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Simple Lemongrass Laksa with Shrimp

September 27, 2012

There’s a Vietnamese restaurant in Santa Barbara that makes a killer curry.

It’s a soupy, peanutty, spicy, coconut milk broth with a submerged tangle of chewy rice noodles and a choice of chicken, beef, salmon, tofu, or shrimp.

It’s my mission to make it at home. So far I’ve tried and failed once.

What I ended up with was a pretty tasty and standard Vietnamese curry (Cà ri gà) with chicken and potatoes, but the flavor of the broth missed the mark by a long shot.

The two upsides to this slight disappointment were: 1) a hearty cà ri gà for dinner, which I didn’t get a chance to take photos of, and 2) extra fresh rice noodles!

Yes, I’m ridiculous; I get genuinely excited about having extra fresh rice noodles in my fridge. I know this means I should just buy them more often…

The point is, I took those noodles as an excuse to flip through my cookbooks until I settled on this simple laksa recipe.

It’s not the Curry Laksa I fell in love with in Singapore and Malaysia, though. It’s missing the distinctive and spicy orange-ish curry broth, the fried tofu puffs, and the hard-boiled eggs. That version will have to wait for another trip to the store blog post.

This version is barely curry-flavored or spicy at all. I modified the recipe a bit and added a little yellow curry paste, but it’s hardly necessary.

The coconut milk broth is fragrant with lemongrass and pops with subtle hints of sour and spicy. The broth’s balance of flavors is rich yet light.

You’ll want to slurp up every last drop of it, if the noodles don’t beat you to it…

I mean that literally; If you’re planning to make this, keep in mind that rice noodles will start absorbing liquid as soon as they’re immersed. Of course, usually this is not a problem, but since it took me a WHILE to set up and take these photos after ladling the soup into bowls, I was faced with a case of the mysteriously disappearing broth!

Moral of the story: Don’t let this happen to you. Eat your laksa while it’s hot.

Print this recipe.


Simple Lemongrass Laksa with Shrimp
(adapted from “Chicken & Shrimp Laksa” in the cookbook Asian Flavors.)

(Serves 2)

~ 3 Tbsp. peanut oil
~ 2-3 shallots, diced
~ 1-2 tsp. fresh lemongrass, pureed
~ 1 clove garlic, diced
~ 1 red chili, seeded and diced
~ 1 tsp. ground coriander
~ 1-2 tsp. of Thai yellow curry paste (and/or red curry paste; add more if you want more spice)
~ ½ tsp. shrimp paste (OPTIONAL)
~ dash of ground galangal (OPTIONAL)
~ 3 cups chicken broth
~ 1¾ cup coconut milk
~ 8 oz. thin vermicelli (or thick) rice noodles (preferably fresh)
~ 7-8 oz. shrimp (and/or substitute chicken, or tofu!)
~ 4 oz. bean sprouts
~ fresh cilantro, chopped to garnish
~ scallions, chopped to garnish
~ fresh lime juice to garnish

How to make it:

1. Heat about half of the peanut oil in a large saucepan and cook the shallots over medium heat until softened, for 3-5 minutes.

2. Add the lemongrass, garlic, half the chili pepper (save the other half to garnish!), the coriander, curry paste, and optionally the shrimp paste and galangal. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Pour in the chicken broth and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Add the shrimp and keep at a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp is cooked. (If using dried rice noodles, add them once the shrimp is nearly cooked; they’ll just need 3-5 minutes to cook. If using fresh rice noodles, don’t add them quite yet…)

4. Meanwhile in a small saucepan or wok, heat the remaining peanut oil, and sauté the bean sprouts for 2-3 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside.

5. Chop and prepare the garnishes. Right before serving, stir the fresh noodles into the simmering broth. Fresh rice noodles should really only need to cook for about 30 seconds before they hit the right consistency, while dried rice noodles might take 3-5 minutes.

  • (OR: to have greater control over the noodles, bring a separate pot of water to a boil, blanch the rice noodles until just cooked, then transfer to bowls before ladling the broth over them.)

6. Transfer the noodles and shrimp to bowls, ladle the broth over them, and top each bowl with the sautéed bean sprouts, the rest of the diced chili pepper, and the cilantro and scallions. Serve immediately with a slice or two of lime to garnish.

Print this recipe!

Related recipe posts:
> Tom Kha Gai Soup (Thai Chicken Coconut Milk Soup)
> Pad See-Ew
> Masala Dosa with South Indian Potato Curry

29 Comments leave one →
  1. September 27, 2012 9:08 am

    I ate my way through Singapore when I was there in 2008. Laksa is so delicious!

    • September 27, 2012 2:42 pm

      I know, it’s so good! And in my opinion, eating your way through Singapore is the only way to spend time in Singapore! :)
      (Actually the best laksa I ever had was strangely in Hong Kong…)

  2. September 27, 2012 10:17 am

    I love noodle soups! It ooks fabulous! :)

    • September 27, 2012 2:43 pm

      Thanks! I love noodle soups too! Especially when they have rice noodles (or egg noodles).

  3. September 27, 2012 10:42 am

    Rice noodles with anything cooked in coconut milk is simply wow………loved this recipe!!

