UPDATE :  I'm very pleased to announce that we've already received  13  very interesting entries! Thank you very much. Keep them coming guys and remember to send them in by June 7 2010  - we're looking forward to shouting out the winner and showcasing a fantastic line up of entries on June 8 2010  !! What's your motivation? Not one, but TWO fabulous prizes - a gorgeous cookbook (take a detailed peek here) and a guest blogger spot on the fabulous blog Lazaro Cooks! And now on to the day's post :

If you ask any dyed-in-the-wool Singaporean what he or she misses most on extended sojourns away from home, the answer will almost invariably be Char Kway Teow, Chicken Rice or Laksa. When I get off a plane, the first thing I scarf down is Char Tow Kway (Fried Carrot Cake) but that's another story, for another day ;)

I would not normally feature a dish which takes anything more than an hour from starting to eating, but I've had a few requests for this dish, and being as pathologically impatient and rebellious as I am (and you thought I just didn't have enough time!)  I have managed to simplify this and cut the preparation and cooking time by about a third.

my favourite colour - laksa rempah (spice paste) red

Vietnamese mint is polygonum is laksa leaf - my other favourite colour

This is pared down Nyonya Laksa or Laksa Lemak which is the quintessential style of Laksa served in Singapore. That amounts to a disclaimer for any true blue Nyonya who's already wielding her batu lesung (granite pestle and mortar) and taking aim at me for calling my version "Nyonya Laksa". The Laksa family runs the gamut from this version, to the long and winding, so authentic it takes half a day to prepare Nyonya Laksa, to Asam Laksa, Curry Mee and Laksa Melayu. There are signficant differences but most feature a thick and rich coconut based spicy gravy, with the exception of Asam Laksa, which has a thin and tangy tamarind based gravy, no surprise since "Asam" means sour in Malay.

prawns all gussied up and ready to soak up the laksa gravy

chilli paste so rich, red and g-reeeea-sy .... if it's not swimming in oil, it's not done right

For Nyonya Laksa or Laksa Lemak, it isn't unusual to include deep fried tofu puffs and shelled cockles amongst the garnishes. More recently, shredded chicken meat or whole chicken drumsticks and even crayfish tails have begun to appear in bowls of laksa. That's all well and good and I have nothing against innovation - unless it means more time spent cooking rather than eating.  Do I sound like a food blogger harbouring a dislike for long, involved cooking? I love my kitchen, and cooking for me can be very therapeutic, but my first love will always be eating and cooking is more a means to that end. For this foodie, it's all about the destination. The journey is best saved for those virtuously patient souls who enjoy being hungry ;)

This is for you - Kitchen Masochist, Anna of Chef Wanabe and W. I hope you will find this, salve, for your starving, laksa loving souls.

Prep 90 mins     Cook 30 mins      Serves 4 rabid laksa lovers or 6 modest eaters


4 stalks lemongrass, use core, discarding at least 3 of the outer layers and about 2/3 of its upper length
Large walnut sized piece fresh galangal, peel and slice thinly
2 medium onions, peel and slice
8 cloves garlic, peel and slice thickly
12 fresh red chillies, discard seeds
60 g (3/4 cup) dried prawns (shrimp),rinse a few times and drain well
2 level Tbsp coriander powder
1 level tsp white pepper powder
1 level tsp fennel powder
4 pandan (screwpine leaves) fresh or frozen, wash and tie each in a knot (optional but recommended)
1.4 L (7 cups) prawn stock (see below)
400 ml (2 cups) thick coconut milk
3 level tsp sea salt (or to taste)
1 1/2 tsp sugar (or to taste)


500g (1 lb) fresh medium sized sea prawns (as opposed to farmed) wash and drain
4 small Chinese fish cakes (optional)
200 g mung bean sprouts, wash and drain
600 g ( 1 1/4 lb) fresh laksa noodles (coarse rice vermicelli or chor bee hoon)
Desired amount Vietnamese mint (laksa leaves/polygonum), pick leaves off stems, wash well, drain thoroughly and chop coarsely

Chilli Paste

8 fresh red chillies, discard seeds
4 cloves garlic, peel
2/3 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp white vinegar

Slice the lemongrass cores very, very thinly. Combine lemongrass, galangal, onions, garlic and chillies in a blender or processor and using as little water as possible, process to a very smooth paste. Remove paste and set aside.

Process the dried prawns, again using as little water as possible, to a very smooth paste and set aside.

Set a pot filled with about 1.8 L (9 cups) water to boil with a teaspoon each salt and sugar. When water boils, put in unshelled fresh prawns and allow to cook until all turn orange (about 3 minutes) Remove prawns from pot and keep the water on a simmer. Rinse prawns in cold water until comfortable enough to handle. Peel prawns, set aside and return all heads and shells to the simmering pot. Simmer for about 15 minutes then strain and discard shells and heads. You should have about 1.4 L of strained stock.

Heat about 1/2 cup (I'm being conservative - 1 cup is closer to the truth and this is not for the figure conscious) light vegetable oil in a pot and when hot, add the ground dried prawns, coriander powder, pepper powder and fennel powder. Fry, stirring constantly until lightly golden, almost crisp and fragrant.

Add the ground spice mix and pandan leaves and continue to fry, stirring constantly until oil separates from spices and mixture is fragrant. Add the prawn stock, stir and leave to boil.

While waiting, split each of the fresh cooked prawns horizontally into 2, removing any dark veins and where necessary, giving the prawns a quick rinse, if the veins rupture. Set aside. Slice the fish cakes thinly and set aside.

When gravy in pot boils, stir in the coconut milk and add salt and sugar to taste. Bring back to the boil, lower heat immediately to minimum and allow to simmer, while stirring continuously for about 1 minute. Do not allow mixture to boil again as it will curdle. Turn off heat and cover until needed.

To make Chilli Paste : Combine chillies and garlic and process to a smooth paste using minimal water. Heat about 3 tablespoons light vegetable oil in a pan and when hot, add the ground chilli garlic paste and salt. Stir over moderate heat until oil separates from mixture and paste is a deep, dark red. Add the vinegar, stir well then dish out and set aside.

Fill a separate, small, deep pot with water (deep enough to blanch noodles) and bring to the boil. When water boils, blanch a quarter of the noodles along with a quarter of the bean sprouts then drain thoroughly and put into a fairly large, deep bowl. Top with some halved prawns and fish cake slices. Repeat for the other bowls.

When bowls are ready, gently reheat gravy until piping hot but don't allow to boil. Ladle gravy over each bowl making sure noodles are submerged. Top with a dollop of chilli paste and a generous sprinkling of the Vietnamese mint. Serve immediately.

damn those slippery steel chopsticks.....burp!!!