Three cooling summer recipes: from prawn salad to coconut panna cotta

Chef Nicole Barua leads us on a stroll through her summer kitchen, redolent with seasonal flavours

From left: prawn and perilla noodle salad, laban chicken curry and coconut panna cotta with passion fruit. Courtesy Nicole Barua 
From left: prawn and perilla noodle salad, laban chicken curry and coconut panna cotta with passion fruit. Courtesy Nicole Barua 

Mungo Jerry waxing lyrical about how “we’re always happy, life’s for living” is the perfect way to describe my approach to summer as it speedily surrounds us in the UAE. While some lament the heat, I find myself falling into balmy daydreams of sandy beaches, icy popsicles and early-morning dips in the ocean. All this while lazing on my balcony floor canopied by my plants, caught in the frenzy of flowering, courtesy of the summer abundance.

Expectedly, my ripe imagination has me pretending I’m Don Corleone in his orchard as I buy oranges at the market, walking with mafioso-aplomb while gently scraping the skin of an orange, releasing the citrus scent into the air.

Such are the joys of summer for me, cathartic and collaborative. I say so because with the ushering of life by this season, my mind explodes with ideas for recipes, with some of my favourite flavour profiles matching the best things to eat in the heat: citrusy, fruity and herbaceous.

I happily coalesce with the produce on offer with every season, which leads to lighter meals, filled with vegetables and fish, featuring gentler flavours that involve less cooking time and elevated assembly.

One might brand it as super-healthy, which is a bonus given the times we live in, but in my mind, it is just more logical to do given the rising temperatures.

So, let’s stroll together into my summer kitchen, as I endeavour to put together recipes from different cuisines, so there is a little something here for everyone.

Prawn and perilla noodle salad

An airy salad inspired by perilla or kkaennip leaves, which are herbaceous, anise and slightly peppery in taste, this recipe is redolent with Asian flavours.

Serves 2

Prawn and perilla noodle salad. Photo: Nicole Barua 
Prawn and perilla noodle salad. Courtesy Nicole Barua

Ingredients and method for the nuom choc sauce

Juice of 1 lemon

2-3 garlic cloves minced

3 ½ tbsp sugar

4 tbsp fish sauce

6 tbsp water

½ tbsp sesame oil

Red chilli, chopped to taste

Add the sugar and water in a glass jar, cover and shake to dissolve the sugar.

Add the remaining ingredients, plus the lemon juice in increments, shaking and tasting to adjust for a balance of salty and sour flavours.

Ingredients and method for the prawn noodles

3 cups water

1 lemongrass

3 garlic cloves

2 green chillis

1 ½ tsp salt

12 large prawns, 3 heads and all tails left on

80-95 gms pancit bihon rice sticks

10 perilla leaves (available at any Asian specialty market)

3-4 scallions, greens julienned, whites sliced

1 red bird’s eye chilli, deseeded and julienned

½ cup red radish, sliced

½ cup coriander leaves

¼ cup mint leaves

Zest of 2 limes

1 cup Chinese cabbage, cut into medium squares

Toasted sesame, to sprinkle

Heat the water in a pot with the lemongrass, garlic cloves, whole green chillis and salt and bring to a boil.

Turn off the flame, remove from the stove, place the prawns inside and cover for 5-6 minutes. Remove, set on kitchen paper to drain and refrigerate.

In a steel bowl, place the rice sticks and cover with boiling water for 8 minutes. Strain and sit in the sieve to get rid of excess water. Cut the sticks with a pair of kitchen scissors to make it easier to eat. Refrigerate.

Wash and pat dry 6 of the perilla leaves dry, julienne 4 of them with the green part of the scallions and red chilli. Set in cold water separately, as well as the radish, mint and coriander.

In a large bowl, place the noodles and zest of 1 lime along with a little of the nuom choc sauce. Mix, then add in the cabbage, drained perilla, some red chilli, white part of the scallions, radish, coriander and mint leaves. Mix gently.

Add some of the sauce to the poached prawns, with the zest of 1 lime.

