I can't say no to cookbooks with enticing food pictures. I'll always fall for color and life, books that create gourmet fantasies in your mind and stimulate ideas for entertaining.
"Shrimp" by Jay Harlow (Chronicle Books: $16.95) gives me those pleasures. The author, a former restaurant chef and seafood columnist, takes you to Thailand with his Dancing Prawns stuffed with meat-they "dance" on skewers when grilled. He flies you to India with his Bombay Curry, to Italy with his Risotto di Frutti di Mare , to Japan with his lacy crisp tempura.
Harlow also makes you rediscover familiar dishes, and he always includes a tip at the end of a recipe. After giving instructions for shrimp in beer, he adds: "It's important to use flat beer for the pickling liquid, or it will foam like crazy when boiled and produce a lot of bubbles in the jar, which may affect the seal." Best of all, each recipe is accompanied by a stunning photograph by award-winning food and still-life photographer Victor Budnik.
One of the dishes that I particularly like to make is Vietnamese Triangle Spring Rolls. These crisp-fried shrimp snacks, "equally at home with an Asian meal or Western cocktails," are made of whole butterflied shrimp filled with seasoned minced pork and wrapped in transparent rice paper.
VIETNAMESE TRIANGLE SPRING ROLLS
24 medium shrimp
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon each minced ginger root and garlic
1/4 pound minced pork or ground beef
3 green onions, finely sliced (1/2 cup)
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 cup bean sprouts, blanched and cut into 1-inch lengths
1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped
8 (9-inch) round sheets rice paper
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Oil for deep-frying
Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce
Butterfly 16 shrimp, leaving tail shells attached. Peel, devein, and chop remaining shrimp. Heat the tablespoon oil in skillet over low heat and cook ginger and garlic until fragrant. Add minced pork and green onions and cook until meat loses raw color. Stir in chopped shrimp and cook until it turns pink. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool, then stir in bean sprouts and mint.
Bend rice papers against a straight edge to break them in half. Moisten 2 large clean kitchen towels and wring out excess water. Lay a towel out on table and spread single layer of rice papers over half the towel. Fold towel over and add another layer rice papers. Top with another towel and continue until all rice papers are between layers of towel. (You may need a third towel.) Turn over the stack and let stand until rice papers are soft and pliable, about 10 minutes.
Peel away towel to expose top layer of rice papers, but leave on towel. Brush piece of rice paper lighlty with egg white. Spread 1 shrimp out flat near one corner, with tail extending just past the straight edge.
Place 1 1/2 teaspoons of stuffing in neat pile on shrimp. Fold triangle of shrimp, stuffing, and paper over toward center of sheet (the tail will now be perpendicular to the straight edge). Fold triangle over again, so first fold lines up with straight edge. Lifting by tail, fold triangle over opposite side to match far edge of semicircle. Fold two remaining flaps over triangle.
Repeat with remaining papers and stuffing. Transfer rolls to sheet pan and refrigerate, covered with damp towel, until ready to cook.
Heat oil at least 1 1/2 inches deep to 350 degrees in wok of deep skillet. Fry rolls, a few at a time, until skins are browned and transparent, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve with Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: Even with careful folding, the rice paper does not always provide a perfect seal, and hot oil can leak into the packages. It's best to bite off a corner of the roll first, then let any liquid from inside the roll drip out before eating the rest.
Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce
1 tablespoon grated ginger root, with juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice, or to taste
1 teaspoon Chinese or Japanese sesame oil
Pinch of sugar, optional
Combine all the ingredients, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Transfer to individual small bowls for dipping, distributing the ginger evenly.
Variation: For mellower flavor, use rice vinegar in place of lemon juice. For hotter sauce, add few drops of hot pepper sauce.