Malaysians like their laksa soup. We would most likely call it a noodle soup, yet I would argue that laksa has a quite distinct taste because of the spices added to it. Little did I know that there were different types of laksa until I travelled to Borneo this winter. To me, the traditional laksa version was the one with a coconut milk base and shrimps. Assam laksa is a sweet & sour version with fish. One afternoon I decided to go on a food discovery tour in Kota Kinabalu. Food stands are very common there and I couldn’t get enough of the fresh fish and vegetable variety that was offered and just before I left, I visited a local supermarket to get my laksa supply so that I could make it at home and share it with you.
In case you are wondering where to buy the ingredients in your home country: A well assorted Asian grocery store should have all you need. Instead of traditional laksa noodles I found thick Vietnamese noodles.
Ingredients (serves 4 people):
1 pound white fish filet (e.g. mackerel, catfish)
1 small onion or shallot, chopped into mini dices
1 stalk lemon grass, the white part of it cut into 3-4 pieces
1 pack dried and peeled sour tamarind
2 tablespoons Sambal laksa paste or these ingredients to make your own chill paste:
– 12 dried red chilies (seeded)
– 5 fresh red chilies (seeded)
– 2 teaspoons shrimp paste
– 1 stalk lemon grass
1 pack instant thick noodles
Seasoning: fish sauce, sugar, salt
2 hard-boiled eggs, fresh pineapple pieces, grated cucumber, and a few arugula or lettuce leaves for decoration
1) Start with the fish. Bring 1,5l of water to a boil. Rinse the filet under water and then boil it for about 10 min. Remove the fish and let it cool down on a plate. Add 5 pieces of tamarind, approximately the size of your finger tip, to the broth and stir a few times.
As soon as the fish meat has cooled down, take it apart with your fingers. You want to have small pieces as shown on the picture. Add it back to the broth and let the soup cook at slow heat. Also, add the lemon grass stalk.
2) Prepare the paste. In a wok, heat up a tablespoon of cooking oil and saute the onion dices. Then add the paste and stir for about a minute at medium heat.
If you do not cook with ready to use laksa paste, make your own: All you need is a small food processor or mortar to grind the ingredients (onion, chilies, shrimp paste). Then roast them in hot oil inside a wok for a few minutes until the paste has caramelized.
3) Now, back to the soup. Stir in the chili paste. Once this is done, take a small handful of tamarind (the size of a golf ball) and start dissolving it in warm water. The best way of doing this is to fill up half a cup with warm water and using your hands squeeze the tamarind until it dissolves and the water turns brown (see picture below). Repeat this 3-4 times so that in the end you come out with 1.5 to 2 cups of tamarind extract that you add to the soup. Next, season the soup with sugar, salt and fish sauce to taste. You will notice that the tamarind leaves a rather sour taste by itself. The soup is almost ready now. Before you serve it, prepare the noodles as indicated on the package. Typically, soaking the noodles for 5 min in boiled water will do. And don’t forget to rinse them under ice-cold water to avoid their glueing together.
4) Finish with decoration. Traveling around South East Asia you will notice that soups usually get rounded up with a bouquet of fresh greens. For example, a Vietnamese Pho is decorated with coriander leaves. Assam laksa can be decorated with small pineapple pieces, grated cucumber and a few arugula or chopped up lettuce leaves. I added half a boiled egg to mine. If you like it spicy, you might add chili slices on top. Let your imagination run wild and be creative!
This recipe has been cooked based on http://rasamalaysia.com/recipe-penang-assam-laksa/ recipe with slight modifications.