Laksa Lemak is a Malay dish. At first glance it looks like seafood chowder, which we Bluenosers are very used to seeing. But it’s base is really a coconut-curry gravy. The rest of the ingredients, noodles, prawns, and accompaniments, are only partly submerged in the rich coco-nutty goodness. The gravy is meant to coat the many layers of ingredients, to ensure each bite is equally delicious….
Sound good? It is! When visiting in Singapore it was always these rich coconut based dishes that lured me in. I can’t resist them!
‘Tofu puffs’ can be purchased at Asian groceries (and they are puffier than mine). Like me, you can easily make them at home. All it takes is a package of firm tofu sliced or cubed, and then fry them until golden. They are crispy on the outside and soft and spongy on the inside. They are a great addition in this dish because they soak up the many flavours and the yummy coconut gravy.
Here is a quick video showing how to fry tofu puffs if you want to give it a try. It is recommended you drain the tofu of any water. Slice the package and gently squeeze the tofu while still in the package, releasing the water.
Many of the ingredients, as you will read, are set aside in their own bowl. The finished product is a layered arrangement of the main ingredients. So, in effect, you will need to have all these bowls placed in an assembly line, of sorts.
5 shallots, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
thumb size of fresh ginger, sliced
1 red chili, seeds removed, sliced
1/2 tsp shrimp paste (belacan)
1/4 cup blanched almonds
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp mild curry powder
1 tsp salt
2 lemon grass *bulbs, bruised
3 or 4 dried kaffir lime leafs (if you can find them)
2 398ml cans coconut milk
1 400ml can chicken stalk
200 grams of rice vermicelli
200 grams glass noodles (mung bean noodle)
1 package firm tofu, cubed and fried (see above)
1 cup finely shredded cabbage, blanched
400 grams prawns
300 grams bean sprouts, blanched
1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
2 green onion, sliced thin
lime, sliced in wedges
1/2 cup crispy fried shallots
spoonful of sambal olek (optional, to add heat)
First, prepare the tofu puffs, if making them, and set aside. Also prepare the other accompaniments and set aside (cilantro, lime, fried shallots, green onion).
Next, make a paste by grinding almonds, shallots, garlic, ginger, chili, shrimp paste and oil, together. In a large pot, over medium heat, fry paste until fragrant, then toss in kaffir lime leaf and lemon grass bulbs. Quickly stir a bit of coconut milk with the salt and curry powder and add this to the pot. Give it a good stir and then add the rest of the coconut milk and chicken stalk. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low.
While this is cooking, blanch the bean sprouts, rinse with cold water, and set aside in a bowl. Blanch shredded cabbage for 5 minutes in very hot water and set aside in a bowl. Prepare rice vermicelli by soaking in very hot water (recently boiled) for 5 minutes. Drain off water, cover and set aside in a bowl. Prepare the glass noodles the same way, only they are soaked for a couple minutes only (until soft and transparent). Set aside in a bowl.
Add the prawns to the pot now. Turn heat back up to medium, and cook until pink and done, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat off.
Prepare each bowl, first with the noodles, then bean sprouts and cabbage. Now add in the tofu, and ladle the prawn-coconut gravy half way up your mound of noodles. Top with other accompaniments as you like.