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Monday, August 25, 2008

Laksa Lemak for Merdeka Open House 2008


I am a self confessed noodle fiend. I just love noodles. I can have it for breakfast, coffee break, lunch, tea and dinner and later when I am hungry in the middle of the night - I crave either cold noodles or steaming hot instant noodles. My mom who loved noodles and who was a great cook but was perpetually on diet when she was younger told us noodle is a type of vegetables since it is made of grains. Hahahaha we all believed her! These days I tell myself this too especially when I try to be on diet, like now and am failing miserably.
Anyway my Mom's tip was to have mee hoon - rice noodles if you're trying to lose weight. a tip I don't always follow.
My mom used to make her own noodles. We had a pasta maker at home and she made it look effortless. She didn't do it much when we were older and one of my greatest regret was never to learn how to make my own noodles. It will taste so much better especially in gravy based noodles dishes, like laksa and soto.
I am delighted to find this year's theme of Merdeka Open House to be Mee and My Malaysia. This event is organised annually by Babe In The City KL. It is to promote a very Malaysian tradition - Open House - in which we open our house to anyone, even strangers into our homes for festive occasions like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya (Eid) and Christmas. In the blog world, Babe chose Merdeka - our National Day which falls on the 31st of August every year. Malaysia is celebrating its independence for the 51st year this year! And every year since 2006, we have a virtual merdeka party hosted by Babe.
My contribution is a dish very close to my heart - laksa lemak. I make this dish with a few other noodle dish every year on the second day of Raya when I am back at my parent's. The spread proved to be quite popular since most of the other houses will usually still be serving nasi minyak/beriyani spread with lauk-pauk. Because I only make it once a year and sometimes once in a few years, my parents were always looking forward to it. And this makes me feel rather virtuous ;-)
With a baby, my laksa takes three different days to make but with a little more organisation, you can make it in a few hours. Just make sure you do it for dinner and have everything ready by say 2pm. It is not something you can make in a hurry but you can assemble quickly and make a great impact. This is something that is prepared with lots of love. The shopping, the planning, the cooking and the assembling take a bit of patience especially when you don't live in an Asian country and all the ingredients have to be obtained from different places. I try to make everything only with the ingredients I can find easily here. The only thing missing are daun kesum which I replaced with Thai basil - which has a similar taste and fish cakes, which I could have made fresh if I had tapioca starch but I only realise this morning is missing! So I scratched that out.
I want to try to make a recipe which can be followed easily and using the agak-agak as minimally as possible - so I weighed in the onions, garlic, ginger and galanggal after I peel and cut them and they turned out to be right - I didn't have to add or subtract from the original estimation. The only thing that would probably need tweaking are tamarind and gula melaka (palm sugar). I used one disk divided into 2, half for the sambal and half for the gravy. You can use brown sugar if it is easier for you.
When I am planning a dinner party here, I usually serve the laksa as a main course. I would place all the extra toppings in a big platter and the sambal in a jar for the guests to help themselves with. Laksa is very rich and filling but it never stopped anyone to ask for second helping. Just have some iced cool drinks ready in case it is too spicy.
Thanks for organising another fantastic event, babe and for picking such a great theme! Happy Merdeka everyone! Let's have a fabulous party this year!

Recipe for Laksa Lemak
Ingredients:
Prawn stock - make ahead
skins and heads form a kilo of prawns
1 cup cooking oil
2 stalks celery
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 liter water
salt, pepper and sugar to taste
Method
1. In a pot, heat up the oil.
2. Add the prawn skins and heads
3. Fry together until the skin of the prawns turn pink and the liquid produced turns salmony pink.
4. Removed the oil/prawn extract and reserve it for the sambal goreng.
5. Add fennel, celery stalks and water into the prawn skins and head. Season to taste.
6. Let it boil and simmer for about 30 minutes.
7. Let cool. Sieve the prawn stock and throw away the prawns heads and skins, fennel and celery. Keep it chilled in the fridge or freeze until you need to use it.
Sambal Goreng - make ahead
Prawn Extract
300g onions - from 2 big ones or you can use shallots
5 dried chillies - softened in hot water
5 fresh chillies
5 candle nuts
2cm ginger
5 garlic
tamarind + water - turn into a paste
cooking oil
12.5g palm sugar (half a disk)
salt to taste
Method
1. Put the onion, dried and fresh chillies, ginger, garlic in a food processor or blender with some water and process until it because a thick paste.
2. Pound the candle nuts with pestle and mortar and add in the palm sugar and pound some more.
3. Heat the oil in a wok. Add in the chili paste and fry until the oil separates from the paste and the paste turns dark red.
4. Add in the prawn extracts and mix thoroughly. The aroma that is filling your kitchen now is totally divine.
5. Add in the candle nut and the palm sugar. Mix some more.
6. Make sure all the paste are mixed thoroughly and is amalgamated into a fiery red mixture. Then add the tamarind paste. If it turns the mixture into a runny paste again - let it simmer and keep mixing until it turn into a sambal/ jammy consistency.
7. Season and let cool and store in a jar in the fridge. If you plan to make a lot of this and keep it for a while - use a safe canning method. I usually make a lot of it and keep it for up to 6 months and give away to friends.
Laksa gravy
Rempah
150g onion - diced
20g ginger - sliced
30g lemon grass stalk - only the white part - you get this from 3 fresh fat stalks - sliced
30g galanggal - sliced
20g garlic - sliced
10 fresh chillies - sliced
1TBSP coriander powder
1 TBSP cumin powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 kg of tiger prawns (16/21) - head and skin removed (freeze for future use)
2 Lt prawn extract
500ml coconut milk
200g kangkung /water spinach or if you can't find this use spinach or bak choi
cooking oil
12.5g palm sugar
salt to taste
Method
1. First make the rempah. Combine onion, garlic, ginger, galanggal, chillies and lemon grass with a bit of water in a food processor and blitz it into a thick paste.
2. Mix all the spices into the chili paste and set aside.
3. In a pot, heat up oil and add in the rempah. Fry the rempah, stirring constantly until the oil seperates from the rempah. This should take about 8-10 minutes.
4. Add the prawn stock into the mixture and let it boil together.
5. Add the coconut milk and let it boil.
6. Let the laksa gravy simmer for about half an hour. Season with sugar and salt to taste.
Toppings and tails
Noodles of your choice - I used a thick ho fun - prepared according to package instructions
a bunch of Thai basil
boiled eggs - half per person
100g taugeh (bean sprouts) - top and tailed and blanched
5 tau pok - fried tofu skins - blanched and sliced thickly
1 cucumber - seeds removed and cut into ribbons
lemon/lime wedges. If you can get kalamasi, it will be perfect
sambal goreng
To assemble
1. Prepare the noodles according to package instruction and set aside.
2. Just before serving, add the prawns and kangkung into the laksa gravy and quickly fish the prawns out as soon as it cooks. The gravy now witll turn thicker and into a richer colour. This is the consistency that you'd want.
3. Warm up a bowl. Place the noodles on the bowl.
4. Arrange the prawns, cucumber, tau pok, taugeh, cucumber and half an egg on top of the noodles.
5. Pour the laksa gravy into the bowl.
6. Add sambal goreng and Thai basil.
7. Serve with extra sambal goreng and a wedge of lime.
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