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bowl of curry laksa

One of the things the children (if I can still call them that given they’re in the last couple of years of school now!) have been asking for on the blog is for me to record the recipes for meals that they enjoy and make with help, but would like to make completely solo whenever they like.

ingredients for simple laksa

This means there are going to be a few recipes here under that Basics Series heading that I wouldn’t usually post – involving pre-made components (curry pastes, filled fresh pasta) or that are extremely simple (pasta with tomato sauce, tacos). I hasten to add that it’s not that I don’t ever make these sort of meals, I just wouldn’t usually feel that they’re interesting enough to readers for me to record here! However this is probably going to be the sort of list of basic recipes you might give to a young person to leave home with (as both my and Mr GP’s mothers did), so think of it in that vein.

soak rice vermicelli

There are many types of laksa made across South East Asia, but the one we make is a curry laksa, usually a simple one with just noodles, soup, and tofu puffs, with each bowl topped at the table with herbs, bean sprouts and crispy fried shallots. Having talked about how simple this is, I do have to add the caveat that specifically because this is so simple, with components such as the paste, tofu puffs and shallots being bought ready made, the quality of the fresh ingredients is vital. The herbs and bean sprouts must be absolutely fresh, and after a few dud batches, I don’t ever buy bean sprouts from a supermarket, and decide on which day we will eat laksa based on when I can get fresh bean sprouts and Vietnamese mint/laksa leaf (rau răm) from an Asian grocer. (In the picture above I actually sprouted my own bean sprouts as I hadn’t been able to buy for a while, but they weren’t quite the same.)

add tofu puffs to soup

I am also including optional instructions for making the laksa paste from scratch, as it adds wonderful depth of flavour and can certainly be made ahead, on the weekend for example, making the final dish no more complicated than using a bought paste. That’s what I’m hoping I can convince Miss L of anyway!

Curry laksa

  • 200g dry rice vermicelli noodles
  • 400-500g fresh hokkien noodles
  • 2 Tbs bought or homemade laksa paste (adjust amount to taste)
  • 1 400ml tin coconut milk
  • 500ml water
  • 2 Tbs fish sauce (adjust to taste)
  • 1 Tbs palm (or brown) sugar (adjust to taste)
  • 1 lime
  • 300g tofu puffs
  • 100-200g bean sprouts to serve
  • 1 bunch rau răm/Vietnamese mint and/or fresh coriander to serve
  • crisp fried shallots to serve

Soak rice vermicelli in boiling water for about 2 minutes until softened, then drain. Add the paste to a medium saucepan with some of the solid coconut cream from the top of the tin of coconut milk, and fry over medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the rest of the coconut milk and water, bring to the boil, and simmer for about five minutes.

While the soup is simmering, wash the bean sprouts and mint, and heat the hokkien noodles – follow the packet directions but you can soak or microwave.

Add the fish sauce, sugar and juice of half a lime to the soup and taste. You should have a lovely balance of salty, sweet and sour. Add the rest of the juice and more sugar or sauce if needed to get that balance. Add the tofu puffs to the soup and stir briefly until hot.

Divide both types of noodles between bowls, top with the soup and tofu, and serve with the bean sprouts, mint and shallots for people to top their own bowls.

Serves 4

For paste (if making)

  • 3 french shallots
  • 1 stalk lemon grass
  • 3 cm piece ginger
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 red chilli
  • 2cm piece fresh turmeric or 1 tsp dried
  • 2 small slices or barely 1 Tbs shrimp paste (belacan)
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp paprika

Peel and roughly chop shallots, peel off the outside layer of the lemon grass and chop the bottom pale section, peel and chop ginger (and fresh turmeric if using), seed and chop chilli, and add to a small food processor with spices and shrimp paste. Process until it forms a paste. You probably won’t use it all, but it keeps well in the fridge, and can also be frozen.