Nonya laksa, also known as laksa lemak, is a Peranakan dish consisting of noodles in a coconut-based curry gravy. And it is a dish I will gladly eat out anytime. In Singapore, you can easily find a decent bowl of laksa that sets you back no more than $5. With all the effort required to prepare a bowl of laksa, I sometimes wonder why we aren’t paying more for it. The long list of ingredients is most probably the one thing that deters people from making it at home. On top of that, many ingredients need to be prepared separately, making the entire process very laborious. It’s definitely worth a try if you intend to cook for a group of 6 or more though. In total it took me 2-3 hours to prepare, as I washed the dishes in between cooking so that the sink will not be overflowing with the many crockery and cutlery I used.
Before I go on to the recipe, I would like to mention how cheap and easy it is to make your own ground coriander powder!! I bought 50g of coriander seeds at only $0.60, and got approximately 42g of coriander powder out of them. If you buy MasterFoods’ coriander powder from NTUC, it’s $3.90 for 25g. Look at that price difference! I will strongly recommend all of you to make your own coriander powder rather than buy them.
HOW TO MAKE CORIANDER POWDER
Dry toast the coriander seeds in a pan over medium heat to release the oils and produce more fragrance.
After a few minutes, the coriander seeds should darken and become more fragrant.
Blend the coriander seeds into powder.
There will be some coriander husks that refuse to be ground into fine powder, so be sure to sieve the powder to remove any large bits.
All the large bits of husks that could not pass through the sieve.
Store the coriander powder in an air-tight bottle and it can last for months!
REMPAH (SPICE PASTE)
Boil the dried chillies until soft. (Initially I only boiled 15 dried chillies but I ended up adding 10 more because the rempah was not spicy enough for me.)
Toast the belachan for a few minutes. You can toast it directly on the pan, or on a piece of foil to prevent the belachan from burning easily.
These are the ingredients required for the rempah – dried chillies, fresh red chillies, shallots, dried shrimp (soaked in hot water for 10-15 minutes), garlic, galangal (blue ginger), ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, coriander powder, belachan and candlenuts.
Note: Use only the lower part of the lemongrass stalk where you can see the purple rings, that’s where the flavour comes from.
Tip (from a chef): If you find it troublesome to weigh out all the different ingredients, just ensure that the ratio of your shallots to garlic to galangal to ginger to lemongrass is 2:1:1:1. As for the chillies, you can use around 2 parts for rempah that won’t be later diluted with a lot of water. But for laksa, I would recommend using more chillies since the spiciness and flavour will later be abated by water and coconut milk.
Blend all the ingredients in a food processor into a paste as fine as possible. This way the gravy will not be overly grainy. You can add some oil into the food processor to aid the blending process.
Fry the rempah in a generous amount of oil for about 15-20 minutes. First, the rempah will absorb the oil in the pan. After frying for a period of time, the colour of the rempah will darken. Once you see the rempah releasing oil, it is ready.
Tip: Since making the rempah takes a lot of effort, you can make double or triple portions and keep the extras in a freezer to use at a later date.
Add 1.5 litres of water to a big pot and boil the prawn heads and shells for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavours to release into the stock.
Add the sambal (fried rempah = sambal) into the pot and bring to a boil.
Add coconut milk and laksa leaves into the pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Add chicken seasoning, salt and sugar, and adjust according to preference.
Note: Avoid cooking the gravy at very high heat (rolling boil) so as to prevent the coconut milk from curdling.
Meanwhile, boil the tofu puffs in another pot to remove oil on the surface.
Cut into strips.
Add to the laksa gravy and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Gravy is done!
Blanch the bean sprouts and set aside.
Boil the prawns and set aside.
Boil the fishcake then slice into thin slices.
Get these 4 ingredients – beansprouts, fishcake, prawns, laksa leaves – ready so that it will be easier to prepare individual bowls of laksa when you want.
Cook some white thick beehoon then add to a bowl. Add some beansprouts, fishcake, prawns and tofu puffs on top of the beehoon, then ladle some laksa gravy into the bowl. Finally, garnish with some laksa leaves.
And it’s time to be rewarded for all your hard work! You will be so proud of yourself after completing the dish! But I have to admit, while the laksa does taste good, this will not be a dish I would want to make numerous times. Given the small cost savings, I would probably opt to eat store-bought laksa.
- 800 g white beehoon ($1.92)
- 18 prawns (250g; shelled & deveined) ($8.75)
- 300 g fishcake (sliced) ($2.50)
- 300 g beansprouts ($0.30)
- 10 stalks laksa leaves (for garnish, slice into thin strips) ($0.20)
- 1.5 l water
- 1 l coconut milk ($3)
- 1 tbsp concentrated chicken stock ($0.20)
- 1 tbsp salt ($0.085)
- 2 tbsp sugar ($0.038)
- 25 dried chillies (deseeded) ($0.10)
- 10 fresh red chillies (deseeded) ($1.30)
- 8 garlic cloves ($0.224)
- 3 stalks lemongrass (bottom part; sliced into rings) ($0.346)
- 6 candlenuts ($0.30)
- 100 g shallots ($0.206)
- 60 g dried shrimps (soaked in hot water) ($1.92)
- 40 g galangal (sliced) ($0.60)
- 40 g ginger (sliced) ($0.60)
- 15 g turmeric (negligible)
- 20 g belachan ($0.134)
- 1 tbsp coriander powder ($0.10)
- In a pot, boil dried red chillies until soft. Remove from pot and deseed the chillies. Deseed the fresh red chillies as well.
- Toast the belachan for a few minutes.
- Blend all the rempah ingredients in a food processor into a paste as fine as possible. This will ensure that the gravy will not be overly grainy. You can add some oil into the food processor to aid the blending process.
- In a frypan, heat a generous amount of oil (about 120ml) over medium heat and add rempah. Fry for 15-20 minutes, until rempah darkens and oil separates from the rempah.
- In a big pot, add 1.5 litres of water and boil the prawn heads & shells until flavours are released. Remove prawn heads & shells.
- Add rempah and half of the laksa leaves into pot and bring to a boil.
- Add coconut milk and laksa leaves into the pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Add concentrated chicken stock, salt and sugar, and adjust according to preference.
- Meanwhile, boil the tofu puffs in another pot for just a while. Remove from pot and slice into strips. Add tofu puffs into laksa gravy and simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Blanch the beansprouts and set aside.
- Boil the prawns and set aside.
- Boil the fishcake and cut into thin slices.
- Cook some white beehoon and put into a bowl. Add beansprouts, fishcake, prawns and tofu puffs on top of the beehoon. Ladle some gravy into the bowl, and finally garnish with some laksa leaves.