Making Laksa

February 18, 2011


A few years ago when my husband and I had a long layover in Singapore, one of the first things we did was go in search of food. We ended up in a small restaurant in the airport that had a wide variety of noodles and soups. I forget what I had, but my husband ordered the laksa, and I was hooked. A fiery bowl of coconut milk-based broth with noodles and seafood, what’s not to like?

A few months after returning home, I was flipping through old articles in a Martha Stewart magazine, and I came upon a recipe for Malaysian Prawn Laksa. Laksa is one of those things that everyone does differently, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t the most authentic recipe, but it’s easy to make, easy to procure the ingredients at your local supermarket, and best of all it tastes great!

I made a few changes to this recipe. It initially called for dill, which, 1) I don’t like, and 2) doesn’t seem like a flavor I would anticipate in a Southeast Asian dish. I also updated the toppings because it originally called for cucumber, which I don’t care for warm.

Malaysian Prawn and Coconut Laksa with Rice Vermicelli
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living
Serves 6
Gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan alternatives listed at end of recipe

1 teaspoons whole black peppercorns, coarsely ground
1 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, coarsely ground
2 fresh lemongrass stalks, chopped
Lime zest from 1 lime
1 2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
4 shallots, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
6 to 7 small fresh Thai chiles (less if you don’t like your food quite spicy)
8 to 9 small dried chilis, seeded and soaked until soft (I use Japanese chili pods)
1/3 cup peanuts, coarsely ground
6 oounces rice vermicelli or other thin rice or bean thread noodles
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 cans (14 oz each) coconut milk
2 cups chicken, fish, or vegetable stock
18 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro coarsely chopped
Bean sprouts, thai chiles, scallions, Sriracha, and/or cilantro for garnish

Pulse peppercorns, coriander seeds, lemongrass, and lime zest, ginger, shallots, garlic, chiles, and peanuts in a food processor until it forms a paste, working in batches if needed.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Follow package instructions for noodles – some require boiling the noodles for a short time (2 to 3 minutes) and others require soaking noodles in boiling water for 10 – 15 minutes. Err on the side of keeping the noodles less cooked, as they will cook and soften more when you add the hot laksa broth. Drain after cooking.

Heat a wok or large pan over medium high heat. Add oil; heat until hot but not smoking. Add peppercorn paste; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and darkened and moisture begins to evaporate, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add fish sauce, coconut milk, and stock; bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes. Add shrimp and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until shrimp are cooked through. Stir in lime juice and cilantro.

Divide the noodles between 6 serving bowls. Portion out shrimp in each bowl, and then pour broth over the noodles. Serve with a selection of garnishes so each person can customize the toppings on their laksa.

This recipe is also great to take for lunch, so make extra for leftovers. I suggest packing the shrimp, noodles, and soup separately so you can warm them up individually.

Gluten-free alternative: Double check the label on the fish sauce to ensure no wheat has been added.

Vegetarian & vegan alternative: Substitute Golden Mountain Sauce for fish sauce. Substitute baked crispy tofu cubes for shrimp.

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