from one generation to the next
I’ve harboured deep Laksa love for more than twenty years. A small and unassuming Malaysian cafe in suburban Melbourne is responsible. Laksa Lemak from the Penang Coffee House was our regular Sunday dinner for close to 20 years, a high point before diving back into the working week.
Digestive issues put a stop to that. I decided a bowl of steaming coconut curry soup made without onion, garlic, crispy fried shallots and hokkein noodles would sully my taste expectations so I abandoned my love and let the flavour become a lingering memory. It was a memory hard to suppress.
The Penang Coffee House is well away from temptation now, but the flavour longing stayed with me. With nothing to lose but time, I embarked on recreating the delicious laksa flavour using ingredients I could eat without repercussions. There was a huge amount of enjoyment in consuming the works-in-progress, all were delicious although it took a couple of attempts to get the well rounded fragrant spicy flavour and murky laksa textural finish right.
The Laksa paste is the most important part of this recipe, it’s the flavour bomb for the soup. Don’t stint on the quantities of aromatics. They may seem excessive for two large bowls of soup, but they are the heart and soul of a steaming good laksa. The paste can be made well ahead and stored in the fridge for a few days.
I used a handwritten recipe from my cooking mentor Marieke, and Simon Bryant’s Laksa recipe from his book “Vegies” for guidance. My palate did the rest.
What makes a Laksa distinctive is the broth, but noodles are important too, usually two contrasting types then tofu, chicken, seafood and vegetables are added at the cook’s discretion. I followed Bryant’s suggestion and served the soup topped with fresh coriander leaves and Vietnamese mint.
Totally inauthentic but enormously enjoyable, this is a fabulous spicy dinner soup for those who follow the FODMAP diet and love to cook.
Don’t be deterred by the length of the list of ingredients. Organisation makes this a fairly quick dish to prepare.
While the laksa paste was toasting I used a large pot of boiling water with a fitted steamer to cook the spaghetti, but left it with a little bite. At the same time I steamed the chicken and prawns on top. I then used the spaghetti water to soak the bean thread noodles.
Once the broth was complete, and simmering, I lightly steamed the vegetables then reheated the noodles in the bottom pot of water for 1 minute, before draining and dividing between two large soup bowls. I then added the vegetables and proteins, ladelled over the simmering broth then topped the lot with bean shoots and herbs. The heat of the broth heated the tofu chicken and prawns and finished cooking the vegetables.
Laksa for 2
for the paste:
1 birdseye chilli, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoon blachan (fermented fish paste)
1 tablespoon dried shrimp
2 kaffir lime leaves, chiffonade
1 lime, shredded zest only
3 stalks of lemongrass, tender heart only, bruised and sliced
2 tablespoons grated root ginger
3 coriander roots, scraped and thoroughly washed and chopped
45g macadamia nuts
3 teaspoons Malay curry powder
pinch of asafoetida
To make the paste:
Blitz all the ingredients together in a food processor. Set aside.
90g GF spaghetti
40g bean thread vermicelli
Cook the spaghetti to the manufacturer’s minimum recommended time instruction. Drain refresh and set aside.
Soak the bean thread vermicelli in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain, refresh and set aside.
1 chicken breast, steamed and shredded
6 prawns, shelled and steamed
125g firm tofu, cut into 2cm dice
2 small bok choy, quartered
1/2 carrot, sliced diagonally
2 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/2 bunch broccolini
Lightly steam the vegetables
300mls coconut milk
300mls prawn stock
400mls chicken stock
Thai fish sauce
125g bean shoots
fresh coriander leaves
Vietnamese mint leaves
2 kaffir lime leaves, chiffonade
Heat 2 tablespoons of peanut oil in a small pan.
Add all of the laksa paste and cook over a medium heat until it well toasted and fragrant, about 10-15 minutes.
Add the coconut milk and stock and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Season to taste with fish sauce, lime juice and a little brown sugar.
Divide the lightly cooked warm noodles, tofu, meat and vegetables to two large soup bowls.
Ladle over the broth.
Garnish with coriander, Vietnamese mint, extra chilli and lime leaf.