Monday, March 24, 2008

Chai, Floristry and Laksa Lemak

This was an easter of minor achievments. None of my anticipated thesis breakthroughs, essay completions or existential epiphanies occured. Instead I:

1. Brewed the perfect cup of Chai:

The secret, my friends is 100% milk. 100% full cream extra fatty, delicious milk. No water. Pour one cup (or mug) of milk and one teaspoon (or teaspoon and a half if your mug is sizable) of Chai tea (I enjoy the more convetional T2 variety, but the rosey, gingery tea centre blendI used here is quite delightful, too) into yer pot, stir over medium heat until it starts to bubble and look creamily delicious, then pour into your mug which you have warmed (ie. filled with boiling water then emptied - this makes all the difference) and laced with honey. Consume, ideally wrapped in a cashmire blanket of sorts and accompianed by a cosy book. Really, I could simply bathe in this. Perfect for a chilly autumnal easter monday.

2. Arranged flora and foliage:

Japanese flannel flower, passionfruit vine and green dendrobium orchid, to be precise.

2. And prepared, to share with you, what is to be the first of my weekly noodle dishes: Laksa Lemak.

I have aspirations of one day writing my own cookbook, a budget cookbook of sorts for struggling students and the generally poor, full of crazy anecdotes, tips and guidance, interwoven with fabulous recipies. I am sure that noodles dishes in all their cheap, easy and delicious glory will factor predominatly.
As you may have gathered, friends, if Jaimie is the love/music advice one, Vanessa the artsy/fashiony one, (although these roles are by no means exclusive) I, then have decided to christen myself the domestic one. Not very glamorous or exciting, but utterly true. I have learned to embrace (or quite possibly become) my inner housewife on a daily basis, and thus shall give you the benifit of this metamorphosis of sorts in what I hope will be the weekly posting of a new recipie, on trial for my invisoned cookbook.

Weekly Noodles Part 1: Laksa Lemak.

Like all bonified Canberrans, I'm a member of the Facebook "Dickson Asian Noodle House Laksa Appreciation Society". It's true, the creamy complexity of their gravy like broth is sublime, and whilst I've dedicated years to inventing my own laksa paste as magnificently delicious, I've concluded that the actual soup component of the DANH's Laksa is impossible to replicate. Therefore, I've given up attempting to create laksa paste - mine always turns out oddly green anyway - and have resigned myself to using the store-bourght variety. But, as a final triumph, I often mix up my own blend of additional ingredients to give it an extra kick, or perhaps because I really am unwilling to let go of my quest for ultimate paste making originality. The other day, when I saw a real Malaysian doing the same thing on The Food Lover's Guide to Australia this pursuit was re-affirmed. Anyway, you really don't have to do this - it just adds a little more depth and complexity to the broth - but just the comercial paste is fine. And to justify any attempt to make this at home when, as I've argued, the DANH's variety is unacheivably perfect I give you this: the quality of solids. I've always found their meats a little dry and over cooked, their tofu and veg a little lacking in quantity, their noodles a little thin, and their garnishes a little lacking in what I'd call essential ingredients. Thus, if one cannot improve upon the broth, thou can focus thy attention on that which swims in said broth. Plus, if you're cooking for a large group, home made laksa is cheaper and amazingly satisfying. Further, if this blog has gone interstate or, indeed, international (and why wouldn't it?) and you, dear reader, are a DANHL virgin, then you may, naively, think this is the best laksa you've ever tasted.

Serves 4 (although, it is worth noting, as mentioned, that Laksa is most economical when prepared for a large group, otherwise you'll end up with half full bags of beansprouts, tofu puffs, coriander and noodles left over, so feel free to multiply)


1 Jar of Store bourght Laksa Paste (I've been in a rather serious relationship with the Valcom brand for a while now, but haven't entirely ruled out flirtations with the other varieties lined up hansomly in my Asian supermarket)
1 1/2 400ml tins coconut cream
1 cup of water
a bunch of gai larn, bok choy (or any other variety of choy), roughly chopped
around 12 fried tofu pufs, halved
around 200gms hokkein or other fresh egg noodles
around 100gms vermicelli
chicken, pork or prawns (or a combination), poached or marinated in kechup manis (Indonesian soy sauce), fried, and thinley sliced. Or, if you're feeling prosperous, purchase someBBQed Asian pork or Duck from a Chinese BBQ joint or Asian Supermarket and slice.
1 tablespoon Fish Sauce

Additional Laksa Paste Ingredients:
3 shallots
2-3 fresh large red chillies, or to taste (depending personal taste and the heat of your comercial paste - I find Valcom's to be quite underwhelming, so usually go with 3 or more)
3 garlic cloves
a 2cm peice of ginger
lemongrass, galangal, coriander roots if this takes your fancy, or if you can be bothered.

1 Lime
beansprouts (lots!) to garnish
Coriander, to garnish,
cucumber, sliced into long, diagonal strips, to garnish
fresh chilli, or dried chilli flakes, to garnish
fried shallots, to garnish (avaliable dried from asian supermarkets)


Really, Laksa is all about preperation, the actual cooking time is minimal.

1. Blanch your green veg in a pot of rapidly boiling water for around one minuite, or until it looks vibrantly green and has wilted and reduced in size.
2. Soak noodles in boiling water to soften, according to packet instructions
3. prepare meat and all garnishes (as outlined in instructions)
4. place all aditional paste ingredients in a blender or food processer and puree untill a thick paste is formed, adding a little warm water to bind if neccessary.
5. heat some cooking oil in a large stockpot over medium, medium-high heat
6. add the comercial and home made pastes, and stir until fragrant (by which I mean, overpoweringly oudorous, invading your nose and throat, and making you cough a little)
7. add the coconut cream, fish sauce and water, bring to the boil and allow to thicken slightly.
8. If you are using prawns you can probably chuck them in raw at this point, as they ripen to fleshy pink quite quickly when boiled.
9. toss in the tofu puffs, boil for an additional minute to allow them to sponge up the broth, then turn off the heat.
10. meanwhile place your noodles and green veg in big noodle bowls. It is highly important that you get this right. One of the most common tragically made mistakes in the art of Laksa is the temptation to put in too many solids and not enough liquid. The noodles and veg should really only reach about a third of the way up the bowl, the rest occupied by the golden, holy broth of heaven and the divine garnishes.
11. Tip the hot broth over the soldis into the bowls, and garnish generously with the cooked meats, bean sprouts, cucumber (I find this a lovely fresh, cooling addition, but know it freaks some people out, so by all means, omit), coriander, chilli and fried shallots.
12. I cannot emphasise the following point enough. Seriously, write it down. Commit it to memory. I don't care if you never intend to make Laksa, but so long as you intend to eat it, take very careful note: Laksa should always be consumed with cold Tiger beer. No other variety will do. Refreshing, cold, appropriately Asian Tiger Beer. Make no mistake, this could honestly revolutionalise your enjoyment of Laksa forever.
Oh, and if possible, consume outdoors:


1 comment:

Vanessa said...

oh man, i want laska! and beer! beer and laska at julia's house!