Laksa is nothing short of glorious. It can be light and hot or thick and indulgent – all the while maintaining that vibrant face-slapping, tingling sensation that is required by the body and the soul when the weather turns cold. It's powerful and satisfying, and I hope you embrace the infringements on the traditional laksa, developed here for midweek ease, serve it in bowls of baby-bath-like proportions and enjoy the fire and slap and spine-tapping umami they bring.
Kaffir lime pumpkin, fried tofu and coconut laksa
This laksa relies heavily on fragrant kaffir lime leaves to really lift it from ordinary to extraordinary. Skip the fish sauce for a vegan-friendly version of the creamy, spicy soup; it gets a protein boost from the tofu, and the caramelised pumpkin gives a gorgeous mouthfeel.
Kaffir lime pumpkin
500g pumpkin, deseeded (optional), sliced thickly
6 kaffir lime leaves, deveined, roughly chopped
1½ tbsp ricebran oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp fish sauce (or soy sauce, if vegan/vegetarian)
1 tbsp palm sugar
½ cup (70g) quality store-bought laksa paste
2 cups (500ml) vegetable stock
2 x 400g cans coconut milk
juice of 1 lime
6 kaffir lime leaves, deveined and finely chopped
250g rice noodles, cooked according to packet instructions
150g tofu, cut into 5cm cubes
½ cup rice bran oil
2 baby bok choy, quartered and washed thoroughly
Thai basil leaves and flowers, Vietnamese mint, extra shredded kaffir lime leaves
Preheat oven to 200C.
For the pumpkin, add all ingredients to a bowl and toss to combine until the pumpkin slices are evenly coated. Place on a tray and roast for 35 minutes or until cooked through and golden. Set aside.
For the soup, place a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add the laksa paste and cook until it begins to separate and becomes intensely fragrant. Add the kaffir lime leaves and cook for another 30 seconds before adding the remaining ingredients, except rice noodles. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes to allow the flavours to build.
While the soup is simmering prepare the tofu. Add the oil to a saucepan over high heat. When the oil ripples and begins to shimmer, add the tofu pieces and fry quickly, turning with tongs until golden brown. Drain on paper towel.
To serve, divide the soup among four bowls. Add the bok choy so it cooks lightly in the soup (rather than turning into a soggy mess). Top with noodles and slices of pumpkin. Add a few tofu pieces per serve and garnish with herbs and fresh kaffir lime leaves.
Thai times two: Larb meets khao soi. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Cheat's khao soi with herbs and quick charred pineapple
This is far from the original, lightening the load somewhat with the addition of a larb-style chicken mince rather than the traditional whole pieces of chicken. We've also upped the green quotient but rest assured the undeniable coconutty, curried flavour and fried noodle crunch is very much still in play.
800g Chinese-style fresh egg noodles
150ml coconut oil
800ml coconut milk
4-6 tbsp laksa paste (or to taste)
250ml chicken or vegetable stock
250g organic chicken mince
50g toasted rice*, ground
4-5 thin slices galangal (or ginger, at a push, but you'll miss galangal's peppery flavour)
2 kaffir lime leaves, coarsely torn
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised and thinly sliced
60ml chicken stock
1 tbsp palm sugar
1½ tbsp fish sauce
60ml lime juice
8 cos lettuce leaves
1 tbsp crushed light palm sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp lime juice
1 small pineapple, skin on, cored and cut lengthways into 10cm-thick wedges
lime wedges, fresh coriander, mint leaves
Place the cooking oil into a large pan or wok and place over high heat. Fry 100g of the Chinese noodles in batches until browned and crisp. Remove from the wok and transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Set aside.
Remove all but a tablespoon or two of the oil from the pan and add 100ml of the coconut milk. Cook on high heat until it bubbles and begins to split, and the oil starts to smoke. Add the laksa paste and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute until fragrant and combined with the coconut milk. Add the rest of the coconut milk in a slow but steady stream, stirring constantly. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce to barely simmering and cook for 30 to 40 minutes.
