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Ginger-Lime Dipping Sauce

Dipping sauces are routine at Vietnamese meals and let you season food to your own taste. One of the simplest sauces, and one I learned to like a lot, is this: In a tiny dish, put coarse salt on one side, fresh, coarsely ground pepper on the other, and a small piece of lime in the middle. The diner squeezes the lime juice into the salt and pepper and mixes as she or he likes.

Nuoc mam is the basic fish sauce of Vietnam. Sold by the bottle, it can be diluted with garlic, chilies and other ingredients and used as a dipping sauce at the table but is also used universally as a seasoning when cooking. It's sold in most Asian grocery stores under different brand names. For the best, look for the higher-priced bottles containing a light-colored sauce.

1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 serrano chili, chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons minced ginger
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons water

Place the garlic, chili, sugar and ginger in a mortar and pound into a paste. (Or chop by hand.) Transfer to a small bowl and add the fish sauce, lime juice and water. Stir well to combine. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Intensely gingery and spicy, this sauce goes well with simply prepared foods, such as steamed or grilled chicken, meat or seafood. It will keep up to two weeks but is best when used fresh.

"Pleasures of the Vietnam Table" by Mai Pham

Thursday, June 20, 2002

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