Saturday, 25 February 2012

A lesson in Laksa (Laksa Lemak, Indonesian spicy seafood noodle soup)

Poor Chris. He’s been my friend for 18 years. He could have committed an armed robbery, gone to jail and been let out by now. And in all probability, the imprisonment may well have been easier than being my friend for all these years. We met at university where we socialised together, drank together, watched telly together, occasionally studied together, and cooked and ate together. Once we threw a Shrove Tuesday party where we took over a 4 ring hob and cooking on 2 rings each, made dozens of pancakes. We got in each other’s way, nearly burned each other, but had a great laugh.
Somehow Chris has stuck around and I’m very glad he’s done so. From our early days of cooking student food back in the day, we’ve continued to collaborate in the kitchen. Making trays and trays of canapés for his Christmas soirees doesn’t sound like fun to most people, but we always have a good time, and the fruits of our labours always get scoffed.
Recently Chris went on an Indonesian cooking course at Lapan Cooking in East London. Their website, in case you are interested is  

Chris learnt how to make several interesting dishes at his class, and the curry puffs he made for his most recent Christmas party (learnt at the class), were absolutely exquisite; fluffy on the outside, moist and squishy on the inside with a spicy kick full of spice and effective heat. So when he told me he had also learnt to make Laksa Lemak, I was burning with curiosity. Having eaten a few lunchtime laksa soups at a variety of places and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I wanted to be able to recreate it. 

To me, cooking is a life skill. And the best thing about it is that it can be passed from person to person. So the knowledge is shared as is the joy. Chris is to be thanked for his time and patience in teaching me how to make Laksa Lemak. The results were spectacular, spicy, fresh and warming. The list of ingredients is daunting, but well worth the time taken to track them down. 

Laksa Lemak

The somewhat daunting collection of ingredients
(For 3 people)


Spice paste ingredients:
Fresh Galangal, fresh turmeric, Thai shallots, dried red chillies, sambal Belachan powder, lemongrass stalk, ground coriander, groundnut oil

For the soup:
Fresh noodles
2 tins mackerel in brine
3-4 Curry leaves
3 pieces dried tamarind skin
210-230 ml coconut milk
Brown sugar
900ml water (or homemade fish stock)
9 tiger prawns (I’d recommend more)
1 fish stock cube

For the garnishes:
Julienned Cucumber
Julienned fresh Pineapple
A big handful roughly chopped coriander leaf
A big handful roughly chopped mint
A packet of beansprouts, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, then rinsed in cold water
Thin slices of white onion
1 lime, quartered


Prepare your spice paste ingredients by roughly chopping the shallots, turmeric, lemongrass and chillies.
Top tip: wear gloves when preparing the turmeric!

Shallots and galangal being prepared

Collecting up the paste ingredients in the blender
Grind down the spice paste ingredients. Not as easy as it sounds. We tried to do so in a blender, and it took ages! We had to keep rocking the blender from side to side to get the blades to do their stuff. If you have a mini chopper, that may be a better tool for the job.

Fry the spice paste until it is deeply fragrant, about 10 minutes. You will need to lower the heat as time goes by so that the paste does not burn.

We used frozen peeled uncooked tiger prawns. These need rapid blanching in boiling water. 2 minutes will be ample.  Remove the prawns and set aside. Don’t throw the water away, since the fishy flavours will make a stock base for the soup.

We used tinned mackerel in brine, so we didn’t need to cook it in advance. You can use fresh, which you poach in boiling water. You may as well use the same water as for the prawns since that will add fish flavours to the broth.

If using tinned mackerel, remove from tins, mash up and then quickly boil in the water.

Add your spice paste to water along with a crumbled fish stock cube, dried tamarind skin, curry leaves, and sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste, but be careful as the stock cube, if used, may be quite salty. Simmer for 15 minutes.
At the start of the simmer time
At the end of the simmer time
Put on another saucepan full of water to cook the noodles. Cook according to pack instructions. The lady who helped me with my shopping in See Woos in Chinatown was adamant that fresh noodles should be used for Laksa Lemak (and I was happy to rely on her), but you can use any medium egg noodles (sometimes called yellow noodles). Strain and set aside.

Add the coconut milk and simmer for another 3 minutes.

Get your soup bowls out. Put a portion of the cooked noodles at the bottom of each bowl.

Fish out equal portions of king prawn and add to the bowls.

Top with the Laksa soup.

Now serve up with a plate of the garnishes.

Leave everyone to top their dish with garnishes as required, with a squeeze of lime juice on the top.
The finished dish, with all the garnishes


  1. Looks wonderful! I have always wanted to try myself on Laksa, gorgeous sounding recipe. I love that you wear gloves for peeling/slicing the tumeric, I wish I had known earlier! ;)

  2. Hello Ute!

    This was really tasty. Because we made it a sociable thing, chatting and cooking together, it didn't seem like a bit chore, but there is a lot of preparation. Having said that, if you make your own Thai pastes, it's probably not that big a faff for a seriously good cook like you.

    I learnt the lesson about gloves and fresh turmeric after a terrible mortar and pestle incident; was scrubbing for days!

    Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comment, Ute! Your Green curry looks awesome!

    Best wishes