For the chicken, add the galangal, lime leaves and lemongrass to a frying panand cook over medium heat, keeping it moving until evenly golden brown and fragrant. Add the stock and bring to a soft boil, add the chicken mince and work quickly, moving the chicken so it cooks evenly and is thoroughly cooked through (about 5 minutes). Transfer to a bowl, and while still warm, add 1 tablespoon of the ground rice. Stir and toss to distribute evenly through the chicken mixture. Add palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice to taste.
For the pineapple, pound the sugar and fish sauce in a mortar and pestle, stir in lime juice and transfer to a large bowl. Add pineapple, stir to coat and set aside to marinate (30 minutes).
Heat a barbecue or grill to high. Drain pineapple and grill, turning occasionally, until golden and tender (5 to 6 minutes).
Meanwhile, cook the remaining 700g of Chinese noodles in boiling water for a few minutes. Strain and divide between bowls. Pour the soup into the bowls and top with the crispy noodles. Garnish with two cos lettuce leaves and a few spoonfuls of mince per serve, plus the herbs and lime. Add a wedge of pineapple to each bowl and serve.
*Toasted rice is available from Asian supermarkets. To make your own, toast 2 to 4 tablespoons of jasmine rice over high heat in a nonstick frypan until golden. Coarsely grind using a mortar and pestle.
Tomato, prawn and lemongrass laksa. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Tomato, prawn and lemongrass laksa
Borrowing from tom yum, this fragrant tomato-based soup is refreshing with enough heat, flavour and crunch, without the heaviness of a coconut milk base.
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, bruised
5cm piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp laksa paste
¼ cup Asian chilli jam plus 1 tbsp
400g can crushed tomatoes
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
1½ tbsp fish sauce (or to taste)
juice and zest of 1 lime
250g flat rice noodles
16 green prawns, peeled, tails intact
Asian herbs, bean sprouts, sliced red chilli, fresh lime
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the lemongrass, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the laksa paste and cook until it starts to separate then add the chilli jam, tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. Add the fish sauce and lime juice to taste.
While the laksa is cooking, place a nonstick frying pan over high heat. Add the prawns and cook for 2 minutes, turning often or until just browning. Quickly add the extra tablespoon of chilli jam and cook for another 20 seconds until prawns darken and char slightly. Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, strain and divide among serving bowls.
Discard the lemongrass stalks from the laksa broth. Place four cooked prawns in each serving bowl and pour over enough soup to cover. Serve piping hot with additional toppings of your choice.
Laksa inspired by Sichuan dandan noodles. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Dandan inspired laksa
A complete bastardisation of too many dishes to mention, but a happy delicious accident that incorporates the spicy savoury Sichuan street food of dandan noodles with the creaminess of laksa. Dry noodles seem to work better in this soup than fresh, which draw in too much sauce and become soggy.
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp crushed ginger
2-3 tbsp laksa paste
3½ tbsp peanut butter
½ tsp ground Sichuan pepper
2½ cups low-salt chicken stock
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
150g beef mince
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp of sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp ground white pepper
2 tbsp of rice wine
250g dry Asian noodles (ramen-style works well)
a few sprigs of coriander, micro shiso leaves
¼ cup chilli oil, or to taste (intensity of heat varies between brands)
Add the garlic, ginger, laksa paste and peanut butter to a medium nonstick frying pan. Cook over medium heat until fragrant and the laksa paste starts to separate. Add the stock and coconut milk andsimmer for 20 minutes.
Evenly mix the beef mince with the soy sauce and sesame oil. Place a frying pan over medium heat and fry the beef until fragrant and thoroughly browned. Add the remaining ingredients except for the rice wine and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Finally, add the rice wine to deglaze the pan; the meat should take on a shine. Set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to the boil and cook the noodles according to packet instructions.
To serve, ladle the laksa soup into serving bowls. Add noodles and top generously with beef. Garnish with herbs, drizzle over chilli oil (if using) and serve immediately.