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Singaporean Laksa ?

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  • Tord Svenson Jan 19, 2000 02:21 AM
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Joanna - Gary and I had an interesting post series on Laksa. While you can step outside your door and get the best Laksa in Singapore, Gary and I (and anybody else who loves this dish) has to hunt for it like the holy grail :-) Gary knows of a couple of places in NY that may do - there really are none I know of in Boston (Since Chua's Merlion dissapeared) - so I provided a recipe about a month ago that can be used at home. What do you think of this Laksa?

Subject:Laksa Recipe
From:raptord@ziplink.net (Tord Svenson)
Posted: December 27, 1999 at 15:45:26

Gary Cheong wrote-
"Penang's laksa is not the Singaporean version that Natasha is looking for. The broth is tamarind based instead of the coconut milk based. My preference is for the Singaporean version.
I'd be curious to see what your Indonesian recipe is like".

Tord wrote ----
"Sure ---------
Use about a half-pound of fish - or fish balls -and/or chicken breast cut up.
¾ lb. of shrimp -try to get the tasty ones.
2 cups water
11/2 lb. of moist Laksa noodles or a pound of Chinese
rice noodles
¼ lb. bean sprouts
One cucumber cut into fine strips about 1 inch long.
Mint or coriander leaves.
----------- For the gravy ------------
I onion -medium or a stick of lemon grass. A couple of slices of galanga (hot ginger) -you can use some "laos" powder to sub.
A couple of hot Thai red chilies or some soaked dry red chillies.
A piece of fresh turmeric or a teaspoon of powdered
turmeric
A half dozen macadamia nuts
½ teaspoon "blacan" -dry shrimp paste.
1/8-cup dry shrimp - soak them and process to a paste.
2 teaspoons coriander -ground.
4 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Coconut cream or milk -frozen or whatever you can find.
Make up about 4 cups.
Pinch of salt to taste -msg -if you like it. Cook the chicken or fish five minutes at the boil, add the shrimp -cook for two minutes and drain. Keep the stock. . Boil the noodles in water for 3 minutes drain and put aside. (Toss the water). Gravy -process or grind the first seven gravy ingredients together. Use a little vegetable oil to help -if necessary. Process in the coriander. Heat up the oil in a sauce pan and stir fry up the processed ingredients Add the coconut milk and the shrimp stock, a pinch of salt and msg and stir with heat to a consistency of a thick gravy.
Put the cooked noodles into individual bowls. Drop a handful of bean sprouts on top. Divide up the fish and or chicken and shrimp. Cover the pile with the hot gravy. Garnish it with the chopped mint or chopped coriander leaves and the matchstick cucumber and some additional matchstick chillies -if you wish. I also quarter up a hard-boiled egg and garnish with that and with some fresh fried shrimp crackers. Sometimes I squeeze a lime over the pile. Add some sambal -if you want it hotter. I fool with the ingredients to suit myself -sometimes I use a couple tablespoons of peanut butter in the gravy.
Dig in and enjoy. This is a great winter dish.

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  1. Hi Tord,
    I read your recipe - it looks frightening! What do you think Gary? I've printed it out to show my mum later. She's a perfectionist. I wonder what she'll say!

    The 2 kinds of Laksa are
    1.Asam Laksa - the sour taste is from tamarind - locally known as Asam. It uses fish, onions and cucumber.
    2. Laksa Lemak - the laksa using coconut milk. That's with dried shrimp, fresh prawns, fish cake and cockles. I've had some that had chicken and tau-pok too. (I think it's bad for me to be writing this at dinner time! I thinking of eating it now!)

    Your recipe sounds like a mix of the 2 - quite scary to think of it. Although both are called laksa - they are VERY different. They are practically different dishes except for the white noodles.

    My mum makes very good Penang laksa. But the fish she uses has lots of bones! I spend most of my time examining each spoonful for little bones that I can't really enjoy the dish. I've asked her to change the fish to a boneless variety. Being a perfectionist that she is, she says that it cannot be done. It HAS to be that particular fish! Without it, it's not Laksa!

    In an earlier email, you wrote -
    "please help us understand why this Laksa is so desirable. What are the ingredients that you recall?"

    The one I had on Sunday is quite simple. It was the combination of flavours and fragrance that made it so special.

    The coconut gravy is not too milky yet not too thin. The white rice noodles were smooth. The gravy has pounded dried shrimp which made it tasty. The main ingredients were fresh prawns, sliced fish cake and fresh cockles.

    When they serve it, the sambal comes in the spoon which they lay just on top of the noodles. Those who like chilli will immediately stir it into the bowl. Those who can't take hot stuff will then have a choice of setting the sambal aside.

    And to top it all, the garnish - daun kesom - is what makes the distinctive laksa fragrance. Without it, it's not laksa! I don't know the name of this leaf in English. It is used in both Asam Laksa and Laksa Lemak. This raw leaf is cut very finely and sprinkled over the dish. It is in every spoonful that you eat.

    This particular stall sells it so good, not a drop of gravy is left in the bowls!

    I hope my description is satisfactory?

    I'll let you all know what my mum says about the recipe!

