Recipes for three variants of laksa: curry laksa, assam laksa and laksa siam

Penang curry mee. PHOTO: THE STAR
Assam laksa. PHOTO: THE STAR

(THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Travel through Malaysia and you will find different regional variations on laksa, that comforting bowl of noodles in gravy, topped with everything from cockles and fish cake to chicken and fish.

There is the curry laksa, which gets its rich, lemak goodness from the generous dose of coconut cream in the broth.

In towns like Penang and Malacca, the signature dish is the assam-based laksa, whose umami-laden broth based on the rich mackerel fish gets a zingy tang from the sour tamarind fruit.

Beyond these two signatures are the hybrid dishes which combines the sweet creaminess of coconut with the zesty flavour of assam.

In between there are other variations on each theme.

Curry laksa in Penang, for example, is also known as curry mee and can range from a bright orange chicken curry version to a white curry mee version served in a pale coconut broth.

Then there are the fusion offerings which use spaghetti instead of traditional Asian noodles. Whether you are a fan of the traditional or the newfangled, this street food favourite offers truly Southeast Asian flavours in a compact bowl.

Here are three recipes by cookbook author Debbie Teoh to try making at home.

Penang curry mee. PHOTO: THE STAR

Penang Curry Mee

Sambal spice paste

15 stalks dried chillies, soaked
2 shallots
1 heaped Tbs dried shrimp
Salt to taste

Spice paste
120g shallots
¼ tsp belacan
2 cloves garlic
2 stalks lemongrass
1 tsp white peppercorns
2 Tbs coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp fennel

8 to 10 Tbs cooking oil
Salt, to taste

500ml chicken broth
500ml prawn broth
20 tofu puffs, quartered
1 Tbs rock sugar
600 to 800ml thin coconut milk, from one coconut

1kg yellow noodles, scalded
500g vermicelli, scalded

300g prawns, scalded
300g cooked chicken, shredded
Pig's blood cubes
1 large brown squid, scalded and sliced

1. Place the sambal spice paste ingredients in a food processor and grind to a paste. Remove and set aside. Repeat for the spice paste ingredients and set aside.
2. Saute the sambal spice paste in oil until fragrant, adding salt to taste if necessary. Remove from pan and set aside.
3. Saute spice paste in oil, until fragrant, then add the chicken and prawn broths, tofu puffs, rock sugar and coconut milk. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.
4. Place some noodles and vermicelli in a serving bowl and ladle the hot broth over. Top with some of each garnish and a dollop of fragrant sambal. Serve immediately.

Serves eight

Assam laksa. PHOTO: THE STAR

Assam laksa

Spice paste

20 shallots
1 clove garlic
3 stalks lemongrass
5 red chillies
5 dried chillies
50g belacan
4cm turmeric

1 litre water
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
1 tsp salt
700g wolf herring (ikan parang) or mackerel (ikan kembung), cleaned

100g tamarind pulp mixed with 1½ litres water
3 or 4 pieces tamarind peel
2 stalks daum kesum (laksa leaf)
2 tsp salt or to taste
2 tsp sugar

600g fresh laksa noodles, scalded

1 small cucumber, cut into julienne strips
½ pineapple, cut into julienne strips
2 large onions, sliced
1 torch ginger flower (bunga kantan), sliced
2 red chillies or bird's eye chillies, sliced
150g mint leaves
6 Tbs hae ko (prawn paste) mixed with 80ml to 100ml hot water

1. Place all the spice paste ingredients into a food processor and blitz to a fine paste.
2. Place the water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add lemongrass and salt, then add in the fish and boil for five minutes, until fish is just cooked. Remove the fish from the liquid and allow to cool, then remove all the fish flesh from the bones. Set the fish flesh aside.
3. Strain fish stock into a clean pot. Add the ground spice paste, tamarind juice and peel, daun kesum, salt and sugar. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or until gravy is aromatic.
4. Just before serving, bring laksa gravy to a boil again and add half the reserved fish. Place a serving of noodles in a bowl, top with garnishings, then ladle the hot gravy over and top with more fish. Serve with the hae ko mixture on the side.

Serves six


Laksa Siam

Spice paste

8g (about 30) kaffir lime leaves
6 stalks turmeric leaves (daun kunyit), sliced
10 dried chillies, soaked to soften
6 red chillies
3/4 Tbs belacan
10 candlenuts
4cm (about 24g) galangal
8 stalks lemongrass
25 shallots, peeled
10 cloves garlic, peeled
5cm (40g) fresh turmeric
1 torch ginger flower, sliced thinly

1.3kg mackerel (ikan kembung), cleaned
1 litre water
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
Salt to taste
8 to 12 Tbs cooking oil
50g tamarind pulp mixed with 500ml water
500ml coconut milk
1 Tbs sugar
Salt to taste

1 bunch mint leaves
½ pineapple, cut into julienne strips
Shredded cucumber
Torch ginger flower, sliced
Large onions, sliced
Red chillies, sliced

1kg laksa noodles, scalded
100ml hae ko (prawn paste) mixed with 50ml hot water

1. Place the spice paste ingredients in a food processor and blitz to a paste.
2. Place the fish in a large pan with the water, lemongrass and salt and bring to a boil. Once the fish is cooked, remove it from the liquid and allow to cool before deboning and reserving the flesh. Return the bones and fish head to the liquid and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool, then blend till fine. Sieve the stock several times to make sure there are no bone bits in it. Set aside.
3. Place the cooking oil in a wok and saute the spice paste; add more oil if spice paste sticks to the pan. Once it is fragrant, add tamarind juice, water, half the fish and the stock. Bring to a boil. Stir in coconut milk, sugar and salt, then remove from heat.
4. Place the noodles in a bowl, top with the garnishing ingredients and ladle the hot laksa broth over. Drizzle with hae ko mixture just before serving.

Serves 10

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.