Laksa is a spicy soup of Malaysian origin, which gets its name from the rice noodles or rice vermicelli used to make it. But to me, this dish is all about the broth, and more specifically the spice paste used to spike the broth giving it that hearty red hue and tongue-numbing kick. I just had this for lunch on this cold, wet miserable day, and already I feel like I’ve been transported to the tropics.
Though usually a stickler for details, I did not feel like venturing out in this weather, so I improvised on some of the ingredients. First of all, I’m not a fan of tofu, so I left that out altogether. I didn’t have candlenuts or almonds as the recipe called for, but I did have walnuts, so they worked just as well. I also had eggs, though I forgot to use them. But believe me, the dish was rich and satisfying enough, and pretty simple to make as well.
You start with the paste. Apparently you can buy Laksa paste at Asian markets, but I elected to make my own from scratch. Some special ingredients you will need, however, are galangal (a ginger-like root that has a flavor all its own; used a lot in Thai cooking) and tamarind water (which you can make yourself by soaking pieces of the fruit in water or using a tamarind concentrate). Instead of a food processor, I used an old-fashioned mortar and pestle to grind the following together:
1-2 large red chillies (I used 6-7 dried ones)
2 shallots, chopped (I used an onion)
1 garlic clove, chopped (I used about 3)
2 candle nuts, chopped or 1 tbsp. ground almonds
1 tsp chopped fresh ginger root
1 tsp chopped galangal
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp tamarind water
2 tbsp peanut oil
Sure, it’s a little labor intensive, but you have to love what you are doing because love is the most important ingredient in any recipe. For me, the look and aroma of this paste slowly coming together was pure poetry—it’s what cooking is all about. After the paste is made, however, everything else easily falls into place. Here are the basic ingredients:
1 block Chinese tofu, about 14-16 oz. (400-450 g)
2-3 tbsp peanut oil
16 raw jumbo shrimp, cleaned and deveined
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/4 cups thick coconut milk
8-12 oz (225-350 g) rice vermicelli, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes and drained
4-6 oz (115-175 g) bean sprouts
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
Once the broth is made, you can plate (or bowl, as it may be). Start with the drained rice noodles, top with shrimp and bean sprouts, and ladle over the broth
Also, as in most Asian soups, the garnishes are very important. The recipe called for chopped green onions, parsley, and deep-fried shallots. I added some fresh mint leaves, a squeeze of lime and a few dabs of fish sauce (Vietnamese style).
When you put it all together, you get a dish that is rich, spicy, flavorful, and very satisfying. This recipe came from the book Curry Cuisine, but I have to thank my friend Tesalia who includes her own recipe for Laksa on her blog, cooksandspoons for the inspiration.
1) First make the paste by blending those ingredients together until smooth. Transfer to a small pan and cook over moderate heat for 4 minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and set aside.
2) Cut the tofu into quarters, then cut each quarter into quarters again (handling carefully). Heat oil in a frying pan and sauté tofu chunks until they have a skin. Drain on paper towels.
3) Rub the shrimp with salt and ste aside. Bring the stock to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in the paste and boil for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl.
4) Pour the coconut milk into the stock and bring back to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes while you distribute the noodles, shrimp and tofu pieces among the serving bowls. Then put the bean sprouts and hard-boiled egss over the shrimp and tofu.
5) Adust the seasoning of the soup and bring to a boil. Then ladle the soup over the bowls and garnish.