    Bye
    Joanna

    7 Replies
    1. re: Joanna

      Since I searched this info out last spring, I will share:

      the daun kesom or laksa leaf is a polygonum or poygonatum (to be clarified) which is closely related to some of our common weeds and oriental plants. Its leaves have a distinctive rank odor and taste similar to but not the same as fresh coriander. The plant is of short stature (a few inches), has thin, arrowhead shaped leaves, a characteristic-of-the-genus chevron marking on each leaf and reedy,knobby stems. It is very sensitive to dryness and probably to cold, and I have killed 3 so far. Given its weedy look, it would probably grow like mad if planted in a moist, warm spot with room to spread. Plants are sold here under the common name of vietnamese coriander or vietnamese mint (cant remember which name they use) in the spring and summer by one of the herb vendors in the NYC farmers markets, and shepherds seeds also offers it as a plant in the spring time. Likely other herb dealers like Gilberties do to.

      I personally believe that fresh coriander would be an excellent substitute but I am sure no singaporean would agree. some of my cookbooks suggest substituting basil or mint but they are more unlike.

      1. re: jen kalb

        Jen -- Thank you for the info. Perhaps I will harvest some of our ubiquitous Japanese Knot Weed leaves in the vacant lots around Boston and try those ( just kidding).

        I have been curious about the plastic bags of various fresh herbs that are on the shelves of the local Asian markets. It is hard to find anyone working in the markets who both speaks English and knows the names of the herbs. Armed with your info I will try again. Perhaps you have specific knowledge of these herbs and could share that with us ?

        I would think that there are varieties of corriander depending on the local tastes. The world of herbs is pretty complex.
        Tord

        1. re: Tord Svenson

          the laksa leaf plant is recognizably like the big guy - in mini form - but the leaves are narrower and longer - a lot like a little, related weed with heads of tiny white flowers - lots of stem, little root - that proliferates in my flower bed.

          At least one of the asian basils in thai markets here has longish skinny leaves - but ive not yet seen any laksa leaf.

          Looking forward to giving your recipe a try - sans the leaf - and seeing how Joanna's mother does.

          1. re: jen kalb

            The "daun laksa" leaf, also known as ploygonum odoratum, is also known as Asian mint, and in some cases Vietnamese mint, Cambodian mint, or Thai mint, although it is not mint at all!

            1. re: Natasha

              Calling laksa leaf "mint" really misses the boat, doesn't it?

              Ive attached a web link which includes a picture of the polygonum hydropiper (laksa leaf) plant. "water pepper" sounds about right. This page is from a really excellent Singaporean site for asian vegatables linked through the makan time site. All very interesting for the singapore/se asian area.

              Just received Shepherd's seeds catalog, which offers pots of "vietnamese coriander" or polygonum odoratum for 6 bucks + shipping. Says its called rau ram in vietnamese and that "its intense, almost biting, aroma is reminiscent of cilantro but with an even spicer nose". Whew. Notwithstanding the different words, this is the same plant. their website is www.shepherdseeds.com.

              Thanks for the Charmaine Solomon link. Australians are so lucky!

              Link: http://www.sintercom.org/makan/index....

              1. re: jen kalb

                Im new with links and that one gets you to Makan Time but not the Singapore Science Centre vegetable guide. For that, go to the MT page, then click on Asian Food Directory, then recipe links, then, under the heading "what is..." the link to "a guide to common vegetables".

                If there's a simpler way I apologize - youll see a lot of interesting stuff along the way. For example the KLStar online recipes are really extensive.

      2. re: Joanna

        Unfortunately, I never liked Penang laksa at all. Maybe your mom's version might change my mind. I only like the Nyonya laksa.

        It is freezing cold here, wish I could have a bowl right now.

      3. ....they sent me up here to discuss vegetarian issues, cause i was wrong on this restaurantboard....
        am i right here or what?

        2 Replies
        1. re: rbn78

          Yep, this is the right board to raise the issues. I must say, however, that calling any board on Chowhound the "veggie place" is something of an overstatement. There ARE people who read these boards who are interested in vegetarian issues (decent vegetarian restaurant food in particular -- which does not necessarily mean vegetarian restaurants), but omnivores are the rule.

          Hey Jim! How about a Veggie board? I know this issue has been raised before. Just adding my voice.

          - VF

          1. re: VF

            meet me on the Site Talk board (where matters like this belong)

        2. Dear Tord,

          I have to convey my humblest apologies. I'm so ashamed! When I showed my mum your recipe, she said to tell you that aside from the coriander leaf (you have to use polygonum) and peanut butter, your's is 100% Nyonya Laksa Lemak.

          She has not cooked this since I was a little girl and I don't recall what you described in your recipe. Thanks to you, she's now going to cook it for me so I'll KNOW what REAL Laksa is like.

          She turned her nose down at the one outside that I said was so great. She says once I've tasted her "original" laksa, I wouldn't want to eat it outside.

          She says when my aunties made it back in Malacca, no one can stop at one bowl! I'm looking forward to that now.

          Another thing, she says macadamia nuts are a good substitute for candlenuts (buah keras) but it'll be better if you used candlenuts.

          She told me to apologise to you first thing in the morning. So here I am, head hung low, tendering my sincerest apology.

          Joanna