A shrimp salad came to mind when I spotted a box of glistening green tomatoes at the vegetable store. Don’t know why, but the idea of fat, crispy shrimps nestling in a big bowl loaded with a tumble of fresh, emerald tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers and fragrant herbs set off my imagination. Then I thought, a big bowl of that doused with an Asian-style dressing, all salty and lemony would make a near perfect summer salad. With a handful of roasted peanuts thrown in to jazz it all up.
Shrimps or prawns, whatever you call them, there’s no denying that they are one of the world’s favourite things to eat. Fried, steamed, curried or grilled, they are irresistible. For this recipe, I bought medium to large size shrimp, cleaned and deveined them but retained the tail. Completely edible, the tails add a great crunch of calcium when fried. I fried the shrimp just for a minute, dusted with rice flour. Cooked this way, they emerged golden and crisp but remained juicy and sweet inside. Unlike batter-fried prawns, this coating was thin and didn’t absorb as much oil as battered ones would. Building a good salad means getting the small things right; like cooking the shrimps correctly. Overcook them and you will find yourself biting into rubbery curls of crustacean. So stand by the stove, watch them like a hawk and pull them out of the hot oil in a minute. No longer. Before frying, I marinated them in a dash of thick black soy and fish sauce for 15 minutes. In that time they soaked in the flavours and helped add depth to the salad.
Green tomatoes are underrated and underused. I love their inherent crisp sourness that begs a hit of salt and a splash of lemon juice. Their firm, jade plumpness screams summer and I really didn’t want to tamper too much with their gorgeousness. Since the tomatoes weren’t too large, I quartered some and cut the rest into thick wedges. You want to keep them chunky so that they retain the shape in the salad. For a double dose of freshness, I chopped a couple of dark green hothouse cucumbers into matchsticks. Much smaller seeds and a less watery, firm flesh, makes them ideal for marinating. Yes, I marinated the green tomatoes and cucumbers in a little dressing for about 10 minutes before assembling the shrimp salad.
The dressing is a the type that makes you smack your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Tingling with lemon juice, kissed lightly with sugar and balanced with the salty umami of funky fish sauce, this is a simple but punchy dressing that you’ll want to drink…I know I did. I’m a little loco for Asian flavours that way. Anyway, when the tomatoes and cucumbers sit in this delicious puddle, they drink it up and pack the shrimp salad with a big fat punch of taste. If you don’t like the funk of fish sauce, you can skip it altogether and your salad will still be yummy.
The shrimps aren’t the only fried morsels in the salad. Fried shallots and garlic, golden and gloriously rich just seem to belong in this shrimp salad. The smell and taste of fried onions and even garlic is very hard to describe; maybe like warm, crispy crumbs of salted caramel. And who doesn’t like that! Peeling, slicing and chopping shallots and garlic and then frying them in batches does seem like a lot of work for a salad. It calls for attention to detail, but believe me, the result is worth the extra elbow grease. I can never just fry up the exact quantity so I inevitably end up with a surplus of both fried garlic and shallots. And this makes me so happy because these keep well (since all their moisture has been dried out by frying) in little airtight jars for weeks and can be sprinkled on a whim on ramen, fried eggs, soups and even stuffed inside grilled cheese sandwiches. Can’t tell you how transported I am each time I bite into a warm, cheesy, garlicky sandwich.
Once again, remember you cannot take your eyes off the frying shallots and garlic or they’ll burn. And burnt, they become unpleasantly bitter, charred bits of carbon. Always fry the mon medium heat so that go from pale to golden slowly. And you can always plan ahead and make these in advance.
But this salad is not a dish you assemble a moment to before you decide to eat. It must be fresh, crunchy and sparkling on the plate. So keep your elements ready. The prawns can be fried a little earlier and kept uncovered in a low oven (so that the steam doesn’t make them soggy). When you’re ready to serve, just throw the marinated green tomatoes and cucumber, herbs and shrimp into a bowl, drizzle generously with the dressing and sprinkle with roasted and crushed peanuts, fried garlic and shallots, toss lightly and you have a big bowl of shrimp salad to wow your friends and family.
Shrimp Salad With Tangy Thai Dressing
For the shrimp
- 24 medium to large shrimps/prawns cleaned and deveined with tails intact
- 1 tsp dark soy
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 3 tbsps rice flour
- Oil for deep frying
For the salad
- 8 small green tomatoes quartered
- 2 medium hothouse cucumbers cut into matchsticks
- A big handful of fresh basil leaves
- 1 red or green chilli thinly sliced
- 2 tbsps fresh coriander leaves finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsps garlic chopped and deep fried
- 2 tbsps shallots thinly sliced and deep fried till golden
- 2 tbsps peanuts roasted and lightly crushed
- 1 tbsps fish sauce
- 2 tbsps light soy sauce
- 5 tbsps lemon juice
- 2 tsps sugar
To make the shrimp
- Clean the shrimp and dry on kitchen towels to remove all water.
- Mix the dark soy and fish sauce in a bowl, add the shrimp and mix lightly so that they are evenly coated. Cover and set aside for 15 minutes.
- Heat enough oil in a pan to deep fry them.
- When the oil is hot (drop a piece of bread to test. If it turns golden immediately, the oil is ready), coat each shrimp with rice flour and fry on medium heat for a minute. Drain on kitchen towels and set aside.
To make the salad
- Peel and slice the shallots thinly and fry till golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
- Peel and chop the garlic and deep fry till golden.Drain on kitchen paper.
- In a small bowl, make the dressing by mixing together the fish sauce, the light soy, lemon juice and sugar.
- Cut the green tomatoes in quarters ,and the cucumber and chilli into matchsticks..
- Drizzle 2 tbsps of the dressing on the tomatoes,cucumbers and chilli. Marinate for 10 minutes.
- Lightly roast and roughly crush the peanuts.
- Finely chop the coriander.
- To assemble the salad, take a large bowl and put in the marinated vegetables followed by the prawns and herbs.
- Pour in the remainder of the dressing an gently mix with a light hand.
- Sprinkle with fried garlic, shallots and peanuts, give it a final toss and serve immediately.