Prawn Cakes with Corn Salsa

One of my foodie friends Karen sent me the link to this recipe for Seductive Little Shrimp Cakes. It comes from a book called Tacolicious by Sara Deseran and was recently reposted by Ruth Reichl. American-style, it calls for shrimp, which you can’t buy in Australia, so I used prawns and made a couple of other small adjustments.

Prawn Cakes with Corn Salsa750g cooked prawns (about 375g peeled)
1 egg
Juice of half a lime
1 stick celery
3 spring onions
Handful of parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp celery salt or garlic salt
3 Tbs mayonnaise
1 Tbs juice from a jar of jalapeño chillies
1 cup Panko crumbs + extra (see note below)
Oil for shallow frying
Corn Salsa:
3 cobs corn
2 large tomatoes
1 Lebanese cucumber
½ red onion
1 jalapeño chilli from a jar
Juice half a lime
1 tsp salt

Place peeled prawns in food processor and pulse briefly to chop but still leave some chunky bits. Scrape into a large bowl and mix in the egg and lime juice. Place celery and spring onions – cut into 3cm lengths – in food processor Add parsley and pulse to chop finely. Scrape into the bowl with prawns. Mix in celery or garlic salt, mayonnaise, jalapeño juice and Panko crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place some extra Panko crumbs on a plate. Take about a heaped tablespoon of mixture and form into a small cake with your hands. Roll in the crumbs and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. You should end up with 12-14 little cakes. Refrigerate for an hour or several hours. If only an hour, no need to cover, but if longer cover with plastic wrap.

Cut the kernels from the corn and place in a bowl. Quarter tomatoes, remove seeds and dice. Add to the bowl with the diced cucumber, red onion and chilli. Add lime juice and salt and leave to macerate. Taste before serving to see if it needs more salt.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons oil in a frying pan and cook the prawn cakes for about 3 minutes each side. Serve with the salsa.

Serves 4

Note: Panko crumbs are Japanese-style breadcrumbs. Very light and crunchy, they’re a good addition to your pantry. Sold in most supermarkets – ask if you can’t find them – or substitute ordinary dry breadcrumbs.

Scallops with Black Bean Dressing

When Tetsuya Wakuda opened his restaurant Tetsuya’s in Sydney in 1989 it was a culinary breath of fresh air and Australians were literally wowed. By combining French cooking techniques he had learnt while working at Kinsela’s for Tony Bilson with the pure clean flavours of his heritage this smiley Japanese chef was an overnight success.

The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide gave Tetsuya’s their highest possible award every year from 1992 until 2009. Not bad for a guy who arrived in Sydney in 1982 with nothing more than a small suitcase and a love of food.

This delicious starter appeared in a newspaper article about Tetsuya some 20 years ago and I cut it out. I’ve been making it ever since and it always goes down well. Scallops are quite expensive but three per person is enough for a light starter.

Scallops with Black Bean Dressing

24 large scallops, without roe
1 leek, white part only, cut into fine julienne
oil to fry
3 Nori sheets, very finely sliced*

¾ cup vegetable or light olive oil
¼ cup salted black beans, finely chopped*
¼ cup finely chopped shallots
3 Tbs rice wine vinegar*
2 Tbs mirin*
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbs fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 tsp soy sauce

Thaw scallops if frozen and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Place dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake well. Taste and add a bit more rice wine vinegar if necessary, to get the right balance. Deep fry leeks in hot oil until crispy then drain on paper towels. Recipe can be made ahead to this stage.

To serve, arrange the nori “straw” on 8 serving plates. Brush or lightly spray scallops on both sides with some oil, then sear on a hot pan or griddle for 1-2 minutes each side or until golden. Arrange three scallops on each plate, drizzle with some of the dressing, then garnish with the crispy leeks.

Serves 8

Notes: * ingredients marked with an asterisk are available from Asian food stores. Leftover dressing will keep for a week or two in the fridge and goes well with grilled fish or chicken. The black beans come in tins or packets. If you buy them in a tin, drain and rinse well. Large raw prawns can be used instead of scallops and if you don’t have any nori, serve on a bed of finely shredded rocket.

