One of my absolute most favorite dishes to eat when I’m back in Malaysia is Mee Laksa (laksa noodles). There are two types of laksa — one is curry laksa and is coconut curry based, while the other called asam laksa and is a sour-ish fish soup. Both have noodles, and are served in those great, giant noodle soup bowls with a big spoon and a pair of chopsticks. My favorite is curry laksa (although you can eat it at any meal, it is one of my favorite breakfasts!).
It recently was a rainy, grey day and I found myself craving a big bowl of something hot and comforting. After some chiding by my mother (“what?! you don’t know how to make curry laksa?!”) I realized the gauntlet had been thrown down and I had to see if I was up to the challenge…
I was initially put off of making mee laksa due to the complex ingredients listed by this Rasa Malaysia recipe. And although my laksa wasn’t perfect (the flavor is not as multidimensional as I am used to), it still worked surprisingly well, and I’d be happy to make/tweak this recipe over and over again. It cooks up quickly, and the ingredients here are all things you should be able to find relatively easily — if not at your normal grocery store, in a quick trip to an Asian grocery. And the best part (of most curries) is that it tastes even better the day after.
The secret here is the use of red curry paste — it has all sorts of stuff in it that add good flavor, making your life easy, such as garlic, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, etc.
I think next time I make this I might buy some fresh lemongrass and include it in the soup while it simmers, I suspect that’s what it was missing. Or maybe some additional coriander, curry powder, or some belacan (Malaysian shrimp paste, it comes in small blocks or granules). Or maybe all four ;) And although I used chicken stock, you can easily substitute vegetable stock and make this a vegetarian/pescatarian meal.
Now, let’s talk soup add-ins.
One of the great things about this dish is that there are so many other delicious things in an already delicious broth, and that everything you add in is really up to your personal taste. For instance, there are traditionally two types of noodles (egg and rice) mixed into the soup. I ended up getting lazy and only cooking the egg noodles, but you can definitely mix.
For me, the key add-in ingredient (that you will likely have to get from an Asian store) are these “tofu puffs” — I’ve seen them also listed as “fried tofu” or “tofu pillows” — just look in the tofu section. The package will be really light, as these are super airy.
You see what you’re dealing with when you cut them open: the tofu is like a sponge, which soaks up all of the soup’s goodness, getting even more broth to your mouth with every bite. Mmmm. Fantastic. To be honest with you, I personally knew I couldn’t make the soup if I couldn’t find this tofu — it just wouldn’t be right! ;)
The vegetables are your choice — bok choy looked good in the store, so I bought a package. Bean sprouts are pretty common for this dish, as are green beans or Chinese long beans, and peppers. You’ll want veggies that stay crispy, to provide a textural contrast to the creamy soup and the soft noodles. I like my vegetables so crisp they are practically raw — so I just leave them raw in the soup bowl, ladle the hot broth over them before serving, which instantly blanches them slightly. You might want to cook your vegetables a bit in the broth, depending on your personal taste.
Finally, this is primarily a seafood dish, often served with shrimp and mussels. Fish balls/sticks are often used — I love fish balls and used a package of cuttlefish balls, but I know not everyone is a fan. And no, they aren’t like “fish hot dogs” — I’ll explain more in another post sometime.
Mee laksa is enriched even further with the addition of a halved hard boiled egg. Really, for the costal regions of Malaysia where this dish flourished, these are all cheap sources of protein: coconut milk, egg, and seafood.
With all the add-ins, always keep in mind the interplay of taste, color and texture in the soup to keep everything balanced.
Lin’s Curry Laksa
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon ginger, diced finely
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, diced finely
- 1+ tablespoons red curry paste, to taste (I used three)
- One can of coconut milk, including the cream in the can
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- 1 red pepper
- 3 heads of bok choy
- 1 package “tofu pillows” (see note above)
- 4 hard boiled eggs
- 1/2 package Chinese egg noodles
- 1/2 package flat rice noodles
- 2 cups of shrimp
- 1 scallion, chopped
- Boil a pot of water and cook noodles according to package directions.
- While noodles are cooking, heat oil and saute onion in a soup pot until they turn slightly translucent. Add in ginger and garlic, allowing the mixture to get fragrant.
- Saute in your curry paste, letting it cook with the aromatics, adding more to suit your taste. I love my food hot and flavorful, so I actually used three tablespoons, but last time my Mom made this she only used one. Start on one and see what you like — you can always add more at any time. You might also want to add a little curry powder for additional depth of flavor.
- After about a minute (don’t burn the mixture in the pot!), add in the can of coconut milk. Mix it, making sure to dissolve the curry paste thoroughly. Add stock and fish sauce, cover, and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes. Add more stock/water if the mixture is too thick.
- Begin preparing add-ins. Wash vegetables, slice pepper, and de-leaf bok choy. Slice tofu pillows and hard boiled eggs in half, add tofu to the soup as it bubbles.
- Add shrimp into soup five minutes before serving. If you like your vegetables more cooked, place them into the soup as well.
- Prepare your soup bowl: layer noodles, vegetables, a hardboiled egg, etc. in a bowl. Ladle finished soup over top, making sure to include plenty of shrimp and tofu. Sprinkle scallions on top. Enjoy!