Sambal Goreng Prawns with Papaya and Sweet Potato

This fusion dish is a HUGE vitamin C booster and finger-licking good.

Sambal and ketjap manis are deeply rooted in Indonesian cuisine and are wholeheartedly embraced by the Dutch, whereas papaya and sweet potato add a definite Caribbean twist.

Papaya is a wonderful tropical fruit that is much underused in Europe. Papayas have been loved in Central and Latin America, the Caribbean and the West Indies for centuries. Spanish and Portuguese explorers later introduced them to far-flung places such as India, the Philippines and parts of Africa.

Christopher Columbus called the papaya the “fruit of the angels”. Looking at its incredible nutritional qualities, I’d say he had a point.

Papaya contains papain, an enzyme that helps digest proteins. It’s similar to the enzyme found in pineapples that has anti-inflamatory properties, great for treating sports injuries, burns and allergic skin reactions. Papain is also used in digestive dietary supplements.

Papayas are rich in antioxidants and nutrients such as pro-vitamin A carotenoid phytonutrients, vitamin C, flavonoids, B vitamins, folate, pantothenic acid and the minerals potassium, copper, and magnesium. They are high in fiber too. This heady mix of nutrients promotes cardiovascular health, lowers cholesterol and is said to protect against colon cancer, prostate cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

Vitamin C and vitamin A are also essential for a healthy immune system. So papaya can help prevent colds and flu too. Move over, Mr Orange.

sambal goreng prawns with papaya

Apart from all this nutritional goodness, the papaya is first and foremost a delicious and versatile tropical treasure. It has a fantastic buttery texture and is juicy, but not overly sweet. In fact, it has a slightly musky undertone that makes it particularly suitable in savoury dishes too.

It’s traditionally made into a hot sauce with habanero or scotch bonnet peppers in the Caribbean. It also makes fabulous easy jams and relishes with the addition of lime, ginger or both.

The enzymes in the papaya make for a great meat tenderiser too. So in this recipe, I am using pureed papaya in the marinade and then chunks to add another fruity dimension to the sauce itself. You could happily make this dish with chicken or beef instead of prawns, if you prefer.

Sweet potato (another tremendous boost of vitamine C) is roasted separately to add yet another layer of texture and flavour. I admit I’ve stolen that idea from the Indonesians, who often serve thin deep-fried potato strips or potato cubes with or in their dishes (yep, that’s pretty much the equivalent of French fries or chips).

And I am adding peas. Not just for colour, but as a nudge to my adopted country, as there was a time when the Brits served peas with everything.

Told you. Definitely a fusion dish.


Sambal Goreng Prawns with Papaya and Sweet Potato (serves 4 – GF DF LC RSF)

Sambal prawns papaya sweet potato


400 gr raw king prawns, peeled and deveined if needed

1-2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 tbsp rapeseed oil


1 medium onion or shallot, peeled and finely chopped

1 fresh chilli, red or green, seeds in or out to taste

1 red pepper, deseeded and diced

1 stick of fresh lemon grass, bruised

4 spring onions, finely sliced

2 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped

2 lime leaves

250 ml coconut milk or 120 ml coconut cream

1/2 tbsp coconut oil

juice and zest of 1 lime

coconut palm sugar or honey to taste if needed

150 gr bean sprouts

1/2 papaya, peeled, deseeded and diced

a good handful of peas or soy beans (frozen is fine)

a small handful of fresh coriander, chopped

fresh chilli and toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

rice or noodles to serve

For the marinade:

1 generous tbsp sambal manis or sambal brandal

5 tbsp ketjap manis (or use 4 tbsp soy sauce and add 1 tbsp coconut palm sugar or honey)

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1/2 papaya, seeds and skin removed

1 thumb of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tsp dried shrimp paste (trassi, belachan) or salt to taste

a generous grind of fresh black pepper


Prepare the marinade by blending all the marinade ingredients in a blender of mini food processor. Add to the prawns, cover and set in the fridge for up to 24 hrs.

Heat the oven to 190 C

Generously season 1 tbsp rapeseed oil with salt and pepper. Swish the sweet potato cubes around in the oil and bake in the oven for 30-40 mins or until golden.

Meanwhile heat the coconut oil in a wok over high heat. Add the onion and stir-fry for a minute or so until translucent. Add the chilli, lime leaves and lemon grass. Stir-fry for another minute.

sambal goreng prawns with papayaAdd the red pepper, spring onions and tomatoes. Stir fry for another minute while you drain the marinade from the prawns, reserving both.

Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high.

Add the marinade, the lime juice, lime zest and coconut milk to the wok. Turn the heat to medium and cook for 5 mins. Check the seasoning and add more lime juice, add a coconut palm sugar or honey, more ketjap manis or sambal to taste if needed to balance the flavours. You’re looking for a balance of sweet, spicy, refreshing and salty.

grilled sambal Goreng prawns

Add the bean sprouts and peas to the wok. Cook for 3-5 mins, then stir through the papaya. You could just add the prawns too, but I like grilling mine.

Grill the prawns under a grill or on a grill pan for the same 3-5 mins depending on size, turning half way through.

Stir half of the coriander through the sauce.

Serve the prawns, sweet potato cubes and saucy vegetables over rice or (GF) noodles. Garnish with chilli, fresh coriander and toasted sesame seeds.

sambal goreng prawns with papaya

sambal goreng prawns with papaya

sambal goreng prawns with papaya

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