Place the perilla leaves as in the picture, then layer the noodles, then the prawns and repeat. Top with a prawn with its head on, along with the julienned scallions, red chilli, coriander and mint leaves.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with extra sauce on the side.

Laban chicken curry

A savoury and mild recipe, perfect for the summer, this came about when I had a bottle of laban left to use up and not much time.

Serves 2 (or 4 as a side dish)

Laban chicken curry. Photo: Nicole Barua 
Leftover laban? No problem. Courtesy Nicole Barua


250g chicken

Neutral oil

1 tsp ginger-garlic paste

80g red onion, diced small

1 tsp mustard seeds

8 curry leaves

5-6 pieces ginger, julienned

2 green chillis, slit

1 tbsp corn flour/starch

375ml full-fat laban

Salt, to taste

½ tsp nigella seeds


Cut chicken into strips and marinate in the ginger-garlic paste for 10 minutes.

In a medium pan, heat the oil, then add in the onions and stir. Add the mustard seeds, curry leaves, ginger and chilis. Stir, make sure the onions stay light pink and don’t brown.

Add the chicken on a high heat and stir around quickly, so the chicken doesn’t brown too much. Once the surface of the chicken appears cooked, add a few spoons of water to the vessel, lower the flame and cover until the chicken is almost completely cooked, so about 5 minutes.

In a bowl, add the cornflour to 3-4 spoons of laban and stir to form a smooth slurry.

On a very low flame, add the rest of the laban to the chicken, stir, then add in the slurry in increments with salt to taste. Give it a minute or 2 to allow the chicken to cook fully, stirring intermittently. Remove the chicken and set aside.

Whisk the curry gently on a low flame, until it thickens a little. Never allow it to boil. If your curry becomes too thick, add a little water to dilute.

The curry should be done in about 5 minutes, taste to make sure the cornflour has been cooked out, then add the chicken back.

Remove from the stove. Garnish with curry leaves and a sprinkle of nigella seeds.

Serve with saffron rice and cucumber.

Coconut panna cotta with passion fruit

This dessert is an ode to one of my favourite Burmese restaurants in my home-state Goa. It’s not too sweet, and has a gentle texture off-set by sharp notes of passion fruit.

Serves 6

Coconut panna cotta with passion fruit. Photo: Nicole Barua 
Practise your flipping skills with this coconut panna cotta with passion fruit. Courtesy Nicole Barua


620ml coconut milk

10g gelatine

140ml maple syrup, plus 4tbsp for the passion fruit

Pinch of salt

10 passion fruits

Zest of 3 limes

Neutral or coconut oil, plus cotton pad for light greasing of ramekins


Whisk the coconut milk well, so the heavier fats re-incorporate to a silky mix. Next divide into halves, pouring one half into a saucepan.

Sprinkle the gelatine on to the surface of the milk in the saucepan, let it bloom for 5 minutes without stirring. The surface will appear wrinkly. Set the saucepan onto a medium stove on a low flame and whisk gently to dissolve the gelatine. Never let it boil.

Add the maple syrup with the salt and keep whisking. In 3-4 minutes, the gelatine should dissolve.

Remove from the stove and stir in the other half of the coconut milk. Pour the mix through a fine sieve, then pour into oil-greased ramekins. Set in the fridge for minimum of four hours or until it sets.

Spoon out the passion fruit pulp in a small saucepan, heat it with 4 spoons of maple syrup very gently for about 10-12 minutes while stirring.

Remove from the stove, allow it to cool and sieve, retaining some seeds for presentation. Refrigerate.

Serve in the ramekin topped only with passion fruit. To remove from the ramekin, place it halfway in a small pot of hot water for 30 seconds Then slide a knife between the surface of the panna cotta and the sides of ramekin gently, to help it come away.

Cover the ramekin with a plate and get the panna cotta out with a hard flip. Once on the plate, top with the passion fruit and generously zest lime all over. Serve immediately.

Published: April 9, 2021 02:47 PM


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