- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The cuisine of Southeast Asia is especially vibrant, defined by a palate that includes sweet, salty, hot and sour flavors.

Herbs such as mint, cilantro and a special variety of basil are used frequently, and seafood from nearby waters, especially the omnipresent shrimp, plays a prominent role. Perfect for the hot climates where they originated, these foods are uncomplicated to prepare and inspired today’s recipe for grilled shrimp with Southeast Asian dipping sauce.

The dipping sauce requires no cooking — just mix together fresh lime juice and zest, fish sauce and sugar, and then add minced lemon grass, crushed red pepper flakes, garlic, cilantro and mint.

Some essential flavoring agents for this imaginative cuisine are present here — sour from the lime and the lemon grass, salty from the fish sauce, sweet from the sugar, and hot from the pepper. A bowl of this assertive sauce pairs beautifully with skewers of grilled shrimp to make an irresistible summer appetizer.

Fish sauce and lemon grass are available in Asian food stores and in many supermarkets, so you won’t have to undertake a scavenger hunt to find them. Count on about 15 minutes to assemble the sauce and less than 5 minutes to cook the shrimp — not a lot of time for such a tempting dish to enjoy with friends.

Grilled shrimp with Southeast Asian dipping sauce

Makes 6 to 8 servings as an appetizer.

1/2 cup fresh lime juice (8 or more limes)

1 1/4 teaspoons lime zest

1/4 cup fish sauce (see note)

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 tablespoons minced lemon grass (see note)

1 medium garlic clove finely chopped

2 teaspoons chopped cilantro

1 teaspoon chopped mint plus 2 to 3 sprigs for garnish

3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Canola oil for brushing on shrimp, plus extra for grill

1 1/4 pounds large shrimp (16 to 20 count), shelled and deveined

Wooden skewers (soaked in water 30 minutes before using)

In a nonreactive bowl, whisk together lime juice and zest, fish sauce, and sugar until sugar has dissolved. Add lemon grass, garlic, cilantro, mint and red pepper flakes, and stir well. (Sauce can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)

Oil a grill rack and arrange it 4 to 5 inches from heat source. Prepare grill for a hot fire (high temperature). Skewer 1 shrimp on each skewer, then brush on both sides with oil. When grill is ready, grill shrimp until they turn pink and are curled, about 2 minutes per side. Do not overcook, or shrimp will become tough.

Arrange a bowl of sauce on a serving plate, surround with skewered shrimp, and garnish with mint sprigs.

Note:Lemon grass has long, slightly woody, grayish-green stalks about the size of green onions. To use, discard any discolored outer stalks and cut off bases. Chop just the white portion of the stalks. Store in a plastic bag for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.


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