Saturday, March 26, 2016

Laksa - seafood noodle soup

Sometimes my cravings get so overwhelming that I end up spending way too much time and effort on satisfying them. Enter laksa, a deliciously fishy, rich and spicy noodle soup I first tried in an Asian food court in Markham, ON (First Markham Place, if you're wondering). I wanted it BAD, but not bad enough to drive 30 minutes to get it. Plus, the noodles they use have dairy in them and give me a tummy ache.

The laksa paste I made was based on a recipe I found online and adjusted for my own taste and the ingredients I had in the house. The laksa paste was the hard part, everything else about this recipe is dead easy.

The key to this paste is having a large and very rough mortar and pestle. You can definitely use a food processor, but I find that you won't get as smooth as a paste. That means the result will be a soup with small bits of galangal, shallots and other stuff, which is UNACCEPTABLE. I found this bad boy at Winners. It's ridges are super rough, and make short work of both dry and wet ingredients. It's about six inches wide and two inches deep. I would have preferred a bigger, deeper one, as it would be even better at keeping all the ingredients in the thing, but I couldn't find one and counter space is at a premium in my house. When you buy one, go for the granite variety and make sure it's super rough. I used to use a smoother marble one, which was great for dry spices, but terrible with grinding things like garlic. Instead of grinding it, it would just smoosh it up the sides. Very frustrating. Just spend the $40 and invest in a valuable kitchen tool that will last forever.

Laksa Paste Ingredients

  • 6 dried long red chillies
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 lemongrass stalks (the softer white parts, hard outer leaves removed)
  • 1 inch galangal, peeled
  • 1 tbsp peanuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp shrimp paste
  • 4 dried anchovies (see note on ingredients below)
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil

Let's do it!

  1. Boil some water and soak the chillies in a bowl until soft. Drain the water and chop.
  2. Toast the dried spices and peanuts in a hot pan. Let cool. Add to the mortar and pestle with the anchovies and grind into dust.
  3. Chop the shallots, lemongrass, galangal and garlic.
  4. Put everything except the peanut oil into the mortar and pestle. Pound and grind until you have a uniform paste. 
  5. Mix in peanut oil.
  6. At this point, I push everything into a silicone ice cube tray and freeze it. When frozen, I pop them out and put them in a freezer safe zipper bag for easy use later. This will make about 6-10 servings, depending on how strong you like your soup flavoured.
Yes, I realize you can see chunks of chilli pepper despite my rant about mortar and pestles above. Also, this is the leftover paste after I made the soup below.
Okay, let's put this all together.

Laksa Noodle Soup Ingredients

  • 4 servings udon noodles (or whatever Asian noodles you prefer. I buy mine in the freezer area of the Asian grocery store)
  • 1L chicken stock
  • 200mL coconut milk, more if you like coconut milk a ton (see note on ingredients below)
  • 2 tbsp laksa paste (or more, if you like a stronger flavour)
  • 1 tilapia filet
  • Peanut oil
  • 1 cup of frozen, assorted seafood, rinsed well
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • Sriracha

Let's do it!

  1. Heat up the chicken stock, coconut milk and laksa paste in a pot and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the flavours meld.
  2. Heat up a frying pan to high and add peanut oil. I used the same pan that I toasted the spices and peanuts in, which gave some added flavour. Fry up the tilapia until the outside is cooked. I do this to cook some of the water out of it, since I use frozen tilapia, which is super watery.
  3. Chop up the tilapia into 1 inch squares.
  4. Put the fish and other seafood into the broth and simmer until cooked, maybe another 5-10 minutes.
  5. Cook the noodles in a separate pot according to package directions.
  6. Put the noodles into bowls, pour soup and seafood over and top with cilantro and Sriracha to taste.
  7. If you're lunching this up, pack the soup and noodles separately, as the noodles will soak up the broth and you'll get a thick, gummy mess.

A note on ingredients

Dried anchovies
I buy these at the Asian grocery store, in the dried goods section. They come in a bag. I find that these are super great for adding a seafoody, umami flavour to food without adding to the saltiness of the dish. 
I've actually made a umami powder by grinding up dried anchovies, dried seaweed and dried mushrooms. I've given it as gifts and people really enjoy it. I add it to Asian dishes that are tasting a little bland, but don't need any more salt.

Coconut milk
I've found that coconut milk comes in a variety of price points. The ones I buy are generally more expensive, and will be mostly just coconut milk and water. The cheaper ones have all sorts of preservatives and mystery ingredients in them. I can't confirm that the purer ones taste better, but why add any unneccesary ingredients?