Malaysian prawn laksa
Last summer I spent a month in Singapore on a work placement, and after I finished I travelled around Malaysia and Cambodia a bit sightseeing. The cuisine dominates most of my memories, and rightly so; there are few places – especially in Singapore – where one can find such a wealth of different flavours, ingredients and styles readily available in the local gastronomy. Moreover, eating out and sampling these foods is not the privilege of the rich; hawker centres – large food halls dotted throughout towns with tens to hundreds of stalls selling different dishes – provide a hearty meal at s$2-3 (around £1-2) prepared right as you wait.
Curry laksa was one of my favourite dishes out in Malaysia, which you could also find in hawker centres in Singapore. This spicy fish soup is a perfect balance between the fire of chilli and the creaminess of the coconut milk. It typically consists of prawns and/or chicken cooked together with deep fried tofu puffs in a spicy coconut noodle soup, garnished with coriander and extra chilli. You can sometimes now (well in London at least) buy the laksa paste, which saves time and effort if you’re in a rush. Ditto the tofu puffs. Check out local Asian supermarkets.
For the Laksa paste (1 jar)
- ½ onion, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp inch fresh galangal (or ginger), peeled and chopped
- 1 stick fresh lemongrass (white part only), chopped, or 2 tsp ready lemongrass
- 2 red birdseye chillis (hot!)
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp shrimp paste (use 1 tbsp thai fish sauce (nam pla) if not available)
- ½ tbsp peanuts or macadamias
- 1 tsp each of ground coriander, turmeric, salt
- 2 tsp each of sugar, paprika
- Bunch fresh coriander, thick stalks removed
- 1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
To make the laksa paste:
Prepare and chop the above ingredients as directed, it only has to be rough as they’re about to be blended. Next, place all ingredients, save the oil, into a food processor and blend until a paste is reached. Add the oil a little at a time until a good consistency paste is made that is spoonable. If you use fish sauce instead of shrimp paste, you’ll need to add less oil as it will already be more liquid. My shrimp paste was a salmon/shrimp jar mix I found in Tesco and not very fishy, so I added both. If you can, find the Malaysian/Thai stuff, which is much more pungent.
Once prepared, this makes about one jar (enough for 6-8 servings). Store the paste in an airtight container or sterilized jar in the fridge. Keeps for 1-2 weeks or so I’d imagine. You could probably try freezing it without too much detriment [I do like freezing things.]
For the laksa soup (serves 4):
- 3 tbsp laksa paste (see above). Alternatively you can perhaps buy this from Malaysian supermarkets.
- 800 mL coconut milk
- 200g large or king prawns, raw
- 200g firm tofu, plus sunflower oil for frying, to make tofu puffs* (see below)
- 100g green beans, steamed
- 200g rice noodles (normal are fine if you’re stuck)
- Large handful beansprouts
- ½ lime, juiced
- Fresh coriander, and cucumber matchsticks to serve
To make the tofu puffs:
Take 200g tofu and press firmly between two chopping boards (though not too hard, or the tofu will disintegrate) to remove some excess water. Then chop into large chunks. Heat about 50 mL (think 4 tbsp) in a wok under high heat until it starts to smoke. VERY carefully lower the tofu into the oil with a slotted spoon (it will hiss and bubble). Shallow fry until the tofu turns a deep golden, then repeat on the other side. When done, remove to paper towel and blot repeatedly to remove excess oil. Chop into smaller bits before adding to the laksa.
To make the laksa:
Finally, the easy bit! Take a little oil and fry in a saucepan, then add 3 good tbsp on the paste, and fry for 1-2 min until fragrant. Add the coconut milk bit by bit, mixing well, and heat until a gentle simmer is reached. Meanwhile, cook the noodles in a separate pan to instructions, and keep warm. After the laksa has simmered for around 10 mins, add the green beans, beansprouts and tofu. These will be cooked already, so will just absorb the flavours and reheat in the broth. Simmer for another 5 mins. Season to taste with salt, lime juice and perhaps a little more nam pla and sugar (I added more). Finally add the raw prawns and cook just until done and pink.
To serve, divide the noodles into separate bowls, and ladle the laksa on top. Garnish with coriander and cucumber cut into thin matchsticks. [I don’t know why the cucumber. I saw it in a few photos and the evil aesthete thought they looked pretty so they were added. I’m not sure I saw a cucumber anywhere near a laksa bowl in Malaysia at all]. For authenticity, eat with chopsticks in one hand, and a spoon in the other, and throw a bit extra chilli or chilli sauce on top if you dare. Enjoy!
I think the laksa is normally a deeper red colour than mine. This could be enhanced with more paprika.
Take care with the amount of chilli in the paste. I didn’t use birdseye in mine, but three normal red chillis (which wasn’t spicy enough to my liking), so I’ve recommended the former. Seek approval of a chilli-connoisseur if you’re unsure how much to add.
Taking photos of food in the evening is evil. I need a permanent sun.