Zingy Thai prawns

Like so many Asian and Asian-� influenced dishes, this meal is best �prepared in an assembly line.

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To make Thai prawns for four, you will need:

• 1 bunch fresh coriander leaves • 3 cloves garlic • 25mm fresh root ginger • 25mm galangal • 4 stalks of lemon grass • 2 limes • 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce • 600g prawns • 1 tablespoon capers • 2 green chillies • 500g Chinese noodles or Capellini pasta • Peanut oil • Freshly-ground black pepper and salt to taste

Like so many Asian and Asian-­ influenced dishes, this meal is best ­prepared in an assembly line.

Begin with the prawns, since a badly prepared prawn is a hellish experience. If frozen, allow them to thaw in a basin of water at room temperature.

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Then, one at a time, twist off and discard the heads. Using a pair of small scissors – once more the ubiquitous Swiss Army knife is ­useful – cut open the shell the full length of the top surface and in one movement, rip out the colon and peel off the carapace. Throw these into the bin.
 If time is an issue, buy the little critters peeled and cleaned.

Next, attack the coriander. You want a cupful of washed and hand-torn leaves, and also a couple of roots. The big problem is sand; get rid of it, right down to the last tiny, crunchy grain.

Smack the garlic with the flat of a heavy knife to partially crush the clove: this assists the peeling. Chop the garlic finely.

Next, tackle the ginger or galangal. These are different rhizomes, but to be fair to isolated homesteads out on the veld, galangal (especially fresh) can be hard to find. In this case, fresh ginger is an adequate substitute. Chop or mince it finely.

Squeeze the juice from the limes and measure the correct volume of Thai fish sauce (a condiment made from ­fermented anchovies – powerful stuff).

Attack the chillies by removing the seeds (if you are a wet and a sissy). Chop finely.

Top and tail the lemon grass stalks and cut them into 50mm sections.

In a pot of boiling water, which may or may not be lightly salted depending on your sodium limits, cook the noodles or pasta for the time suggested on the packaging.

Select a heavy-­bottomed stainless steel frying pan and pour in enough peanut (or sunflower or canola) oil to just cover the bottom. Bring this up to medium heat and fry the prawns for about 60 to 90 seconds a side, turning them once. Remove and reserve in a covered bowl.

Add a little more oil to the same frying pan, rev up the heat and stir-fry the garlic, chillies, lemon grass, coriander root and ­ginger or galangal. When truly fragrant, lower the heat and return the prawns to the pan.

Pour in two ­tablespoons of Thai fish sauce mixed with one or two tablespoons of lime juice, and stir well.

Remove from the hob, and ­sprinkle a few capers over the mixture. Lay a serving of fresh noodles or pasta on each plate, add a serving of the cooked prawns and garnish with a few fresh coriander leaves.

Serve immediately.
The diners can adjust the seasoning to their taste with pepper, salt and a small jug of mixed lime juice and Thai fish sauce. – David Basckin |fw

Thai-accented cooking

Part of the excitement in cooking Thai style is how easily many of the ingredients can be grown in a local garden. In our Durban home, a tiny erf on the Berea, the herb garden sports lemon grass and coriander, each growing without the slightest need for the gardener’s attention. Since these two plants provide the most familiar accents to Thai-influenced cooking, their easy availability makes this delicate and satisfying cuisine a breeze, even for the newest of new cooks.