A cold winter night is a good time to browse the cookbooks languishing on your book shelves, the ones that might provide an antidote for the long nights and freezing temperatures that define winter in the Midwest. Nothing, after all, warms a house better than a kitchen perfumed with the scent of bread baking in the oven or soup simmering on the stove. Even a quick stir-fry leaves behind a wealth of fragrant aromas. And since I have an enduring enthusiasm for anything made with soy sauce or Southeast Asian fish sauce, that’s where I decided to begin.
I’m not sure how Nina Simonds’ “Asian Wrappers” (William Morrow and Company, Inc., published in 2000) wound up on my bookshelves, but I was probably interested in the recipes made with flour based wrappers, such as mu shu or spring rolls or egg rolls. Two decades later, it’s the lettuce wrappers that capture my attention.
At the beginning of her chapter on “bite-sized wraps,” Simonds writes, “Asia boasts a wonderful variety of roll-ups and wraps…Their compact shapes and enticing textures beguile the palate and pique the appetite, teasing it with bursts of pungent of flavors.” How could I resist?
Barbecued Sweet-and-Sour Shrimp
1 3/4 pounds medium-sized raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, rinsed, drained, and patted dry
For the Marinade, mixed together:
1/4 cup rice wine or sake
2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
For the Sweet-and-Sour Sauce
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup water
6 tablespoons Japanese rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
For the Grill:
1 ripe pineapple (about 2 pounds), peeled, cored or cut into cubes, or about 2 1/2 cups drained, canned pineapple chunks
6 scallions, ends trimmed and cut into one-inch segments
Twelve 10-inch-long bamboo skewers, soaked in cold water and drained
2 tablespoons safflower or corn oil
2 heads Boston lettuce, cores trimmed, leaves separated, pressed to flatten, rinsed, drained, and arranged in a serving bowl or basket
- Place the shrimp in a large bowl and add the marinade. Toss lightly to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- Combine the sweet-and-sour sauce ingredients in a medium-size heavy saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Heat, stirring, until thickened. Pour half the sweet-and-sour sauce into a bowl and set aside. Keep the remaining sauce warm over low heat.
- Alternately thread the shrimp, pineapple cubes and scallions onto the skewers and brush with the reserved sweet-and-sour sauce.
- Prepare a medium-hot fire for grilling. Place the grill rack about 3 inche above the coals. Brush the grill rack generously with the safflower or corn oil and heat until hot. Arrange the skewers of shrimp on the grill and grill until the shrimp are cooked through, 3-4 minutes per side.
- Remove and arrange on a serving plate. Pour the remaining sauce into a serving dish. To eat, spread a dollop of the sauce on a lettuce leaf, arrange some of the shrimp, pineapple and scallions on top, roll up, tucking in the edges, and eat with your fingers.
Serves 6 as an appetizer, less if you serve the dish as an entree.
Note: If you don’t have a grill available, I’d suggest cooking the shrimp in an oven preheated to 475 degrees F, an alternative Simonds recommends in a recipe for grilled salmon. You could also stir-fry the shrimp. Expect tantalizing aromas, whichever option you choose.
The recipe is adapted from a recipe in Nina Simonds “Asian Wraps” (William Morrow and Company, Inc., $23.00)
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