Darlings, after reviewing my posts from the last couple of weeks, La Diva got to wondering: Why DO I cook so much Asian food? Well, after some hard thought I realized it all has to do with doing the dishes. Yep. La Diva LOATHES doin' THAT daily domestic! When you cook Asian, you tend to cook it in one pot....a wok! Less dishes! No sides to steam, mash or fry, it's all in one stir fry or curry! Besides that, what other way can you use up so many veggies in one dish in so many different ways? Likewise, as opposed to the "western" way of eating a piece of meat, a starch and some vegetables, you eat MUCH LESS MEAT when mixed with veggies in a stir fry. And...it's fun to do! Preparing, eating and enjoying Asian cuisine has SO MANY benefits. Besides the quick cooking method of stir fry retaining the vitamins and minerals of the ingredients, you are also able to use leaner cuts of meat. And then, there are the endless combination of Asian cooking styles: Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Vietnamese....pant, pant....It could take a lifetime to learn all the nuances of dishes from the Asian continent! I even have some Burmese and Laotian recipes!!
Having clarified that, darlings, I found myself with a hodgepodge of left-over veggies and frequently look to a stir fry to use up bits and pieces. I had a handful of mushies, two tiny zucchini, a generous supply of beansprouts along with tatsoi greens (Chinese) I just got in the new farm share. But, I've done an awful lot of stir fry lately so remembered in the pantry La Diva had a lone spice sachet of LAKSA paste. Laksa? Ok, many of you unfamiliar with Malaysian food might not have heard of laksa but it is certainly one of La Diva's all-time favorite dishes. I have slurped copius bowls of laksa in every Asian food court or Malaysian restaurant in Sydney countless times!
So, what exactly IS a laksa? Without getting too technical and proper, a laksa is a spicy coconut curry noodle soup, which is prevalent in Malaysia and Singapore. It includes some kind of noodle: from rice vermicelli, to fat Hokkien egg noodles to fine egg noodles (my preference.) The protein can be anything from chicken, fish, prawn or mixed seafood and there can be fried tofu cubes as well. I usually get a combo of chicken and prawn or just veggie and tofu. Most laksa will have coconut milk, however, La Diva remembers a hugely popular restaurant in Sydney that used regular milk to give the soup its unique taste and texture while significantly reducing the saturated fat content. Then, there is the plethora of fresh vegetables (broccoli, baby bok choy, baby corn, red pepper, mushroom, etc.) and crunchy bean sprouts all swimming in a lovely coconut milk curry broth. The final touch are the garnishes which can include cilantro, chili sambal and crispy fried onions.
While living in Sydney, La Diva made this dish many times from scratch as well as "cheating" and using the paste sachet. Since La Diva found one last sachet and doesn't have all the ingredients or patience today to make it from scratch, she's going to cheat and use the pre-made paste! The brand I have is called INDOFOOD Laksa instant seasoning mix which, oddly enough, is made in Indonesia! There are many brands though and you can find them, if you look hard, at the Asian grocery store. Many of them also say "Singapore coconut curry noodle paste."
To get started, I poach some shrimp and set aside. And, don't forget the mise en place! La Diva cuts up all the veggies and protein she'll be using BEFORE she starts the dish. Once you get going, you add the ingredients quickly and have no time for lolly gagging about cutting onions or such. (La Diva likes silly words like "lolly gagging" and will make any excuse to use them indiscrimnately, just because!) Like all curry pastes, the flavor must be released by frying it in some oil in a wok. After a quick fry for about 30 seconds or so, I then add some chicken broth, a can of coconut milk and add the vegetables in the order they require to cook, i.e., carrots first, then the zuke, the mushrooms and always the greens at the very end, just before serving. Cook on a medium to medium low heat, this is NOT a dish to furiously boil but one with delicate ingredients that need to be coaxed to release their flavors, not beaten and boiled into submission!
While the veggies cook, prepare the noodles according to directions, drain and put a single serving in each large Asian soup bowl. Add a good handful of the raw, washed bean sprouts. Now, add the protein to the wok and taste the soup. Remember, you will be adding more condiments "to taste" at the table, so don't go overboard with salt.
To serve up, ladle the hot soup into the bowls over the noodles and sprouts. Sit down and taste....it's time to garnish! Add some chili sambal, fresh cilantro leaves, fried onions, and perhaps some fish sauce. La Diva LOVES her soup spicy and always adds a bit of freshly sliced Thai red chilies in soy sauce. And, remember to serve the soup with a spoon AND chopsticks for easy eating and no drop left unslurped. Finally, no laksa supper would be complete without a cold Tiger lager beer!
Total wash-up tally: One wok, one pot, two bowls, two spoons, four chopsticks and a ladle ! Yay, Asian food!