Special equipment: 16 (6-inch) bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes Grill pan
Soak the grape leaves in several changes of water to get rid of the brine flavor. Separate the leaves and blot dry. Trim any stems and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the beef, shallot, sugar, lemongrass, garlic, and fish sauce. Mix until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Divide the beef mixture into 32 equal portions (about 1 tablespoon per portion). Place a grape leaf flat (widest side closest to you) on a clean kitchen towel. Shape 1 meat mixture into a 1 1/2-inch-long sausage and place it horizontally across the wide end of the leaf. Fold the wide end over the filling once. Fold the sides in and roll up as you would a spring roll, enclosing the meat. The roll should be compact and fairly tight. Repeat to make 32 rolls.
Thread 4 grape leaf rolls on 2 parallel bamboo skewers, leaving space in between the rolls. Repeat with remaining skewers and rolls. Brush each roll with vegetable oil. Heat a grill pan over high heat. Grill the rolls, flipping them once the oil becomes shiny, until crisp and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve with Sweet, Sour, and Spicy Dipping Sauce.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, and fish sauce, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic and chiles. Let stand for 20 minutes before serving. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Yield: 6 servings
If you have fish sauce that is a little old but not black, use water to take the intensity of the saltiness down to a palatable level. Add 1 tablespoon of spring water at a time to the recipe, and keep tasting as you adjust.