Sunday, 22 January 2012

Nyonya style laksa

There are many, many different types of laksa in Malaysian cuisine. To be honest I find it all pretty confusing. As far as I can make out, the laksa most frequently available in the UK is curry laksa (also known as curry mee) but the other main variant is asam laksa (also known as Penang laksa) - not named for anything to do with tea but rather asam is the Malay word for tamarind which is used to give the soup base it’s sour flavour. Other varieties include Sarawak lakas, Joohor laksa and Ipoh laksa.

And one of the further variant’s of curry laksa is laksa lemak, also known as nyonya laksa.

The Nyonya cuisine of the Peranakans (descendants of the early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang) is the unique result of blending Chinese ingredients and wok cooking techniques with spices used by the Malay/Indonesian community, the result being tangy, aromatic, spicy and herbal. The word nyonya itself is an old Malay word that is a term of respect and affection for women of prominent social standing (part “madame” and part “auntie”).

Nyonya laksa seems to be kind of a combination of curry laksa and asam laksa, as it combines both coconut milk and tamarind.

I came upon this recipe on the now defunct Almost Bourdain website while looking for different things to do with all the yellow bean sauce I seem to have amassed.

The spice paste, or rempah, is made of chilli, garlic, Asian shallots and toasted shrimp paste (belachan) and it is cooked in both coconut milk and cream as well as the tamarind and yellow bean paste. The overall combination gives you spicy, sour, salty and creamy.

Here I have used cellophane noodles but you can use thick or thin rice noodles instead as per your preference. The vegetables used are also up to you - I have used garlic chives as I’d recently been to Chinatown, beansprouts and red pepper. But other garnishes may include cucumber, onion and coriander.

Candlenuts by the way are often used in Malaysian and Indonesian cooking for both flavour and as a thickening agent. They can however be difficult to get hold of so macadamia nuts, which are similarly high in oil content as well as texture when pounded, make a decent substitute.

Nyonya Style Laksa
Serves 4

10 Asian shallots, peeled & chopped
3 red chillies, chopped
5 dried red chillies, soaked & chopped
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled & chopped
1 tbsp shrimp paste, roasted in a hot oven until dryish and crumbly
2 tsp turmeric powder
1 inch piece fresh galangal, chopped
4 macadamias (or candlenuts if you can get hold of them), chopped
1 stalk lemongrass (top third and tough outer leaves discarded), chopped

1 tbsp groundnut oil
160 ml coconut cream
400 ml coconut milk
250ml chicken stock
3 tbsp yellow beans sauce
3 tbsp tamarind paste (ready to use wet tamarind)
200 g dried rice noodle
1 bunch garlic chives, chopped into 2 in lengths
250 g bean sprouts
1 red pepper, finely julienned
20 raw prawns
Sambal oelek & coriander to serve

In a mini chopper or food processor, grind the shallots, red chilies, garlic, shrimp paste, turmeric, galangal, nuts and lemongrass to a fine paste and set aside.

Also purée the yellow beans by pounding using a pestle and mortar.

Heat the oil in a large pan over a high heat and add the paste - cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until the paste is darkening and becoming explosively fragrant.

Turn the heat down, add the coconut cream and simmer for about 10 mins. Then, stir in the coconut milk and the stock & simmer for a further 30 mins.

Add the yellow bean puree and tamarind & simmer while you prepare the vegetable and noodles. The sauce should taste hot, a little sour, sweet and salty.

Blanch the rice noodles in boiling water until they are just soft. Drain and set aside. Blanch the garlic chives, bean sprouts, and red pepper in separate batches in the boiling water until they are just soft. Combine the vegetables and rice noodles in a bowl.

Bring the sauce to a boil and add the prawns until they are pink and cooked through.

Ladle the sauce and prawns into bowls and serve with the noodle and vegetable salad.

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