Preparing ahead

The secret to stress-free entertaining is having as much as possible prepared before the guests arrived.  Last night two couples we hadn’t seen for some time joined us for dinner, so I chose a menu which involved a couple of hours of preparation, but would leave me free to enjoy their company.

We started off with Prawn, Avocado and Tomato Tian with Green Shallot Dressing, adapted from a recipe by Curtis Stone which uses crab rather than prawns.  Crab is expensive and often difficult to find, whereas cooked prawns are readily available and often on special.  I had all the elements ready in the fridge and just had to assemble the tians before we sat down.  In Curtis Stone’s recipe he used beefsteak tomatoes and managed to cut circles for the tops of the tians.  My tomatoes weren’t big enough, so I had to use several pieces.

Prawn, Avocado and Tomato Tian with Green Shallot Dressing

Prawn Layer
1 kg cooked prawns, shelled and deveined (about 500g shelled weight)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon or one lime
2 Tbs mayonnaise, preferably home-made
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Avocado Layer
3 ripe avocados
1/2 red onion, very finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lemon or one lime
2 Tbs mayonnaise, preferably home-made
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Tomato Layer:
6-8 large ripe tomatoes
Salt flakes, such as Maldon
Olive oil
Green Shallot Dressing
4 spring onions, mostly the green tops
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup white wine or white balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place prawns in food processor.  Pulse a few times to chop roughly but still leave some large chunky bits.  Mix with remaining ingredients for prawn layer, cover and refrigerate until serving time.  Peel and dice avocados and mix with remaining ingredients, cover and refrigerate.  Cover tomatoes with boiling water for 1-2 minutes.  Refresh under a cold tap, then cut a cross on the bottoms and remove skins.  Cut tops off the tomatoes – just far enough down so you get rid of where the stalk was – then remove all seeds and pulp and discard.  It’s easier to do this if you make a cut down the side of the tomato.  You should be left with just the outer layer of each tomato in one large piece which you can flatten out.  Place on a plate lined with paper towel and refrigerate.  Place all ingredients for dressing in food processor, process until smooth, then place in a small jug or a bottle with a squirty top.

Just before serving time use stacking rings to assemble the tians – prawn layer, then avocado layer.  If you’re only making six servings you will have some prawn and avocado leftover.  Lastly cut pieces of tomato to cover the top – doesn’t matter if it’s like a jigsaw puzzle.  Brush tomato with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a few flakes of salt.  Drizzle some dressing around each tian, lift off the rings and serve.

Serves 6-8

For the main course I served lamb cutlets with mint pesto.  Crunchy roast potatoes and pea puree went down well with this.  Boil the halved potatoes until they are almost done, then drain, place on baking paper on an oven tray and spray with oil.  You can do them ahead to this stage, then just bake for about half an hour or so in a hot oven until brown and crispy.  For the peas boil half a kilo of frozen peas in salted water.  When tender blitz in the food processor with a lump of butter and about 2 Tbs of cream.  Season to taste then push the puree through a sieve.  This can also be done ahead and reheated in the microwave in a covered bowl.  For each serving put a circle of pea puree in the centre of the plate, then arrange two potatoes (propped up against each other looks good) and two lamb cutlets on top,  with a blob of mint pesto on each cutlet.   You will have to cook the cutlets at the last minute but they don’t take long.  Just season then pan fry in a tiny amount of olive oil for 2-3 minutes each side.

Mint Pesto

1 bunch mint, washed, leaves removed
2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 tsp honey
1 clove garlic, crushed
Between 1/4 and 1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbs white balsamic vinegar or lemon juice

Place mint, Parmesan, pine nuts, honey and garlic in food processor and process until chunky, stopping once to scrape down the sides.  Add oil through the feed chute with the motor running.  Stop when you have a thick spoonable pesto, then lastly add vinegar or lemon juice and seasoning to taste.  It should be slightly chunky, not completely smooth.  Place pesto in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  The top with darken, but if you give it a quick mix it will be a nice bright green when you serve it.

We finished off with individual Pineapple and Pepper Tarte Tatins – the usual butter and sugar caramel, but the pineapple rings were seasoned with coarsely ground black pepper – served with vanilla icecream.