Laksa is a popular and diverse dish that is widely enjoyed in Southeast Asia, particularly in countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and parts of Thailand. This soup consists of a creamy broth with various proteins such as chicken, tofu, or shrimp, and rice noodles.
The history of laksa is rich and complex, reflecting the multicultural influences of the region. While it’s challenging to pinpoint the exact origin of laksa, its roots are believed to be a blend of indigenous and foreign culinary traditions. Unlike other types of brothy soups, this one has a coconut creamy base with an arrangement of flavors. The coconut base comes from Indian origins, the use of rice noodles come from Chinese roots and the local indigenous ingredients from Malaysia include shrimp paste, lemongrass and aromatic herbs and spices. While I grew up eating beef noodle soups, this arrangement of flavors is so unique and different from my childhood roots that it had me captivated from the first time I tried this delicious concoction.
A close friend of mine owns a Malaysian restaurant and shared with me his own laksa recipe. This is authentic, delicious and unlike any artificial broths you may find in the grocery store.
For the Laksa Paste:
- 2-3 dried red chilies (soaked in hot water and deseeded for less heat)
- 2 stalks lemongrass (white parts only, chopped)
- 4 shallots (peeled and chopped)
- 4 cloves garlic (peeled)
- 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger (peeled and chopped)
- 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh galangal (or substitute with ginger, peeled and chopped)
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp shrimp paste (or substitute with fish sauce)
- 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
- Salt, to taste
For the Soup:
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 can (14 oz) coconut milk
- 2 stalks lemongrass (bruised and cut into 3-inch pieces)
- 2 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
- 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced into thin strips (or substitute with prawns, tofu, or your choice of protein)
- 8 oz dried rice vermicelli noodles (or fresh if available)
- 2-3 boiled eggs (halved)
- Bean sprouts (for garnish)
- Fresh cilantro leaves (for garnish)
- Lime wedges (for serving)
- Sambal chili paste (optional, for extra heat)
- Fish sauce or soy sauce (to taste)
- In a food processor, combine the soaked and deseeded dried chilies, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground turmeric, and shrimp paste.
Blend the ingredients into a smooth paste, adding vegetable oil as needed to help the mixture come together. Season with salt to taste.
- Heat a large pot over medium heat and add a tablespoon of vegetable oil.
- Add the laksa paste to the pot and sauté for a few minutes until it becomes fragrant. You may want to open windows or have good ventilation as the aromas can be strong.
- Pour in the chicken or vegetable broth and bring it to a boil. Add the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves (if using).
- Reduce the heat, cover, and let the soup simmer for about 15-20 minutes to develop the flavors.
- Add the coconut milk and stir well. Simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes.
- While the soup simmers, cook the rice vermicelli noodles according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside.
- In a separate pan, cook the chicken strips or your choice of protein until they’re cooked through.
- To serve, divide the cooked noodles among bowls. Top with the cooked protein of your choice.
- Ladle the hot laksa soup over the noodles and protein.
- Garnish your laksa with boiled egg halves, bean sprouts, fresh cilantro, and lime wedges.
- Serve hot with sambal chili paste and fish sauce or soy sauce on the side for extra flavor.
- Enjoy your homemade laksa, a delightful and spicy laksa soup.