Sometimes we need food to be fun as much as delicious. Here’s a meal for which you needn’t set the table with cutlery and you can (for once) encourage everyone to dive in with their hands.
You can make a dipping sauce if you like. You don’t necessarily need it for flavor, but it does add to the fun. I use the sauce from Andrea Nguyen’s great book, "Vietnamese Food Any Day." It’s equal parts fish sauce and lime juice (4 tablespoons of each is good) with a tablespoon or two of sugar and a splash of rice vinegar, to which you add warm water to dilute it a bit. Sometimes, I add sliced chilies or scallions to the sauce, and other times nothing at all. If the directions sound vague, it is because I learned on my travels in Vietnam to taste and adjust it each time, depending on what is getting dipped. It is all about finding the balance of sweet, salty and sour that appeals to you.
The filling below has enough robust flavor to stand on its own. When I substitute tofu for the shrimp (cut it up into small cubes and sear it until it is golden brown) I am more likely to add a dipping sauce, just because tofu is less flavorful than shrimp. Speaking of substitutions, this is a lovely way to use up leftovers. Chop up the pork or chicken from last night’s dinner and use it in place of the shrimp. Whatever protein you opt for, enjoy the great flavor of this dish while you eat with your hands.
Vietnamese Inspired Shrimp Lettuce Cups
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium yellow bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 pound peeled and deveined small shrimp, 51-60 per pound, cut in thirds
4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
12 Boston lettuce leaves
1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, scallions, bell pepper, and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook until just pink, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the hoisin, fish sauce, and Sriracha sauce and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro.
2. Spoon the shrimp mixture evenly among the 12 lettuce leaves and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings