Vietnamese Shrimp Salad
Bright and beautiful and free from regrets. Wish I could say that about everything in my life.
Serving Size: 6 to 8
This is the time of year where food writers start lamenting about how much we’ve all indulged, and pointing towards lighter meals and recipes as a way to make amends for our fourth quarter behavior. Mea culpa, and pass the bran flakes.
I’d rather think about all of those ingredients that didn’t make it into the traditional American holiday fare, which can be dominated by meat, potatoes, butter, cream, and pie (which somehow becomes a food group of its own). And — in a non-ascetic way — turn the spotlight onto ingredients that sparkle in flavor, and happen to be healthful at the same time.
Asian food has always excelled in this arena, and lately I’ve been drawn to the cooking of Vietnam, with its bright clean essence. Ingredients like fresh mint and cilantro, lemongrass, lime, ginger and the pungent but cleansing fish sauce, made from fermented anchovies (stay with me!) that gives a bracing lift to anything it is part of.
You can buy lemongrass and fish sauce at well-stocked supermarkets, Asian stores, and specialty markets, and you can order it online. There are also jarred versions of lemongrass available – just add a tablespoon of lemongrass paste to the dressing and skip the step where the fresh minced lemongrass would have been added to the water for cooking the shrimp.
If the word “julienne” causes you to shrug, know that it just means cut into matchsticks, and that you should feel free to shred the vegetables if that’s more happy-making.
There’s no reason to gnaw on a celery stick for the month of January. Just grab some shrimp, herbs and some vibrant Asian ingredients and march into the New Year with a spring in your step.
Vietnamese Shrimp Salad
- 2 tablespoons finely minced lemongrass
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 pounds peeled and deveined extra large shrimp
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 10 ounces Boston, Bibb or butter lettuce leaves, torn into big pieces
- ½ seedless cucumber, thinly sliced or julienned
- 2 large carrots, peeled and shredded or julienned
- 1 cup slivered scallions, white and green parts
- ¼ cup crushed salted peanuts (optional)
1. Fill a large pot about 3/4 full with water and add the lemongrass and salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, add the shrimp, and simmer for about 4 minutes until the shrimp are just cooked. Drain the shrimp and lemongrass into a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. The shrimp will not completely cool, which is fine.
2. While you are waiting for the water to boil, combine the shallots, lime juice, shallots, fish sauce, mint and cilantro in a large bowl or container. After you have rinsed the shrimp and lemongrass in the strainer, shake to remove any excess water and add them to the dressing. Toss so that the shrimp are fully coated with the dressing. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 24.
3. When you are ready to serve, arrange the lettuce in a shallow serving dish. Then scatter over most of the cucumber, carrots, and half the scallions. Distribute the shrimp with its dressing over the top of all, then scatter over the other half of the slivered scallions, and the handful of carrots and cucumbers remaining. Top with the peanuts if desired. Serve cool.