Nothing is more comforting than a bowl of spicy laksa with rich creamy broth full of umami flavours, aromatic herbs, thick rice noodles, taupok (tofu puffs), prawns and sambal chilli. It’s the first dish that I’ll eat when I return home from overseas, and also the first choice that comes to mind when in any hawker centres. I used to think that making a dish with such complex flavours will involve complicated process. Not until I started making laksa paste and laksa myself, it’s not only easy and simple, it also tastes much better homemade. Definitely one that is big on flavour but short on complexity!
Is laksa a type of curry?
If the definition of curry means a spicy dish of Asian, especially Indian, origin that is made in many ways but usually consists of meat or fish prepared in a hot piquant sauce, then yes, except there are many forms of laksa served with either chicken, prawn or fish, and noodles.
How many types of laksa are there?
A popular dish in Southeast Asia, laksa generally comes in nine main types in Malaysia, according to Tripzilla. In Singapore, it’s common to find two main types, ie Nonya laksa or curry laksa as we commonly called it, a spicy creamy curry broth made from coconut milk and curry paste served with rice noodles, tofu puffs, bean sprouts, chicken or prawns, sometimes with cockles. And Penang laksa, or assam laksa which is a clearer broth seasoned with a sour fishy paste made of asam (also known as tamarind or gelugur), ginger torch, and mackerel fish, served with rice noodles, pineapple, cucumber, mint, and chilli. This recipe is for the curry laksa and in Singapore it’s also served with hard boiled eggs, fish cakes and cockles.
What is the paste made of?
Laksa paste is a blend of aromatic spices and herbs. Traditionally, the paste is made by grinding it in a mortar and pestle but that requires a lot of muscle strength and patience. I used the food processor to blend all the ingredients instead.
- 15 dried chillies, soak to hydrate
- 2 red chillies
- 1/2 cup dried shrimp, soaked, toasted, and then grind as fine as possible
- 5 cloves garlic
- 5 shallots
- 1 inch blue ginger (galangal)
- 1 tsp grated turmeric or powder
- 4 candle nuts or substitute with macadamia nuts
- 2 stalk lemongrass
- 4-5 kaffir lime leaves
I soaked the dried red chilies in boiling water for about 15-20 minutes. If you cannot take too spicy, you can reduce the number of chillies, and also remove the seeds from the dried and fresh chillies.
For the dried shimp, I soaked it in normal temperature water, pat dry it, toasted it over medium heat to release the aroma, before grinding to make it as fine as possible before adding all the rest of the wet ingredients. I have tried making the paste without the dried shrimp but it lacks that authentic umami flavour, so I’d highly recommending adding this.
I also chopped up all the ingredients into fine pieces, as small as possible, so it’s easier to blend them altogether later. Save up some of the water that was used to soak the dried chillies and add it to the ingredients when grinding it in the food processor, it makes the process much smoother.
Of course, if you would like to use store-bought laksa paste, you can also follow the recipe below to make laksa. There are many different brands out there so do try them out and share with us which one you like best.
Watch my Laksa Recipe on YouTube
Laksa Made From Scratch Recipe
- 15 dried chillies soaked in hot water, cut into fine pieces
- 2 red chillis cut into fine pieces
- ½ cup dried shrimp soaked and toasted
- 5 cloves garlic peeled and minced
- 5 shallot peeled and cut into fine pieces
- 1 inch blue ginger (galangal) peeled and cut into fine pieces
- 1 tsp turmeric grated or powder
- 4 candle nuts cut into fine pieces
- 2 stalks lemongrass bruised and cut into fine pieces
- 3-4 kaffir lime leaves
- 150 g dried anchovies washed
- 30-40 prawns use prawn heads to make broth or you can also use chicken bones
- 2.5 tbsp cooking oil
- 4 cups water
- 2.5 cups coconut milk
- 2-4 tbsp fish sauce season to taste
- taupok (tofu puffs) washed and cut into smaller chunks
- thick rice noodles
- bean sprouts
- fish cakes
- hard boiled eggs halfed
- curry leaves washed and used as garnish
Make the laksa paste
- Soak the dried shrimps, toast it to release the aroma, then grind it in a food processor into as fine as possible.
- Soak dried chillies in hot water until soften. Save the chilli water for blending later.
- Bruise the lemongrass by chopping it with the back of knife to release the oil and flavours. Then chop into fine pieces.
- Chop all ingredients into as fine as possible pieces.
- Blending all the laksa paste ingredients in a food processor until a smooth consistent paste is achieved. Add 2-4 tbsp of chilli water when blending to make it easier to blend. This should yield about 450g of laksa paste.
Make the laksa broth
- Wash dried anchovies. Remove heads from prawns. Make broth by boiling 4 cups of water with dried anchovies & prawn heads to a reduced 3 cups.
- Heat cooking oil over medium heat. Add laksa paste. Stir fry until fragrant.
- Add 3 cups broth. Bring to boil.
- Add 2.5 cups of coconut milk. Bring to boil.
- Add fish sauce to taste. Bring to boil.
- Wash and cut tofu puffs into smaller pieces. Add tofu puffs into the broth. Bring to boil and the laksa broth is ready.
Assemble the laksa dish
- Cook prawns in the laksa broth until cooked and set aside. Alternatively, you can also cook the prawns in water.
- Cook bean sprouts in boiling water for about 30 seconds and set aside.
- Cook rice noodles in boiling water for about 30 seconds or until soften and set aside.
- Slice the fish cake and heat it up in the boiling water for about 15 seconds.
- Assemble the laksa dish by placing the rice noodles, bean sprouts, hard boiled eggs, prawns, fish cake. Add tofu puffs and the laksa broth.
- Cut laksa leaves into fine strips and use it as garnish.
- Enjoy with a scoop of sambal chilli!