Though the sun is still warm, the air is cool and clear. The days are shorter and the angle of light through the windows is changing. Here in Northern California, autumn is beginning and I love it. I can turn on the oven, any time of the day. I can make braises and soups and hearty breads. It’s my favorite time of year. I think laksa, full of spice and herby goodness, is a perfect dish for the first day of fall.This soup is adapted from a recipe in Nigel Slater’s brilliant book “Tender: a cook and his vegetable patch”. Mr. Slater’s version of laksa, a traditional Asian noodle soup full of spicy flavor, includes pumpkin. I am not quite ready for pumpkin so I chose to fortify my soup with shredded chicken breast. You could just as easily add shrimp, pork, or other vegetables, as laksa is quite adaptable. Mr. Slater wisely notes that “what matters is balance”. You make a laksa spice paste, for the heat, then you combine good stock and coconut milk for the broth. Add green herbs and lime juice, for acidity, fish sauce and tamari for salt, and your choice of noodles, vegetables, and protein.
All together it makes a delicious and hearty soup, and it’s just what we need for the cooler days ahead. Here is my adapted version of Mr. Slater’s laksa; once you have the basics done you can personalize it to your liking. Remember, “what matters is balance”: heat, acid, salt, and richness will make your laksa the very best. Enjoy!
My version of a traditional spicy Asian noodle soup. Seasoned with hot chili, green herbs, lemongrass, ginger, and garlic; it's hearty with added shredded chicken and thin noodles. Delicious!
- 2 medium-sized serrano chiles (or use 3 red bird's eye chiles, if available)
- 2 fat cloves garlic
- 1 thumb-sized lump gingerroot
- 2 plump stalks lemongrass
- 5 or 6 stems fresh cilantro
- 1 generous handful fresh cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1 3/4 cups full fat coconut milk (1 400 ml tin)
- 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (I use Red Boat brand)
- 1-2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
- The juice of 1 lime
- 3 1/2 ounces thin, dried noodles, cooked and drained (vermicelli, thin spaghetti, and capellini work well)
- 8-10 ounces boneless chicken breast, cooked and shredded
- Additional fresh cilantro, mint, and lime juice, to garnish
Remove the stems from the chiles, peel the garlic, peel and roughly chop the ginger and lemongrass. Put all these ingredients into a food processor with the cilantro stems and leaves, and the sesame oil. Process to a rough paste.
Heat a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the spice paste and fry for a minute, stirring all the while. Add the stock and the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 8 minutes. Add the fish sauce, tamari, lime juice, and cooked noodles and chicken. Simmer again until piping hot. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking. Add additional cilantro leaves and fresh mint, torn or coarsely chopped, and serve. Pass fresh lime wedges with the soup.
The original recipe is in the book "Tender" by Nigel Slater. You can see it here.