Lemongrass pork torpedo wraps

O Tama Carey is the owner of Lankan Filling Station. Her first cookbook is Lanka Food. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

I know it’s not for everyone but there is something about the tactile nature of eating food with your hands that makes me happy. I love having to make a little effort, constructing or building something before the reward of a delicious mouthful. There are snacks to pick at, shellfish to dismantle, pies and pastry galore, and whole meals, such as in Sri Lanka, eaten with the hands. Although generally it’s not really about using your whole hand, but rather a more delicate manoeuvre with the fingers.

I know the whole mess thing can be an issue, but humans have cleverly been working around this by creating foods that are wrapped and contained. Sandwiches are usually a number of ingredients with the bread acting as the buffer between the filling and the hands. Pies are basically this too but with pastry, as are tacos, rice paper wraps and spring and cabbage rolls.

Very fine iterations of this idea are things wrapped in lettuce. Whenever we remember to do something like this at home, I get very excited as it’s such a lovely way to eat. All you need is an array of leaves and herbs, a saucy or dippy thing or two and something to go inside. Doing this creates a meal with zingy and healthful flavours – it’s more vegetable than protein, there’s balance, contrast and bursts of flavour from the raw ingredients combined with some cooked and warm richer flavoured meat or seafood. It’s easy to prepare, healthy and a perfect way to dine on warmer evenings.

The other thing to note is how lettuce seems made for this and how little these leaves are sometimes considered. After three years of trial and error, we just grew the most perfect butter lettuce. It took about three months in the ground and was a thing of beauty, perfect to be delicately dismantled, filled with things and then eaten with aplomb. So, follow this recipe or simply use it as inspiration. Either way, embrace the concept of wrap, dip and eat. 


Serves 4-6

Time: 40 minutes preparation, cooking + resting

  • 1 bunch coriander, leaves picked, roots and stems kept
  • 2 x the bottom white part of lemongrass
  • ½ medium red onion
  • 20g garlic
  • 20g ginger
  • 3-5 green birdseye chillies
  • 2 tsp castor sugar
  • 2 tsp salt flakes
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 egg
  • 3 makrut lime leaves, finely sliced
  • 500g pork mince
  • neutral oil for cooking
  • 40ml fish sauce
  • 30ml lime juice
  • 5g castor sugar
  • 1 red birdseye chili
  • 20ml olive oil

Wrap plate suggestions

  • Herbs: Thai basil, coriander, mint, Vietnamese mint, dill
  • Leaves: butter lettuce, baby gem, sesame leaf, radicchio
  • Other: cucumber batons, radish, something pickled, mustard
  1. First you need to make the paste using all the ingredients  before the turmeric powder. You can make it with a small spice grinder, blender or mortar and pestle ending up with a coarse paste; how you get there is up to you. If you are using a mortar and pestle, perhaps do it in batches, or start it in a blender and finish with a mortar and pestle. Once made, place the paste in a sieve and let it strain for half an hour.
  2. Form a ball of pork mince by hand and, in a large mixing bowl, whack it against the sides until it becomes sticky and emulsified. Do this in batches to all the mince.
  3. Once emulsified, add in the drained paste, the turmeric, egg and lime leaf, and again use your hands to vigorously mix.
  4. At this stage, take a little ball of the mix and cook it off in a frypan to make sure you are happy with your seasoning. Adjust if necessary.
  5. Now, again with your hands, form the mix into 40-gram torpedo shapes and lay them on a tray. The mix will be quite soft and sticky but that’s okay. Once completed, place the tray in the fridge for at least half an hour to set a little.
  6. While they are resting, combine the fish sauce, lime juice and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk together until the sugar dissolves and then whisk through the olive oil and add in the chilli. Set aside.
  7. Now turn to your wrap plate. You can go a bit wild here and put out an easy or elaborate spread. Just remember you want lots of bold flavours and things with texture. Arrange nicely and set this aside in the fridge until you are ready to serve.
  8. Remove your torpedoes from the fridge and, in a large heavy-based frypan, cook them in batches. Make sure the frypan is quite hot, add a healthy splash of oil and fry them, turning so you cook on three sides. They should caramelise and char a little and will take about 3-4 minutes to cook through. As they are ready, lay them on a plate.
  9. Once they are all cooked, serve them with your bountiful herb plate and dipping sauce. Take a piece of lettuce, add a torpedo, pile with herbs wrap, dip and eat.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 12, 2022 as "Wrapped in it".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription