There are some foods that I think you just have to accept the fact that you’re going to get messy for- like sucking on mango seeds, cracking crabs and spaghetti bolgonase. Personally I’m a big fan of what I like to refer to as interactive eating, which takes more thought than the typical fork to mouth operation. I’m referring to the kind of foods where you need to tie your hair back, wrap a bib around your neck, roll up your sleeves, hunch over your plate, use your hands to scoop and shovel and you’ll need an agile tongue to catch the dribbles down your chin.
When my sister and I went to India last year, I found myself immersed in a culture fully committed to eating with your hands- or rather, hand (and it better be the right one). At every meal we used chapatis, (flatbreads made out of chickpea or lentil flour) to scoop up our curries and dahls . There was no aimless shoveling food into our gobs we had to really look at the food, feel and manipulate the food in our hands and finally taste the food. And for the rest of the trip our hands stank of the food- we were fully engaged by the food and we lived for our next chana masala. Stateside, these kinds of meals are perhaps not first date material- but then again, so long as your both eating the same thing it could turn out to be a great ice breaker.
This recipe is one of those interactive foods, of the salad kind. Beautifully presented- colourful and multi-shaped and textured but just a heck of lot easier to eat with your hands. But if you’re one of those people who insists on eating pizza or burgers with a knife and fork then by all means go ahead and be civilised, it certainly won’t taste bad. I guarantee, however, that you will get a lot more satisfaction by eating this with your hands. When Don and I sat down to eat this at the weekend we didn’t even bother with plating it up we just had a bowl of crispy romaine and a bowl of the prawn mixture and we tucked in, wrapping the filling in the lettuce cups and mopping the leaves in pools of dressing. On second thought, this is great date material, just perhaps not a great one when you’re trying to impress the in-laws.
There is however, one drawback to making this salad. It requires patience- that virtue of which I lack. Unfortunately, it’s the finely julienned vegetables that keep this salad so light and delicate. Chunks of carrot just will not do. My mandolin turned out to be my knight in shining armour, shredding each vegetable into perfect strips- but for those of you who do not own said armoury, you will at the very least need a good knife or in the worst case scenario a box grater.
Vietnamese-ish prawn lettuce cups
If you have a mandolin, then slice all the vegetables on it using the stripper blade. If you don’t, then you ought to buy one just to make this salad. You can make it by hand, it will just take a little longer- but it’s worth it. And by all means, change around the vegetables-mangetout and peppers would be great. I like to think that the Vietnamese would eat this with their hands too.
Serves: 2 for a main course, 4-6 as a starter
Diet Facts: super healthy, super light, gluten free (check fish sauce label)
for the salad:
350g/12 oz cooked, peeled and deveined prawns (about 550g if you buy shell)
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
140g/ 5 oz carrot, julienned
50g/2oz radish, julienned
1/2 small red onion (or 1 large shallot), peeled, halved and very finely sliced
2 tbsp chopped coriander and mint
1/2 mango, peeled and cut into smallish cubes (about 140g flesh)
sesame seeds, black or white to garnish, optional
Crispy romaine or little gem lettuce, leaves separated, to serve
For the dressing:
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 thai red chilies very finely sliced
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 Tbsp sugar
5 g ginger, grated or very finely julienned
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp water
1/ Mix together all of the salad ingredients, except for the lettuce in a large bowl
2/ Mix together all of the dressing ingredients and pour over salad ingredients. Toss to combine. Fill lettuce cups with salad mixture
3/ Get your hands dirty
Vietnamese-ish prawn lettuce cups
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