I was cooking a New Year dinner for a few friends and I wanted to come up with something special for entree – something fresh and light to counteract the dripping heat and humidity that we get at this time of year, and zing the tastebuds after the Christmas blowout. (I’m writing this with the fan on full-blast with it as close as I dare without getting sucked into the up-draught).
Then, I had a distinct memory of eating something like this at a favourite restaurant of ours in Sydney, the Thai Nesia in Darlinghurst. The coconut prawns they served up were definitely zingy and I loved the novelty of wrapping up the tasty little parcel, served on a betel leaf, and popping the whole thing in your mouth – a true Thai taste sensation.
A WORD ABOUT BETEL LEAVES
They are not to be confused with betel nut – the red, teeth staining stuff
|Betel leaf plant with stolon and rooted node|
Betel (Piper beetle) is a sprawling perennial vine in the pepper family with glossy, heart-shaped leaves – which are not peppery, by the way; in fact, they don’t taste of anything much. It is very easy to grow around these parts and lives quite happily in a corner of my garden next to mint – which tells you that it likes semi-shade and fairly moist conditions. It doesn’t, however, like the cold and will die-back in the wintertime, only to pop up again in the spring (hence perennial). It can be rather vigorous but is easy to keep under control.
It is very easy to propagate from cuttings. The mother plant will put out runners (stolons) and, at every stem joint (node), you will see little roots appearing. Simply cut off a section with roots and stick it in some fertile compost enriched soil.
I had tried cooking different versions of this dish but wasn’t happy with any of them, and besides most of the recipes were way too complicated and contained hard to get ingredients (don’t you hate that!). The last one was one I had cut out from Gourmet Traveller – which, after one try out went straight in the bin! So here we go – my Coconut Prawns – fully tweaked and tested.
If you can’t get betel leaves, try serving the prawns on little pieces of seaweed sheet – the kind you would use for making sushi and nori rolls – I think that could work.
8 betel leaves
8 green prawns, shelled and cleaned
1 desert spoon peanut oil
Thumb size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped finely
1 long red chilli, seeded and chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves (now known by the more acceptable makrut lime), finely shredded – I do this with scissors
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar
Few sprigs fresh coriander and mint
1 fresh lime, cut into wedges
1 1/2 cups desiccated coconut
1 cup unsalted peanuts
1. Heat up a wok and toss in the peanuts, stirring around until they begin to turn golden. At this point, toss in the coconut and turn the heat down and keep stirring until coconut is golden too, then immediately take off heat because it burns very easily. Get ready for the smell – it’s divine!!
2. When this mixture is cool, whiz up in a food processor – don’t overdo it, this should not be too fine.
NOTE: You can store any leftovers of this mix in an airtight container in the fridge and use it to top stir fries, noodles and fried rice.
3. Heat the peanut oil in your wok.
4. Add the garlic, chilli and prawns and toss on high heat for 1 minute
5. Add ginger, shredded lime leaves, palm sugar and fish sauce and toss for further minute or two until a sauce is formed. Turn off heat.
6. Place a prawn, with some sauce, on each betel leaf.
7. Top with a teaspoonful of the coconut/peanut mix and a sprig of fresh coriander and a mint leaf or two.
8. Serve with lime wedges.
NOTE: The betel leaves are edible and simply dissolve in your mouth – they are not stringy. You just wrap up the prawn parcel in the betel leaf and pop the whole thing in your mouth.