(Malysian, Indonesian, Thai, you name it)
Okay, I'm a slow starter on this soup, so popular throughout Southeast Asia and other pockets of cognoscenti--but WOW. You start off with a spice paste. Then make a rich coconutty gravy with it. Then, whether you add crab or fishcakes or prawns or chicken at the end; whether you use rice or wheat or beanthread noodles; whether you make it Peranakan style (in porcelain bowls with spoons), Thai style (with thick noodles, Asian basil, candlenuts, lime, and pineapple), or Sarawak style (thin noodles, preserved carrots, and sambal)--you've got yourself a rich, filling, many layered experience that will have you panting for more. What does laksa mean? It means "ten thousand," because there are SO many condiments to be added. This Southeast Asian fast food--said to be the creation of ancient Chinese who migrated to Malaysia--is sold as a meal from thousands of soup vendors, all of whom have their own special recipe. The one that follows is, I think, a good start for entering the world of laksa. If you gather all the ingredients and take it one step at a time, it's really pretty easy. I'm making it with chicken--if you'd rather make it with seafood, use seafood stock instead of chicken stock. Serve hot as a meal to 6 people.
FIRST MAKE THE SPICE PASTE (days before is fine)
Put the minced lemon grass hearts, chilies, galangal/ginger, shrimp paste, shallots, garlic, and oil in a blender and liquify it into a speckled mush. Add the cilantro, turmeric, sugar, and tamarind paste and blend at the highest speed until it is a colorful but uniform paste. Scoop into a glass jar (it will stain plastic) and refrigerate until you're ready to use.
NOW GET THE NOODLES AND CHICKEN READY:
Cook the noodles according to package directions, rinse, and set aside. Cut the chicken in bitesize juicy cubes
- 1/2 pound noodles (thick or thin rice, wheat, or beanthread noodles are fine--rice noodles are most traditional)
- 4 cups cooked chicken
THEN MAKE THE GRAVY
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat, then stir in the paste--and keep stirring until it is a little browned (don't burn!), about 3 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat, stir in herbs and fish sauce, and simmer for 5 minutes. When you're ready to begin assembly, stir in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer.
GET THE GARNISHES READY (your choice how many)
TIME FOR FINAL ASSEMBLY!
1. Divide the noodles among the large bowls.
2. Arrange the chicken over the noodles
3. Pour the gravy over all
4. Either arrange garnishes on top or pass them separately