Spices star in ethnic cooking

Shrimp Piri Piri makes use of small red chiles that grow wild in Africa.

When he first immigrated to the United States from the Ivory Coast 19 years ago, Morou Outtara used a delicate hand when working the flavors of his homeland into the menus of the restaurants where he cooked.

Americans, he suspected, weren't quite ready for the bold West African flavors such as aromatic alligator peppers or creamy palm nut sauces that were common in his mother's home.

But as he saw diners grow more comfortable with assertive Asian and Indian seasonings, Outtara decided it was time to let African flavors play a more dominant role in his menus, rather than merely accent them.

So 18 months ago, he opened his upscale Farrah Olivia restaurant in Alexandria, Va., where comfortable dishes such as a rib-eyes are rubbed with ground coffee and pungent and spicy West Africa peppercorns called grains of paradise, and where

Servings: 4 starters

8 red bird's-eye chiles, seeds and ribs removed, chopped

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2 garlic cloves

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

12 raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 limes, quartered

12 large lettuce leaves (such as bibb or romaine)