Glorious Assam Laksa to bring Asia to your kitchen…

I have always thought Asian food to be especially delicious yet forever imagined it to be ridiculously difficult to make in the peace and comfort of your own kitchen. A particularly rubbish summer cold paired with a recent leafing through ‘Vegan Street Food’ from former Masterchef finalist Jackie Kearney has drastically confirmed that while the first of those two thoughts is seriously true, the second couldn’t be further from the truth.

A traditionally sour soup based around fish sauce, chillies and tamarind and heralding from the Malaysian island of Penang, laksa is unquestionably a perfect dish if you’re feeling under the weather or simply looking for something beautifully fresh & fragrant to scent your home and delight your stomach with; it won’t blow your head off but it will definitely clear out the cobwebs and leave you feeling clean and utterly satisfied.

This version (which can easily be made vegan with a couple of tweaks) has a long ingredient list but don’t let that put you off; this is not the kind of soup you make once and then forever find half empty jars languishing in the back of your fridge for months after. If you cannot find some of the ingredients, don’t panic; my version was made without Kearney’s original inclusions of lotus root and laksa leaves and it was still incredibly aromatic & packed full of flavours.

Make it once; make it forever.

Assam Laksa aka Penang Hot & Sour Noodle Soup

INGREDIENTS (serves 4-6 depending on how hungry greedy you are)

Soup:

  • 6 red chillies, stems removed
  • 2 small red onions, unpeeled & quartered
  • 2 lemongrass stalks
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • vegetable oil (if needed)
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp vegan fish sauce or light soy sauce with optional pinch of seaweed flakes
  • 2 tbsp tamarind pulp or 2 tsp tamarind paste
  • 1-2 tsp salt, to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp soft brown sugar or rice syrup, to taste
  • 375g fresh udon noodles or dried egg free yellow noodles if going vegan

Fresh toppings:

  • 1/2 cucumber, halved length-ways
  • 1 fresh lotus root, peeled
  • 1/2 pineapple (canned in juice is fine if no fresh is available)
  • handful of Vietnamese mint leaves or a mix of mint and basil leaves
  • handful of laksa leaves
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 birds eye chilli, finely chopped (substitute with ordinary red chilli if preferred)

METHOD

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  • Preheat the oven to 210c/410f/gas mark 6.
  • Place the red chillies and onions on a baking tray and roast for 10-15 minutes until they start to blacken at the edges then remove from oven, cool and peel the onions.

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  • Put the lemongrass into a food processor and add the paprika, roasted chillies and peeled onions.
  • Blend to a paste and add a little vegetable oil if needed; don’t worry if some of the red onion pieces remain visible in the paste – the end soup will still be delicious.

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  • Spoon the paste into a wok or a large pan and cook for 2 minutes over a high heat.

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  • Add the stock, 1 litre of warm water, the vegan fish or light soy sauce and the tamarind to the pan then bring it to the boil and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
  • Taste and add salt, soft brown sugar or rice syrup to taste; personally I didn’t add any salt but a couple of teaspoons of soft brown sugar helped to balance out the stronger flavours in the broth at this stage.
  • If using dry noodles, soak them in hot water for 10 minutes then drain in a colander; if using fresh, cook as instructed on pack and set aside.

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  • To prepare your fresh toppings, use a teaspoon to scrape out the watery seeds of the cucumber before slicing finely into half moons.
  • Thinly cut your lotus root, blanch it in boiling water for 1 minute then set aside.
  • If using fresh pineapple, cut off the top and bottom followed by the peel then remove the core and chop the flesh into bite-size pieces.

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  • To construct your soup bowls, divide the noodles between your serving dishes.

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  • Add a selection of the fresh toppings then carefully ladle the broth over the top, making sure that the noodles are covered and serve immediately; top tip – if you find your broth still has bits of the paste in it, simply ladle through a small sieve into the bowls for an immaculately clear finish.

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Original recipe taken from ‘Vegan Street Food’ by Jackie Kearney.

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