A bowl of noodles swimming in a rich, spicy, coconut milk soup featuring whole prawns, slices of fried bean curd, snapping fresh bean sprouts . . . this would have to be Singapore’s signature dish. Other kinds of seafood may be used, or it may be made with chicken or fish. Laksa is a meal in one dish.
- 500 g (1 lb) raw king prawns
- 4 tablespoons peanut oil
- 2 litres (4 pints/8 cups) water
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 200 g (7 oz) rice vermicelli
- 400 ml (13 fl oz) coconut milk
- small bunch laksa leaves (polygonum), shredded
- 8 squares deep-fried bean curd, sliced
- 1 small seedless cucumber, cut into narrow strips
- 150 g (5 oz) fresh beansprouts, trimmed and rinsed
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, halved
- 10 purple shallots or 2 medium-sized onions, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 5 candle (kemiri) nuts, roughly chopped
- 2 stems fresh lemongrass, finely sliced
- 3 tablespoons dried shrimp, soaked until softened
- 1 teaspoon dried shrimp paste (blacan)
- 2 tablespoons chopped galangal, fresh or in brine
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon chilli powder
Shell the prawns, leaving the tail on. Heat 1 tablespoon oil and stir-fry the shells and heads of the prawns until they turn red. Add the water and salt and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the stock and discard the heads and shells. To make the Spice Paste, put all the ingredients into a blender and process until purred, adding a little oil if necessary to facilitate blending. Heat the remaining oil in a wok and fry the blended mixture over a low heat until fragrant, stirring constantly to make sure it does not scorch. When the oil separates from the mass and shines on the surface of the paste, add the strained stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. In another pan, cook the rice vermicelli for 2 minutes or until tender but do not overcook. Drain in a colander, run cool water through to stop them becoming too soft, and drain again.
Just before serving bring the soup to the simmering point and stir in the coconut milk. Add the prawns and cook only until they become opaque. Lift out on a slotted spoon and set aside. Drop the rice noodles into the soup to heat through, then ladle into large bowls. Garnish each bowl with some of the shredded laksa leaves, fried bean curd and cucumber. Arrange the prawns on top, then a small handful of bean sprouts and a halved hard-boiled egg. For those who like their laksa really hot, offer a small bowl of sambal oelek or crushed fresh chillies. Note: Dried galangal slices are not suitable for using in the spice paste-they could do irreparable damage to your blender. Fresh or brined galangal are readily available in Asian shops.
For those who do not have time to prepare the spice paste from scratch, you can use Reuben Solomon’s Singapore Laksa Paste. Dissolve half a jar (about 130 g/4 oz) in 1.25 liters (2½ pints/5 cups) hot water or stock. Cook 100 g (3½ oz) rice vermicelli in the soup and add prawns or thinly sliced chicken fillets, bean sprouts, coconut milk and your favorite accompaniments. The quantities serve 3, and the rest of the paste will keep in
the refrigerator for weeks.