Credit: Photography by Earl Carter

Grilled quail with dried tomato and betel leaves

David Moyle is a chef. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Photography by Earl Carter

When it comes to the snack department it’s fairly common to serve them on crackers or croutons. Think parfait or cheese or the classic kabana and pickled onion. While this is classic for a reason it tends to render the vessel as just that.

Or step into nature, where leaves with structure such as witlof and radicchio can nestle punchy ingredients and still bring great texture and crunch. By far my favourite, and a leaf with great tradition, is the betel leaf. Betel leaves come from a vine-like shrub that grows prolifically in subtropical regions. Betel has a great pepperiness and fragrance as well as bringing several medicinal benefits. They have long been used in South-East Asia and India for both cuisine and health. The leaves are not only great as a vessel, they also work really well shredded through salads where they provide great structure.

The key with using all of these leaves is to look at the balance of the bite as a whole and integrate the flavour. Just as the bitter leaves such as radicchio work well with richer meats and fatty snacks, the betel leaf thrives on grilled, smoky items and sweet and sour profiles.

I have experienced betel leaves most frequently in Thai cuisine. Designed as a single pungent mouthful, they offer such an energetic beginning to a meal. Lightly drying the tomatoes in this recipe helps lower the liquid ratio and heighten the acid and sweetness, which is key to holding the loosely bound dressing. Pungency is also key, so feel free to build in more chilli or texture to the betel leaf.


Time: 45 minutes preparation + 4 hours cooking

Serves 4 as a snack

  • 20 cherry tomatoes
  • 10g fine salt
  • 10g fine sugar
  • 15g brown sugar
  • 20ml lime juice
  • 20ml fish sauce
  • 20g tamarind paste
  • 1 green chilli sliced
  • 3 shallots
  • 2.5cm ginger
  • 2 makrut lime leaves
  • 10 betel leaves
  • 2 whole quail (deboned)
  1. Blanch the tomatoes briefly in boiling water (5 seconds) then peel the skin. Sprinkle the fine salt and sugar over them then place on a rack to dry in a low oven of 60-80 degrees for 4 hours.
  2. Combine the brown sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, tamarind paste and green chilli. Adjust each component for balance as there will be variance according to the ingredients used. Rest the tomatoes in this dressing for 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the salad. Very finely shred the shallots and set two-thirds aside to fry. Shred the ginger, makrut lime leaves and 2 of the betel leaves and place on top of the tomatoes in the bowl to dress.
  4. Fry the shallots in oil starting at 140 degrees until the oil reaches 160 degrees. The shallots should turn a golden brown. Remove them with a slotted spoon and leave to drain on absorbent paper.
  5. Grill the quail – preferably over charcoal – until medium, which should take 4-5 minutes. Let the quail rest for 10 minutes then remove the remaining bones. Cut into bite-size pieces and season with salt.
  6. Place remaining 8 betel leaves out on a plate. Put a piece of quail leg and breast meat into each leaf then gently mix the salad through the dressing with your hands. Lift the salad out of the dressing and distribute between the betel leaves evenly. Top with the fried shallots.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 8, 2022 as "Wrap party".

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