Mandy Yin's prawn lettuce wraps

Sambal Shiok: 3 Malaysian prawn recipes to mix up your dinner repertoire

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Take your tastebuds on a trip to south-east Asia with these 3 Malaysian prawn-based recipes.

After a busy summer spent socialising in local pub gardens and parks, the new season heralds a time to hibernate, with darker nights making it the opportune time to become reacquainted with the kitchen. And while soups, stews and comfort baking may be our usual autumnal go-tos, this year we’re craving something less familiar (we’re blaming the lack of action our passports have had since March 2020).

Often flying under the radar compared to the dominance of dishes from Japan, Thailand and Vietnam, Malaysian food deserves way more of our tastebuds’ attention – think fragrant laksas, expertly charred satay skewers and heavenly curries served with flakey roti canai. And one such person who is well-placed to open our eyes is Mandy Yin. Owner of London restaurant Sambal Shiok Laksa Bar, Yin’s mission is to introduce as many people to Malaysian cuisine as possible thanks to her new cookbook, Sambal Shiok.

Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin
Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin

Showcasing the melting pot of ingredients, techniques and influences that are so prevalent in Malaysian cuisine, Yin expertly highlights the cross-section of the country’s food with her collection of mouth-watering recipes. While a dish such as traditional curry laksa is a labour of love with an extensive ingredient list, there are many recipes which are ideal for when you’re stretched for time but still in need of a truly pleasing plate. As Yin puts it: “Malaysian dishes are food for the soul and offer full-on, in-your-face, satisfying flavours.” Just what we need as another Netflix sofa session beckons.

Fancy putting your kitchen credentials to the test? We’ve selected three recipes from the book to get you started, all featuring the humble-yet-versatile prawn.  

First up is Yin’s recipe for golden fragrant prawns. Cooked quickly over a high heat, it holds the promise of a meal that comes together in short time frame, but – as with all three recipes – still guarantees a flavour punch. Marrying garlic, ginger, curry leaves and chilis with yellow bean and oyster sauces, the protein plays second fiddle to the fragrant base, which can be used with a variety of fish, meat and vegetarian options.

In search of a new way with tofu? Yin’s dish of tofu, aubergine and chillies stuffed with pork and prawn mince is a great place to start. While in the west, tofu can be regarded as a bland protein saved only for vegans, in Asian cuisine, the ingredient is used widely and is common in both vegetarian and meat dishes. Here, tofu puffs and vegetables are stuffed with prawn and pork before being fried and doused in a seasoned braising sauce laced with ginger, spring onions and garlic. 

Spicy, sweet, fresh, hot, cold and crunchy – Yin’s prawn lettuce wrap recipe epitomises the complexities found in Malaysian cuisine. If you’re looking for a lighter dish that still serves lip-smackingly good flavours and interesting textures, this one’s for you. 

  • Golden fragrant prawns

    Mandy Yin's golden fragrant prawns
    Mandy Yin's golden fragrant prawns

    Mandy says: ”Whenever I’m back in Malaysia I always schedule time for dinner at Meng Kee, a restaurant halfway down Jalan Alor, one of the great food streets in Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle. Meng Kee has a large menu with over a hundred dishes, from which you would first choose the type of seafood you want to eat, then choose a sauce to go with it. You will also find chargrilled chicken wings and an excellent version of stir-fried butter prawns (shrimp) with egg floss.

    This recipe pays homage to their kam heong sauce which goes wonderfully well with lala sweet little clams. Kam heong means ‘golden fragrant’ because of the many aromatics used: dried shrimp, curry leaves, garlic, yellow bean paste and black pepper. Don’t be deceived by its ugly, dark appearance. Once you’ve tasted it, you won’t be able to stop eating the sauce alone with rice – the prawns in this recipe becomes a bonus!

    This recipe can be used with a whole host of different proteins and seafood, such as clams, prawns, thin slices of chicken, pork or beef, and even lots of sturdy veg and/or fried tofu puffs. To make this vegan, replace the oyster sauce with mushroom sauce, and replace the dried shrimp with blitzed up nori seaweed and a touch of tomato purée to add more umami.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 500g raw peeled king prawns – you can choose to leave the tails on for presentation purposes
    • 1 tbsp garlic powder
    • 2 tbsp dried shrimp, first rehydrated in 100ml (scant ½ cup) water then drained, reserving the water for the sauce
    • 100ml (scant ½ cup) oil

    For the spice paste:

    • 2 tbsp curry leaves
    • 2.5cm ginger
    • 4 bird’s eye chillies (if you want it less spicy, use 1 larger chilli instead)
    • 4 garlic cloves
    • 100g onion, roughly chopped

    For the sauce:

    • 1 tbsp yellow bean sauce
    • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
    • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
    • 1 tsp ground black pepper
    • Reserved water from soaking the dried shrimp

    Method

    Marinate the prawns with the garlic powder for 30 minutes.

    Blitz the rehydrated shrimp with 50ml of the oil into a paste and empty out into a small bowl. Blitz the spice paste ingredients into a fine purée.

    Heat up the remaining 50ml oil in a wok on high heat until smoking. Stir-fry the prawns quickly until just cooked (this should take no more than two minutes). Empty them onto a container or plate.

    Using the same wok, turn the heat down to medium and stir-fry the shrimp and oil paste until fragrant, which will take around one minute. Then add the spice paste and sauce ingredients. Stir-fry until the oil separates, which will take no longer than two minutes. Taste and adjust the salt/sugar to taste.

    Finally add the cooked prawns back to the wok. Stir to incorporate and serve immediately.

  • Tofu, aubergine and chillies stuffed with pork and prawn mince

    Mandy Yin's tofu, aubergine and chillies stuffed with pork and prawn mince
    Mandy Yin's tofu, aubergine and chillies stuffed with pork and prawn mince

    Mandy says: “This dish is known as yong tau fu. My mum used to make this often for our dinners, and you can make it as simple or elaborate as you like, in terms of how many ingredients you stuff and what you use to make the filling. The only prerequisite are the tofu puffs, being the namesake of the dish. I really recommend using long, thin Asian aubergine for this dish, as their skins are much thinner and the flesh sweeter than the Middle Eastern type.

    You can use pork, prawns, firm white fish or a combination of these, minced in a food processor, for the filling. And if you cannot find Asian aubergine or tofu puffs, use a couple of red or yellow (bell) peppers instead. Simply cut in half, remove the seeds and slice each half into square-like quarters to be filled.

    To make this dish vegan, rehydrated soy mince would work really well for the filling and simply substitute mushroom stir-fry sauce for oyster sauce.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 1 long, thin Asian aubergine
    • 8 tofu puffs
    • 6 red chillies
    • 1 tbsp cornflour 

    For the filling:

    • 1 spring onion, finely chopped
    • 150g prawns, deshelled
    • 150g minced pork
    • ½ tsp ground white pepper
    • 3 tsp cornflour
    • 1 tsp sesame oil
    • ½ tsp salt

    For the seasonings:

    • 2 tsp cornflour, mixed with 2 tsp water to form a slurry
    • 1½ tbsp oyster sauce
    • ½ tsp salt
    • ¼ tsp white sugar
    • 1½ tsp light soy sauce
    • 1/8 tsp ground white pepper
    • 1 tsp sesame oil
    • ½ tsp Shaoxing rice wine or white rice vinegar

    For the braising sauce:

    • 80ml oil
    • 2.5cm ginger, cut into fine matchsticks
    • 2 spring onions, 1 cut into 5cm pieces, 1 finely sliced, to garnish
    • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    • 500ml water
    • 1 red chilli, finely sliced
    • Finely sliced chillies in soy sauce, to serve (optional)

    Vegetables and tofu

    Slice the aubergine on the diagonal into 2.5cm pieces. Then lay each piece cut side down on the chopping board, and slice through the centre horizontally, stopping just after halfway, so that you are able to open it up like a small envelope. Salt the aubergines in a colander sitting in a sink and leave for at least 30 minutes.

    Slice the tofu puffs almost in half, but not completely, so each opens up like a Pac-Man.

    Deseed each chilli but leave their tops on for aesthetics. Do this by making a neat incision from top to bottom with a knife, removing the pith and the seeds with a teaspoon.

    After the aubergines have rested for 30 minutes, squeeze them gently in the colander to drain.

