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Laksa recipes: Asian-style spicy soup

Diana De Cicco is a food editor and writer based in New York City. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies. Her passions are eating, traveling, and eating while traveling.

Spring recipe: Asian soup

Just because warmer weather is on the way doesn't mean soup is out of the question. A spicy Asian style laksa is the perfect springtime meal. Full of fresh herbs, plenty of spices, meat or seafood, noodles, and coconut to cut the heat, this is more of a fresh noodle dish than a winter weather soup. You can adjust the following recipe to your own taste, but no matter what, a delicious meal awaits.

Laska

What is laksa?

Laksa is traditionally a popular spicy noodle soup found in many Asian regions, especially Malaysia and Singapore. There is no one specific way to make Laksa, for it has been altered over hundreds of years, and each culture – and even person – has a unique signature recipe.

There are many different varieties, like curry laksa or Assam laksa with tamarind. Laksa is particularly popular at the street vendor food stands of Singapore and is perfect for a midday snack or dinner.

Most recipes include some kind of protein such as chicken or shrimp and some kind of noodle like vermicelli, or wheat or rice noodles, either thick or thin. The most important components of the laksa are the broth and the spice paste.

Make your own spice paste

These days, a pre-made laksa spice paste is available, which works great if you are short on time, but of course there is nothing like homemade!

Generally, the spice paste includes red chilies, ginger and/or galangal (which is becoming more and more common in markets in the produce section), shrimp paste or dried shrimp, turmeric, lots of garlic, tamarind and a few other ingredients.

When combined, it creates a full-flavored spicy paste that gets mixed into the broth. The broth then becomes a delectable liquid that soaks into the noodles to create a sweet yet spicy noodle dish.

Create a signature laksa

You should make the laksa to your own liking. Taste everything as you go along to determine how sweet, spicy or salty you want the end result to be. And if you don't like a certain herb or spice, don't add it – and if you like want to taste more of a flavor in the soup, simply add a bit more.

Laksa is all about what your taste buds tell you, so use the following recipe as a guideline and adjust and taste to create your desired final laksa dish!

Laksa recipe: Spicy Asian Noodle Soup

Classic Laksa

Makes 6 servings

For this recipe, you make the spice paste first, then you assemble the final dish.

Spice paste:
3 long stalks of lemon grass, tender hearts minced
4 hot red chile peppers, stem removed, seeds discarded (if you like spice, keep some of the seeds)
4 slices galangal (or fresh ginger)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
1 teaspoon shrimp paste
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
3 large cloves garlic
4 tablespoons peanut oil
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup tamarind paste

Directions to make spice paste:
Combine lemongrass, chile peppers, galangal, ginger, shrimp paste, shallots, garlic and peanut oil to a blender or food processor. Pulse until well combined. Blend in the cilantro, turmeric, sugar and tamarind and pulse until it has made a paste. Reserve until ready to use. Make paste one day ahead of time for flavors to blend.

Broth:
2 tablespoons peanut oil
Spice paste from recipe above
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup sweet Thai basil, chopped
1/4 cup fish sauce

To assemble:
1/2 pound vermicelli noodles or thin or thick rice noodles
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk, shake can before opening
4 cups cooked cubed chicken or whole cooked shrimp
Garnishes of your choice

Directions for broth and assembling soup:
1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir spice paste into oil and heat for a few minutes. Add chicken stock and let it come to a boil. Lower heat to low and add in cilantro, basil and fish sauce and let gently simmer.

2. Meanwhile, cook the noodles in boiling water until tender. When ready to serve, stir the coconut milk into the hot broth. Place noodles in a large bowl and top with chicken or shrimp and pour broth around noodles.

3. Top with any or all of the following garnishes: bean sprouts, cucumber, Thai basil, carrots, spring onions, coriander, shallots, chili pepper or chili sauce. Squeeze a lime over soup for a zesty finsh, if desired.

More Asian recipes

Noodle dishes from around the world
Asian spring rolls
Celebrity recipes with Asian flair

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