Food: Vegetarian Curry Laksa Recipe
Whether it’s pho, bibimbap or a bucket of ramen, a meal in a bowl offers a mysterious delight, and this recipe for Vegetarian Curry Laksa is a culinary treasure you can eat with a spoon
By Louise Crosby
There’s something appealing about a meal in a bowl, everything contained in one space, relaxed, easy eating. Think of the Vietnamese dish pho – fragrant broth, rice noodles, vegetables and herbs. Or Korean bibimbap – sizzling rice with meat and assorted vegetables, chili pepper paste and a raw or fried egg served on top. But wait, there’s much, much more. I just got my hands on Lukas Volger’s new (vegetarian) cookbook, simply titled Bowl, and realize that when it comes to this kind of eating, the possibilities are endless.
I want to cook this entire collection but for starters settled on this Vegetarian Curry Laksa, laksa being a popular noodle dish sold at hawker stalls in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Although there are different versions of laksa, it is traditionally built on a foundation of galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, dried shrimp and garlic blended to a paste, then enriched with creamy coconut milk, prawns, chicken, tofu “puffs” and noodles.
Volger builds plenty of flavour and body in this vegetarian version with his own Asian-style vegetable stock (see recipe) and the fragrant spices from the curry paste. He makes it colourful with green beans, shredded cabbage, sliced cherry tomatoes and bean sprouts, while a firm-boiled egg (see recipe) provides protein.
I admit that putting this together took some planning and preparation; not only does it call for red curry paste, coconut milk, curry leaves (Produce Depot in Ottawa carries them most of the time), and ramen noodles (found some at the T&T Supermarket) for the laksa, but you will also need dried shiitake mushrooms, daikon radish, and kombu for the stock. Nevertheless, once your shopping is done you have the makings of a delicious and nutritious noodle bowl, and some pantry items that will come in handy for other recipes.
Good news: if finding good ramen noodles in your town is a challenge, Volger suggests substituting much more readily available soba, udon, vermicelli (rice noodles) or even Italian-style spaghetti or linguine. And if you’re craving a bit more in the protein department, also feel free to also add some shrimp or tofu.
Vegetarian Curry Laksa
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 4-ounce bottle store-bought red curry paste
3 cups vegetable stock, preferably homemade
1¾ cups coconut milk (one 14-ounce can)
1 branch fresh curry leaves (optional)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups mung bean sprouts
4 ounces green beans, stem ends trimmed
8 ounces dried or 12 ounces fresh ramen noodles
1 cup shredded savoy or green cabbage
4 large boiled eggs, firm yolks, halved
½ cup quartered cherry tomatoes
½ cup coarsely chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, for garnish
Lime wedges, for serving
Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan over low heat. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring frequently, until darkened, very fragrant, and caramelized, 20 to 30 minutes. Add a big splash of the vegetable stock and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, then add the rest of the stock, the coconut milk, and curry leaves, if using. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 20 minutes. Add the salt and sugar, then taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary. Remove from the heat.
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and salt it lightly. Prepare an ice-water bath.
Place the bean sprouts in a sieve and dip them into the boiling water for 10 seconds. Lift out of the water and immediately rinse under cold running water.
Using the same boiling water, blanch the green beans for about 1 minute, until just tender (test by piercing one with a paring knife). Use a spider skimmer or slotted spoon to transfer the green beans to the ice-water bath, reserving the boiling water, then drain the green beans.
Return the water to a boil. Add the noodles in a strainer basket or the pasta insert that comes with your stockpot if you have one, and cook until tender, usually 4 to 7 minutes for dried (or according to the package instructions), or 60 to 90 seconds for fresh. Lift out the noodles, reserving the cooking water, and thoroughly rinse the noodles under cold running water in order to remove excess starch. Quickly dunk them back into the hot water to reheat. Divide among four bowls.
Top the noodles in each bowl with the bean sprouts, green beans, cabbage, eggs, and tomatoes. Divide the broth among the bowls. Garnish with the peanuts and cilantro and serve immediately with the lime wedges on the side.
Asian-Style Vegetable Stock
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, preferably ones that contain the stems
1½ cups hot water, plus 10 cups water for the stock
1 small or ½ large daikon radish (about 1 pound), peeled and top trimmed off
1 large carrot (about 8 ounces)
1 leek (washed) or onion, root end trimmed
1½ ounces ginger (3 thumb-sized pieces
5 plump garlic cloves
1 bunch scallions
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
Two 2-inch squares kombu
Cover the dried mushrooms with the 1½ cups hot water in a bowl. Let stand for 20 to 30 minutes, until completely soft. Remove the mushrooms and separate the stems from the caps. Reserve the caps for another use and set the stems aside. Strain the liquid through a coffee filter into a small bowl or measuring cup and set aside.
While the mushrooms are reconstituting, prepare the vegetables: Half the daikon, carrot and leek lengthwise and then chop into 3- to 4-inch lengths. Chop the ginger on the bias into ½-inch slabs. Smash the garlic and remove most of the skin. Cut the scallions into 2-inch lengths.
Heat a stockpot over medium heat and add the oil. Once hot, add the prepared vegetables and the reserved mushrooms stems. Toss the vegetables in the oil, then cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes, until fragrant and the vegetables are vibrant. Pour in the 10 cups of water and increase the heat to high. Just as the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Pour in the reserved mushroom soaking liquid.
Remove the stock from the heat and add the combo. Let cool completely. Strain the stock through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, gathering up the ends of the cheesecloth so as to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. At this point you can pack the stock in containers and store it in the refrigerator for 2 days or in the freezer for 2 months.
Makes about 2 litres
Large eggs, in their shells, ideally at room temperature
Prepare an ice-water bath
Bring a saucepan of water to boil, and salt it generously. Using a spider skimmer or slotted spoon, lower the eggs – as many as you’d like to cook, or as many as can fit comfortably in a single layer – into the water, ensuring that they’re fully submerged. Stir the eggs periodically to keep the yolks centred. For a molten yolk: Lower the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook the eggs for 7 minutes. For a firm yolk: Remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and let the eggs stand for 11 minutes. Lift the eggs out of the water with the spider skimmer and plunge into the ice water bath to cool.
To peel the eggs, crack all over, then peel back the skin while holding the egg in the ice water or under cold running water.
THE EX-PRESS, June 22, 2016