    Filling

    Using a food processor, mince the spring onion, and then the prawns and pork mince. Add these to the other filling ingredients in a bowl and stir well to combine.

    Working one by one, dab a bit of cornflour into the centre of each piece of sliced tofu puff and vegetable. Insert a tablespoon of the filling into each piece of tofu, aubergine and chilli. If your chillies are big, you will need to use two tablespoons’ worth of filling.

    Seasonings and braising sauce 

    Mix together the seasonings in the order that they appear in the list.

    Warm up the oil in a large frying pan or wok over a medium heat. The oil is hot enough when a quick, steady stream of bubbles rises around a single wooden chopstick when held upright in the oil.

    Cook the stuffed aubergine first, in two batches, frying gently for two minutes on each side. Remove from the pan.

    Add the 5cm pieces of spring onion to the pan and fry, stirring every now and then, for one minute. Add the ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds, and then the garlic for 10 seconds.

    Pour in the water and sauce seasonings, and bring the pan to a low simmer. Once the sauce has thickened, add the chillies and tofu puffs (filled-sides up) and simmer for three minutes until the filling is cooked. Add the fried aubergine, stirring gently to coat with the sauce.

    Serve immediately, garnished with sliced spring onions and chilli. Serve with the chillies in soy sauce, if using.

  • Prawn lettuce wraps

    Mandy Yin's prawn lettuce wraps
    Mandy Yin's prawn lettuce wraps

    Mandy says: “The inspiration for this dish came from my 2019 Lunar New Year session with my wonderful friend Lap-fai Lee at the restaurant. His delicate sang choi bao (lettuce wraps) were filled with prawn, lychee, crab and his homemade XO sauce. It reminded me of cincalok, which is a fermented krill condiment made only in Malacca. Cincalok is impossible to get in the UK and so I hunted down the next best thing – Korean saeu-jeot, salted krill that can be found in the chiller or freezer sections of Korean and some East Asian supermarkets.

    The resulting sambal is quite fiery, as the chillies have not been cooked off to tame their heat. So, these lettuce wraps are pops of summery joy for any chilli-lover. You can eat any leftover lychees from this recipe with vanilla ice cream – a very simple dessert for warmer days! You will have to start this recipe at least three hours in advance to allow for soaking time.”

    Serves 4

    For the fresh chilli sambal with salted krill:

    • 2 tbsp saeu-jeot salted krill, squeezed to drain out the brine
    • 5 red chillies, destalked and roughly chopped
    • 40g red onion, roughly chopped
    • Juice of ½ lime

    For the wraps:

    • Oil, for frying
    • A few strands of rice vermicelli (optional but highly recommended for textural interest)
    • Fresh chilli sambal with salted krill
    • 150–175g cooked and peeled cocktail prawns
    • 1 baby gem lettuce, leaves separated
    • 4 lychees from a can, drained of the syrup, each lychee cut in half
    • 2 tbsp toasted lightly salted peanuts, pounded in a pestle and mortar into a rough rubble (optional)
    • Pinch of salt
    • Freshly picked coriander leaves, to garnish

    Fresh chilli sambal with salted krill

    Blitz all the ingredients together in a food processor set on pulse mode so that everything is finely chopped.

    Wraps

    Heat four centimetres of oil in a large saucepan. The oil is hot enough when a quick, steady stream of bubbles rises around a single wooden chopstick when held upright in the oil. Drop in the rice vermicelli, if using, and they will magically puff up, becoming a crispy hot mess. Remove them from the oil using a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain any excess oil. Sprinkle lightly with a pinch of salt while still warm. Once cool, break up into smaller strands.

    Mix the krill sambal with the cooked prawns just before serving, which will keep the sambal as punchy as possible.

    Choose eight of the larger leaves from the lettuce. To assemble the wraps, take a lettuce leaf and put half a lychee on top of it, cut-side down. Then add a heaped tablespoon of the prawn sambal mixture and a teaspoon of crushed peanuts, if using. Finally, garnish with a nice mound of crispy rice vermicelli for crunch and coriander leaves for freshness.

    Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin (£25, Quadrille) is out now  

Photography: ©Louise Hagger 

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