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Laksa make a deal

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

As a Malaysian, I consider the ability to make a good curry laksa the mark of a cook who has reached a certain standard just as the ability to make a good soup is to a professional chef or an omelette is to a line cook in a diner.
I've been telling myself that curry laksa is one of those dishes that takes too much trouble to make at home. Many recipes in Malaysian cookbooks have a long list of herbs and spices that need to be ground together, and then simmered in a broth for a long time to develop its flavour. Looking at recipes just makes me want to go out and get a packet of ready-made spice mix rather than prepare all those ingredients myself and wait around for far too long to have my first bowl of laksa. It's too much. Too much.
I have my fill of curry laksa when my godmother, Louise, makes it. But I've never taken the trouble to find out how she does it.
And then I asked one day, and she gave me a basic recipe for a gravy. And I found it's something I can actually manage. There is, of course, no definitive curry laksa recipe. My aunty's recipe may or may not be good enough to go into the curry laksa business with, but in our family, we never stop at just one or even two bowls.
The base is vegetarian (some cooks add belacan or shrimp paste), and she makes a thick chicken curry on the side to add to the condiments and gravy. It gives the dish a more intense curry flavour but I think the gravy is pretty good on its own.
A vegetarian curry is good too. I've tried it with pumpkin and fried eggplant along with the usual condiments and garnishes.

Louise's Basic Curry Laksa Gravy (Vegetarian)
Serves 4

1½ coconuts, grated
10 dried chillies, soaked in water to softened
6 fresh red chillies
2cm turmeric root
2cm galangal
4 stalks lemongrass
10 shallots
3 tbsp cooking oil
5 tbsp curry powder
2 stalks laksa leaves (daun kesum)
Salt to taste

Condiments and garnishes
Fried tofu puffs
Long beans, trimmed and cut into 3cm lengths
Cooked cubes of pumpkin
Lightly sautéed cubes of eggplant
Lightly sautéed cubes of tofu
Rice vermicelli noodles, blanched
Fresh bean sprouts
Limes, halved
Mint leaves
Chilli sambal (recipe follows)

Squeeze the grated coconut to extract 30ml thick coconut milk. Set aside. To the squeezed grated coconut, add warm water and extract 1.2 litres of "thin" (second pressing) coconut milk (keep adding water a cup at a time until enough coconut milk has be extracted). Set aside. (Alternatively, use a good quality boxed or tinned coconut cream, and add water to thin it down slightly.)
Finely grind or blend the dried and fresh chillies, turmeric root, galangal, lemongrass and shallots. Heat the oil and fry the ground ingredients until aromatic and the oil separates. Add the curry powder and fry until golden.
Add the thin coconut milk; bring to the boil over low heat. Add the laksa leaves and season to taste. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, then add thick coconut milk and bring up to a simmer. Adjust seasoning.
Add this stage, the tofu puffs and long beans can be added to soften. Just before serving, add the pumpkin, eggplant and tofu cubes to heat through.
To serve, place some blanched vermicelli noodles in a bowl with fresh bean sprouts. Pour over the gravy. Serve with a garnish of mint leaves, and lime and chilli sambal on the side.

Chilli Sambal
80g ground chilli
2 cloves garlic, finely ground
120ml vegetable oil

Heat the oil and fry the ground chilli and garlic until there there is a red film of oil on the top of the mixture.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds delicious, though some ingredients I'm not familiar with. But I do know that freshly sqeezed coconut milk is out of this world delicious!


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