When I get sick, I don’t crave chicken soup. I crave one of two things — tomato soup from a can with grilled cheese and dill pickles (hat tip to Kate and our dining hall days — I also crave this when perfectly healthy), or spicy beef ramen noodles (hat tip to football player roommates who once bought a 48 box of these from Costco for the house). Unfortunately for me, my favourite spicy beef ramen noodles are no longer accessible to me, for two reasons. One, my fave brand was Safeway’s own, which doesn’t seem to exist anywhere near me in Australia. Two, I refuse to buy a one-use styrofoam cup just to enjoy guilty pleasure empty calories.
What does all of this have to do with laksa, you may ask? It seems that in my quasi-invalid state today, I craved what is arguably the grown up version of these two comfort foods. Laksa, that spicy, creamy, savoury, tart, sweet, and overall delectable goodness. I’m a convert.
Just fyi, my invalid state today was caused by surgery on my ear — cosmetic, as I had a big keloid scar lump there from an old piercing. It was my first time ever going under in complete anaesthetic, which on the whole wasn’t so bad. Other than nerves in the morning, I’d say the whole experience (so far) has been about as pleasant as getting a cavity filled. So, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this if you’re sick in the gastro way — a really hot laksa could sure do wonders for a head cold though!
Another disclaimer. I think I’ve had laksa only a handful of times in my life, and two of those were my own homemade version. As a gal who grew up in small Canadian town with no Asian food other than Westernised Chinese and Japanese, I’m no connoisseur or particular whiz at Asian dishes (yet). But frankly, so long as it’s delicious, who really cares, right? Enjoy this with a nice cold beer any time of ear. Er, year.
Laksa, Delicious (Curry) Laksa
Makes: 4 servings
Cooking time: 30 minutes
- 1 onion
- 1 large clove garlic
- 1 small bunch of coriander (cilantro) or 2-3 tbsp of fresh coriander paste
- 1 jar good quality laksa paste
- 1 400 mL (16 oz) tin of coconut cream or milk (I prefer cream, it has way more flavour and coconut fat is a healthy fat in appropriate serving sizes)
- 250 g (0.5 lb) packet of vermicelli noodles, or other long rice noodles
- bean sprouts
- lime juice
What else I used:
- 1/2 eggplant
- 1 carrot
- 1 small bunch bok choy
- 1 small zucchini
- 1 tbsp paste each of ginger and lemongrass
- 500 g (1 lb) peeled prawns, cooked or uncooked, with or without tails, whatever you prefer
- 1 tbsp shredded kaffir lime leaves
- 2 tsp chicken, vegetable, or fish stock powder
- 4 tbsb brown sugar
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- optional: extra chili, extra fish sauce, other vegetables such as mushrooms, broccoli, green beans, capsicum / peppers, spinach, silver beet, etc.
Note: Laksa, to my mind, is an incredibly versatile dish. These are the ingredients which I used, yet I’ve seen in cookbooks and on menus a wide variety of vegetables and proteins used. Be economical and use what you have in your fridge first. You can add chicken, beef, tofu, or hard boiled eggs as a protein, or have none at all. Use glass vermicelli or rice linguini. Or soba noodles. Whatever. Just always taste and adjust to your liking! The ingredient list is long but you can substitute or go without — so long as you have the essential ingredients you’ll still have something really edible.
1. Heat olive oil in a good-sized wok on medium-high heat (hot enough so you’ll get a good sizzle when you throw in the onion). Chop up the onion into fine slices and add to the wok. (I added the eggplant here. If you add extra chili, best to add it here too.) Finely chop garlic; add. Turn heat down so onion sizzles a bit more gently; cook until just softening. Fill up your kettle and set to boil.
2. Add laksa paste and other strong flavours like the ginger and lemongrass, a dash of salt and pepper, and the washed and chopped coriander stalks and roots (or paste). Stir well and cook about 3 minutes until flavours mix and become fragrant. If using, add the shredded kaffir lime leaves (I had a jar leftover from someone else, and have to say that they’re going to be a staple for this sort of dish, they add a really lovely bitterness.)
3. While cooking, chop up the other vegetables (or do these before, if you don’t chop rather quickly) — I did carrot, bok choy, and zucchini here. (Use a vegetable peeler to create long ribbons of carrot; these go really well with the noodles later!) Throw in and give another good stir, and leave it for another 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, add your vermicelli noodles to a heatproof bowl and cover with boiled water. Cover and let sit while you go give the wok a good stir.
4. Carefully, steal 2-3 ladle-fuls of any extra water covering the vermicelli noodles, and add to the wok. Pour in your coconut cream, stir well to combine all flavours. Heat until you just see the occasional bubble burp to the top, then reduce heat to medium. Stir in brown sugar and the 2 tsp stock powder.
5. After about 5 minutes in, I added my already cooked and thawed prawns, then let it heat the whole way through (so if using a different protein, add it now). I then added lime juice and more fresh coriander paste. I tasted and added a bit more water and stock — this last step will be different depending on the brand of laksa paste you use, what protein you use, and your preferences. I recommend adding already cooked protein, unless you’re using prawns or pieces of fish which cook very quickly.
6. Drain noodles and separate them into bowls. Ladle the laksa over top, sprinkle with a good handful of bean sprouts and fresh coriander if using, and serve hot with both a spoon and a fork for ease of eating — or a spoon and chopsticks (though laksa is primarily eaten by Asian cultures which use the spoon & fork combo instead, just saying).
Enjoy!! (Now that I’ve written a novel — haven’t you missed me??!)
Help, my laksa is too…
- Spicy: I hope you didn’t add extra chili because laksa pastes already have chili in them. Add more water and stock powder (one ladle and tsp at a time), a tbsp of sugar, and be generous with your noodles. If you’re really desperate, forgo some of the water and add another tin of coconut cream.
- Not spicy enough: Make a mental note to add a finely chopped hot chili the next time you make this recipe. Then, add some chili flakes or cayenne pepper.
- Flavourless: Pump up the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, coriander/cilantro, and add an extra tbsp each of fish sauce and sugar.
- Salty: Well, you added too much salt or the brand of laksa paste you bought is crap. Unfortunately the only answer here is more water or coconut, and adjusting other flavours accordingly.
- Fishy: Laksa can be properly fishy due to the dried shrimp in the paste. It’s supposed to be! But if you’re not a fan, be generous with the other flavours and don’t add any fish or oyster sauce on top of the jar of laksa paste.