Laksa has always been a hit or miss for me.
Sometimes I loved it and other times the strong waft of sardines made me want to bolt in the other direction. More recently, I’ve started craving laksa again and since becoming mostly vegetarian a few months ago, the desire to bother with this shockingly bony fish has reached an all time low.
Anyhow, it was clear to me I needed to make a vegetarian laksa recipe. Well, it was clear to me that I needed vegetarian laksa in my belly ASAP…but since one kind of led to the other I knew I had my work cut out for me.
I tried to vegan-ise this curry laksa recipe but the spices alone just didn’t do it for me… Something was missing. So I settled for “vegetarian” and used fish sauce and lime juice to deepen the range of flavours and to impart an umami that I found there to be lacking without it.
Yes, yes, fish sauce is a feared ingredient because of it’s pungent smell but if you see past the waft of stinky fish, it is always well worth it (especially in Thai curries – yes please)! Contrary to the smell, fish sauce doesn’t taste fishy in the finished dish because its generally used in relatively small amounts. So, peg your nose with a clothes peg if you have to because fish sauce is the key to some pretty rocking flavours.
I used a mortar and pestle to pound my spices because I love how it makes me feel in touch with the traditional way of making food. Sure, it takes a ton of patience and a decent forearm… and yes, I’m not impartial to the convenience of a food processor myself…but there’s just something so ritualistic about pounding your spices by hand. The fact that my mortar and pestle was made of stone was just a happy coincidence adding to the primal-feel of it all. Maybe it’s the hard work that goes into the pounding that makes the finished product even more rewarding to eat?
P.s. Did I mention that my wonderful mother grows lemongrass in her backyard? Yes, lemongrass. Loads and loads of lemongrass. When I found out, I literally squealed with excitement and made a bee line straight for the plant with my DSLR in tow… and behold, the lemongrass plant/bush/goldmine/stash!
It may not look like much but the picture to the right shows over 20 sticks of lemongrass just waiting to be harvested! Needless to say, I was overjoyed. Guess that means I’ll be cooking Thai food and lemongrass dishes for the next month – Yessssss!
A little toasting of the spice paste and a little simmer of a stock later, and we have ourselves a very fragrant and tasty finished product!
I topped my plate with some freshly made chickpea tofu (recipe to come), sweet potato, cabbage, fresh mint and coriander leaves, and a cut of lime. The laksa broth itself was quite mild in terms of chilli but word to the wise – don’t top yours with extra chilli like I did unless you know you can handle it! My mouth was absolutely, positively, on fire.
Happy eating, guys! :)
Serves 2. Time: 30 mins
A thumb size piece of ginger
2 cloves of garlic
3 shallots (or 1/2 red onion)
1 stalk of lemongrass, chopped finely
1 small red chilli, deseeded
4 coriander roots, washed well
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp vegetable oil
750ml Vegetable stock
2 tsp fish sauce
Juice of 1/2 a lime
5 kaffir lime leaves
200ml coconut milk
1/2 a carrot, sliced thinly
1/4 a block of firm tofu, cut into strips *
YOUR CHOICE OF VEGETABLES
Beansprouts, purple cabbage, bokchoy, Chinese cabbage… They all go nicely in this dish but just use anything you have on hand! I used sweet potato, balled using a melon baller, and some purple cabbage.
The remaining 1/2 a lime, cut into wedges
A few coriander leaves and/or mint leaves
Optional: extra chilli, to garnish
* Instead of using firm tofu, you could use a packet of fried tofu (more authentic), cut into halves. Blot the extra oil off them with paper towels before adding them to your soup.
1. Finely chop the ginger, garlic, shallots, lemongrass (chop the lemongrass as finely as you can or it may be woody), chilli and coriander root. Save the coriander roots for the stock.
Starting with the the lemongrass and ginger, pound in a mortar and pestle until it begins to resemble paste. Then add in the garlic, shallots, chilli, coriander roots, and ground coriander and cumin to the mortar and pestle and continue to pound into a paste. This will take approximately 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, you can just blitz all your spices and aromatics in a food processor.
Add a tablespoon of oil to your soup pot over medium heat and fry off your spice paste for a minute or so, until fragrant.
2. Add stock and coconut milk to the spice paste. Now, use the back of your knife or your pestle to lightly bash your kaffir lime leaves to help release the oils within the leaves. Add the kaffir lime leaves, coriander stalks (reserved from earlier) and sliced carrot to the stock and continue simmering uncovered for an additional 15 minutes. At this point, you may taste your broth for seasoning, adding more lime juice for acidity or fish sauce for saltiness if needed. Remove the kaffir lime leaves and the long pieces of coriander stalk. Gently lower the tofu into the stock and let come up to temperature. Depending on what vegetables you use, you may cook them in the stock with the carrots or with the tofu – depending on how long they take to cook.
3. Rehydrate your rice noodles as per packet instructions and divide into your serving bowls. Remove the tofu from the soup and place them on top of your noodles along the vegetables of your choice. Ladle the stock over your noodles and vegetables. Serve with wedges of lime, a few leaves of coriander and mint, and some extra chilli if you wish.