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Vietnamese Sweet Potato Shrimp Cakes
Makes about 2 dozen

Homemade chicken stock gives this soup the best flavor and body, but in a pinch you can use low-sodium canned broth.
For The Dipping Sauce

1/3 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 small habañero chile, cut into rings

For The Fritters

Peanut oil for frying
3/4 pound sweet potato, peeled and grated
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into 1/2-inch bits
3 whole scallions, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon coarse salt or to taste
1/2 cup cornstarch
3 large egg whites
1 head Boston or bibb lettuce, leaves cleaned, separated and any thick ribs removed
Fresh cilantro and mint leaves

To make the dipping sauce: 1. Pour the fish sauce and lime juice into a small bowl. Dissolve the sugar in 1/4 cup warm water and add it to the sauce. Stir in the chile.

2. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes before you serve it.

To make the fritters:

1. Fill a heavy pot or deep fryer with at least 3 inches of the peanut oil — but make sure this fills the pot no more than halfway — and heat it to 350 degrees. Place a couple of racks on a baking sheet, slide it into the oven, and heat the oven to 250 degrees.

2. Toss the sweet potato, shrimp, scallions, garlic, ginger and salt together in a mixing bowl. Sift in the cornstarch and toss again until evenly combined.

3. Put the egg whites in a separate bowl with 2 tablespoons warm water and whisk until you have set foam — not yet soft peaks, but there shouldn't be any liquid white. Stir the egg whites into the sweet-potato mixture.

4. Use a large, flat spoon to scoop up a very generous tablespoon of the fritter batter and slide it into the hot oil. Add a few more spoonfuls to the pot, but don't crowd. Fry, turning a few times, until browned and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the racks in the oven to keep warm while you fry the remainder.

5. Serve the warm fritters with a plate of cilantro, mint and lettuce leaves for wrapping and a bowl of the sauce for dipping.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company

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