One of my favourite Thai “salads” (although it’s a bit short on vegetables) is kung chae nampla – raw shrimp (or prawns) served with a fiery dressing. The dressing should be on the far edge of your spice tolerance, because, as with every good Thai dish, the “hot” element is balanced by the sour, salty and sweet flavours. To make each mouthful even more delicious and complex, there’s bitterness provided by bitter melon, which also serves to cool the palate. Thai raw prawn salad (Kung chae nampla) I learned this dish from Tass, an excellent Thai cook who also taught me her versions of pad thai , fish cakes , Thai-style oyster omelette and green papaya salad . She says it is essential to keep the shrimp cold – which makes sense, because you are eating them raw. How to make chow mein with pork belly, dried shrimp and vegetables She also says you shouldn’t waste the shrimp heads – put them in an airtight container and freeze them, and when you have enough, make fried shrimp heads (recipe below). And don’t waste the shells, either – freeze them, and when you have enough, make shrimp oil , which is fantastic in seafood dishes (drizzle it over the seafood after plating it) and in XO sauce . Tass uses fresh white shrimp (preferably alive), but freezes them for at least 30 minutes, which makes them easier to peel. She then soaks the peeled shrimp for one minute (no longer!) in chilled soda water (don’t use a flavoured type) – she says the carbonation helps to kill any bacteria. For the palm sugar in the dressing, use a soft, pliable, pale-brown variety, instead of the darker brown, harder stuff. Ingredients 20 fresh, shell-on shrimp, with body length (excluding the head and tail) about 8cm (3 in), chilled Chilled, unflavoured soda water, as necessary 15ml (1 tbsp) fish sauce 15ml (1 tbsp) fresh lime juice ½ a bitter melon 3-4 large garlic cloves, peeled 2-3 red bird’s-eye chillies Fresh mint leaves How to make Thai shrimp paste fried rice For the dressing : 2 fresh coriander roots, about 5cm (2 in) long 5g (scant ⅙ oz) ginger, peeled 3 medium-size garlic cloves, peeled 10-15 grams (⅓ oz to ½ oz) red bird’s-eye chillies, stems removed 15-20 grams (½ oz to ¾ oz) palm sugar (or substitute soft brown sugar, if necessary) 30ml (2 tbsp) fish sauce 45ml (3 tbsp) fresh lime juice 1 Lay the shrimp on a tray and freeze for 30 minutes, or until icy but not frozen solid. 2 While the shrimp are freezing, make the dressing. Roughly chop the coriander roots and ginger, then put them in a mortar and pound roughly. 3 Halve the garlic cloves and put them in the mortar, along with the whole bird’s-eye chillies. Pound the ingredients until the chillies and garlic are crushed into small pieces, stirring occasionally with a spoon. The mixture should be a roughly textured paste. 4 Add the palm sugar and pound until combined, stirring occasionally. Use a spoon to mix in the fish sauce and lime juice, then taste. If it is too spicy, mix in a little more palm sugar. The dressing should be a balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet; adjust the other ingredients, if necessary. 5 Take the shrimp out of the freezer. Trim off the sharp point from the head of the shrimp, cutting just behind the eyes, then cut off the head. Peel the shrimp, but leave on the tails. (Save the heads for fried shrimp, and the point of the head and the shells for shrimp oil.) 6 Devein the shrimp by slicing along the back of each one to open it almost flat. Remove the vein. 7 Put the shrimp in a bowl and add enough chilled soda water to cover them. Stir, then leave for one minute before draining. 8 Rinse out the bowl, then dry it. Put the shrimp back in the bowl and add 15ml each of fish sauce and fresh lime juice. Stir, then refrigerate for five minutes. 9 Cut the bitter melon in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and pith. Thinly slice the bitter melon, then put the pieces in a bowl, cover with cool water and set aside to soak. How to make Thai fresh corn and tomato salad, ideal for summer 10 Thinly slice the garlic cloves and bird’s-eye chillies. 11 Drain the bitter melon and dry the pieces with a clean tea towel. Lay a mint leaf on a slice of bitter melon, then top with a raw shrimp, opened so it’s almost flat. Lay a slice of garlic on top, then one or two pieces of chilli. 12 Arrange the bitter melon/shrimp on a serving platter. Place the excess bitter melon slices on the plate, leaving space for the sauce. Pour the sauce into a small bowl and put it in the centre of the plate. Serve immediately. Fried shrimp heads These are better than any prawn cracker you’ll eat. They are crisp and addictive and I could eat this whole serving by myself, with a bowl of rice and some vegetables. Ingredients: 175 grams (just over 6 oz) shrimp heads, hard points removed (as in first recipe), and thawed, if frozen ½ tsp soy sauce (preferably Thai soy sauce) ½ tsp finely ground white pepper Gogi/Kogi powder (Thai tempura flour) or plain (all-purpose) flour, as necessary For the seasonings : 4 garlic cloves, peeled ½ tsp soy sauce (preferably Thai soy sauce) ¼ tsp granulated sugar 1 spring onion Cooking oil, as necessary How to make Buddha’s delight, a vegetarian Lunar New Year dish 1 Dry the shrimp heads with paper towels, then put them in a bowl, add the soy sauce and white pepper and mix well. Sprinkle with Gogi/Kogi powder or plain flour and mix so the shrimp heads are very lightly coated. Shake off the excess starch. 2 Pour cooking oil into a pan to the depth of about 2.5cm (1 in) and heat to 160 degrees Celsius (320 degrees Fahrenheit). Fry the shrimp heads for about five minutes, or until cooked through and crisp, stirring occasionally. Drain the heads on paper towels. 3 Lightly crush the garlic cloves with the side of a knife, then roughly chop them. In the same oil used to fry the shrimp, fry the garlic until pale golden. Use a small sieve to lift the garlic pieces out of the oil, then drain them on paper towels. (The oil can be reused to make shrimp oil, or used to stir-fry seafood.) 4 Put the soy sauce and sugar in a small skillet and bring to a simmer. Add the fried shrimp heads and stir well, to lightly coat the pieces. How to make butadon – Japanese rice bowls with pork and onion 5 Add the fried garlic and stir again. 6 Mince the spring onion, scatter on top and stir. Pile the ingredients into a bowl and serve immediately. Food styling: Nellie Ming Lee. Kitchen: courtesy of JUNK Kitchen Like this recipe? Look for more in the SCMP Post Magazine , or on SCMP Cooking .