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Laksa is a popular Southeast Asian soup made of rice noodles and coconut curry broth. When the term is used on its own, it most likely refers to this standard curry variation of the soup, but other types also exist. Assam laksa is the second most common type and is made with rice noodles and a tangy fish broth.
Standard curry laksa starts with a spice paste. The ingredients used in this paste may vary slightly depending on how the cook prepares the recipe, but most spice pastes typically include red chillies, shallots, lemongrass, dried shrimp paste, turmeric, coriander, sugar, garlic, and ginger. These ingredients are blended together until a thick, uniform paste forms. The cook often prepares the paste ahead of time and keeps it refrigerated in a sealed glass jar for up to several weeks.
Once the cook is ready to prepare the curry laksa, he or she takes a portion of the spice paste and heats it in a small amount of oil in a large, deep wok or heavy saucepan. The paste should become fragrant and start to brown, but it must not be allowed to burn. Additional ingredients are then added to the heated spice paste to form a broth. Coconut milk is the key ingredient used to give standard curry laksa its distinctive taste. Water, chicken stock, or fish stock is also added, and the entire mixture is brought to a boil.
As the broth simmers, the cook prepares the garnishes and noodles. Rice flour noodles are either boiled or soaked in hot water for a few minutes until they become soft. The cook then divides the noodles into individual serving bowls. Bite-sized pieces of chicken, prawns, or fish cake are cooked and added to the serving bowls, along with tofu puff, hard-boiled egg, and bean sprouts. Finally, the broth is poured over these ingredients, and the soup is ready to serve.
Assam laksa is made in a very similar manner. A spice paste, usually made by blending together garlic, lemongrass, shallots, turmeric, and dried shrimp paste, is prepared first and set aside until ready to use. The cook makes a basic broth by boiling this spice paste in water. Tamarind paste, made from a sour-tasting plant, is added to the liquid along with several pounds of whole fish. This stock simmers long enough for the fish to cook and the flavors to blend.
Once the fish cooks, it is removed from the pot. The bones are discarded and the meat is flaked off and added back into the broth. Cooked rice noodles are arranged in individual serving bowls and the hot broth is poured over them. Additional garnishes, such as pineapple, onion, shredded cucumber, and mint leaves, are added immediately prior to serving.
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