tall white walls. Within those white walls, I felt about 3 inches tall, and the weight of that winter was heavier than a 3-inch-tall person could carry; I couldn’t breathe. I was cold and I was tired and I was sick, always sick. The only green in this world of white was knowing that I wasn’t alone. I had 650,000 people with whom I could commiserate. But that small patch of green wasn’t enough to nourish me and on a cold February day, as I cursed at my immune system, I craved warmth so badly that I did something pretty out of character: I booked a trip. Just like that. The trip was for April, when it would still be frigid and when the white would still be present.
It would be my first vacation in years. I had kept a list of places I would go. My top 5 international locations: 1. Peru/Chile 2. Istanbul/Greek Islands, 3. Morocco, 4. Back to France, 5. Mexico. Plus, there’s still a lot of this expansive country I want to see.
But I did not go anywhere on my list. I did not go anywhere I ever intended to go. I needed to go where the heat was inescapable, where the white wasn’t cold, and, most importantly, where I could do absolutely nothing. I went to Turks and Caicos, alone, with my books, music, and podcasts. And, for three short days, I did what I desired: nothing.
I didn’t know I was an island person. I love the beach, but I can’t go on frequent trips so when I do go, I hope to explore culture and history and to go on adventures. But, as I said, I was 3 inches tall—my small body needed rest. I chose this particular island because there is nothing to do there. Nightlife is nonexistent, and there are no rain forests or waterfalls or gorges that I’d have to feel guilty about not going to see. I just needed to sit on my ass—to absorb the heat, salt, and beauty that my body was so deficient in. And I needed to be alone. I needed to put every ounce of energy into myself—to thaw, to nourish, to learn how to feel again. Alone.
I do not need to describe the sand and sea—of course they were beautiful. What’s important about this trip is that I shared a room with no one and jumped on the bed, that I swam in bath water alongside no one, and that I ate in solitude, focusing only on the fresh seafood before me and the sea breeze. I healed on my own accord.
I ate only seafood for my three solo dinners on the island. It was some of the freshest I’ve ever tasted. It was all simply prepared; complicated techniques would distract from the sea. The produce that surrounded the grilled whole red snapper or the buttery seared grouper filet was necessary only for nutrition; nothing is grown on the island and, thus, I was eating vegetables that flew as far as I did.
Conch, an island staple, must be eaten in ceviche or salad—forget fritters. Cooked only by the acid, the conch becomes tender but it retains a pleasant chew, and its natural sweetness is the only flavor that comes through. Given the lackluster produce on the island, it’s surprising that one of the best versions of conch ceviche, found at Seaside Café, is packed with vegetables. The hardy but tender texture of conch benefitted from a medley of textures and flavors: crunchy matchsticks of carrot, sweet bursts of crisp corn, flavor-absorbing sticks of zucchini, fiery bites of chile pepper, generous tomatoes to bring it all together.
Here, I try to taste the island, to keep it close while our weather still somewhat resembles that island’s in April (It’s still summer!)—and I definitely did so with better produce. I planned to use razor clams for texture, but plans changed when I saw the most beautiful dayboat scallops. Though meltingly tender, their sweetness, like the conch’s, balances all of the zip and punch of this spicy ceviche. I prefer more sparse, seafood-centric ceviche, where the tender fish or shellfish is accompanied by little else that could distract. But this veggie-packed ceviche is substantial and meal-worthy, and, most importantly a reminder of those three days of bliss. It lets me use all of the seasonal produce while I still can. I’ll likely never return to Turks and Caicos, and I won’t be able to go on another trip any time soon. But I hope by eating this ceviche I’ll reabsorb the warmth and beauty that helped me grow back to size in April.
Vegetable-Packed Scallop Ceviche
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound sea scallops, sliced in half or thirds horizontally
2/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 small red onion, chopped fine
1 scotch bonnet or habeñero pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small zucchini, julienned
1 large ripe tomato, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 cup cooked corn kernels (optional)
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 small jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and minced
Combine scallops, lime juice, lemon juice, onion, scotch bonnet, and garlic in bowl; season with salt. Press on scallops to make sure they’re submerged. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 to 8 hours. One hour before serving, stir in zucchini, re-cover bowl, and return to refrigerator.
Stir tomato, carrot, corn (if using), cilantro, and jalapeño into ceviche. Season with salt to taste, and serve.