Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Vietnamese Salad with Tiger Prawns

Not only is this is a truly delicious dish but the story behind it is one that fills me with joy every time I think about it. I have a very dear friend who lives in Hong Kong with her husband and two kids. They are lovely and she’s very happy. But no matter how loving your husband and how cute your kids there are those moments when you find yourself deprived of personal space and time, screaming in your head, “I have got to get away from this oaf and these feral brats for five minutes!”. As a newly wed, I think recognising these moments and acting upon them are probably key to making a marriage work…and to generally maintaining an acceptable level of mental health.

So confronted with one of those moments, that’s just what my friend did. I received a text from her saying, “I have taken myself off for lunch on my own. Vietnamese salad with prawns. This is bliss. I just had to tell you”. To which I replied, “Talk me through it”. Which she graciously did – she identified each delectable ingredient for me. Lunch finished, she returned to her family once again full of love, patience and contentment. And I dashed out to buy the ingredients to recreate the dish in Bangkok.

That night, I ate the exact same meal and it was almost as though we’d eaten it together. It was a great reminder of the power of food, which can allow you to leap across continents and time zones, reunite you with friends and utterly change your mood in an instant.

Time: 35 mins
Rating: Beautifully easy
Serves: 4 people as a starter, 2 as a light main

8 tiger prawns peeled and de-veined
1 bunch fresh mint leaves
1 bunch fresh coriander leaves
200g cucumber
2 shallots
100g bean sprouts
40g cashew nuts
150g pomello (or grapefruit)

For the dressing:
2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp fish sauce
4 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 small red chilli (e.g. birdseye)


  1. First make the dressing because you’ll use this to marinate your prawns too. Start by very finely chopping or mincing the garlic and the chilli (seeds and all). Place these in an empty jar and then add all the other dressing ingredients. Shake well until the sugar dissolves. Taste – you can adjust the level of spice, saltiness, sweetness our sourness according to your tastes.
  2. Next prepare your prawns. Peel them, leaving a little bit of the tail on. De-vein the prawn by cutting a slit along the back of the prawn and removing the black vein. This also opens the flesh up and allows more flavour in. Place the prawns in a dish and pour over a little of the dressing, just enough to coat. Refrigerate while you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Then prepare your vegetables. Deseed and cut the cucumber into fine matchsticks and place in a bowl. Next finely slice the shallots and add these. Then prepare your pomello/grapefruit – remove the skin around each segment so you only have the juicy centre. Then break these up into chunks. Add to the bowl along with the mint, coriander and bean sprouts.
  4. Finally prepare your cashews. Spread them out on a baking sheet and bake in a hot oven for about 5 mins until they are golden, shaking half way through. Once they have cooled coarsely chop them and add them to the salad.
  5. Next cook your prawns. Heat a griddle pan on a high flame with a little olive oil. Once the oil is hot place your prawns in the pan. Cook until the prawns are pink and firm but they should not become tough – about 2 mins each side should be enough. Take the prawns off the heat and allow to rest while you dress and plate the salad.
  6. Dress the salad and divide evenly onto four small plates for a starter or two for a main. Place the prawns on top (2 for a starter, 4 for a main) and enjoy!

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