    • September 27, 2012 2:44 pm

      Thanks! I know, it’s pretty decadent actually. That’s why I piled the bowls high with bean sprouts and green stuff on top of all of those noodles in coconut milk.

  4. September 27, 2012 12:48 pm

    Gotta love Laksa! I have tried making once and failed miserably. The broth is the key of course and that s the hard part. If I ever come across something half easy and no compromise on taste ill share it with you.
    Your bowl of laksa is looking good in the mean time! :)

    • September 27, 2012 2:47 pm

      Sounds good! Yeah, I haven’t yet tackled making curry laksa, but I think it’s basically like this except a LOT more spices and curry paste-type stuff, some tamarind to make it sour, more shrimp paste maybe, and then of course the requisite fried bean curd puffs and sliced hard-boiled egg on top– but those aren’t the tricky part; it’s the broth, like you said. Thicker rice noodles would be nice too, I think. I’ll come back to it someday!

  5. September 27, 2012 12:58 pm

    Laksa is such a favourite my friend, yours looks gorgeous :D

    Choc Chip Uru

    • September 27, 2012 2:48 pm

      Thank you! I’m assuming laksa is more common in Australia than in the U.S…. but yeah, since discovering it when traveling, it’s a favorite of mine, too.

  6. September 27, 2012 6:18 pm

    I am glad you did not put those nasty fish balls and soggy tofu like I did before. This looks delicious. I will try it!

    • September 28, 2012 7:59 am

      Hm, nasty fish balls and soggy tofu? I actually really like the kind of fish balls that appear in clear, spicy soup broths in Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc. (I’ve never been to China, but probably there, too!) I don’t even liked cooked fish very much, but I find their flavor very mild, and I think they’re mostly appealing for their texture actually– which is maybe what you don’t like about them?

      As for the tofu in laksa, I think very crispy deep-fried tofu, placed on top of the bowl just before serving, is the only way to go– though it can sometimes still be bland! Anyway, I don’t keep that stuff around on a regular basis like I do shrimp, so it would have required an extra trip to the store before dinner, and that wasn’t going to happen.

      • September 29, 2012 3:41 pm

        You are right, I don’t like the texture of the fish balls. The ones I had were very, very potent in flavor. Maybe they were just not good quality or as fresh as they should have been. That being said, my comment was intended to underline that your laksa looks great and that I am surely going to try it soon.

      • September 29, 2012 7:12 pm

        Thanks! And yes, I realized that, I guess I just felt the need to rush to the defense of fish balls in case they appear here in a future post :)

        Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this fishball-free laksa when you try making it!

  7. September 29, 2012 11:05 pm

    I love when mistakes become recipes in and of themselves. Happens more often than anyone would probably like to admit!

    • September 30, 2012 11:52 am

      So true! Though the cà ri gà result wasn’t really a mistake, since I really was trying to make my first cà ri gà Vietnamese curry– it’s just that once I made it I realized that it was still worlds away from the particular one I was trying to re-create from that restaurant… I guess it’s a whole separate recipe, and one which I will keep plugging away at until I get right!

  8. September 30, 2012 8:21 am

    Lovely to find your blog! This curry looks so refreshing, would love to give it a try, thank you!
    We share a love of tomatoes, as we use them a lot in Turkish cooking, I hope you can stop by my blog sometime : )

    • September 30, 2012 12:00 pm

      Ozlem, I discovered your blog a while back, and have been following it via RSS reader– I love it! (And I absolutely LOVE Turkish food.) It’s an honor to have you stop by!

      Unfortunately I’m just not that good at keeping up with/commenting on non-wordpress blogs, but I will try to pop over there more often!

  9. September 30, 2012 7:29 pm

    Just say “Thai coconut soup” and I’m sold. Between the warm broth, nuanced spices, and fresh veggies, what could be more comforting? Just swap out the shrimp for tofu and I’m set. ;) You’ve got me reconsidering the possibility of a trip to Thailand again…

    • October 1, 2012 9:21 am

      I’m with you completely! Thailand was my number one dream travel destination for years and years (because of the food, of course!), so it was an easy choice to make it my first venture into SE Asia back when I first moved to Japan. It was as wonderful as I thought it would be– though I have to say, the fresh mangoes were even more memorable than the curries– but the trip was far too short, so I still daydream about going back!

      (And here’s another Thai coconut soup you can enjoy by swapping out the chicken for tofu :)

  10. October 4, 2012 3:26 am

    I love LOVE LOVE laksa! I was totally spoilt by tasting thee best laksa in the world ever in Melaka (Malaysia) two years ago and I’ve never found a recipe to compare, so I cannot WAIT to try this one. It certainly looks awesome!

    • October 4, 2012 8:31 am

      Nice! I loved eating laksa in Singapore/Malaysia… quite a few years ago now– in 2005– but the best laksa I ever had was in Hong Kong! This is a really subtle dish, compared to curry versions of laksa, but with coconut milk and lemongrass, you really can’t go wrong :)

  11. November 10, 2012 12:24 pm

    This soup looks refreshing and delicious! I had laksa for the first time when I was visiting Thailand- it was amazing! I took a cooking class there with friends and we used fresh galangal which I haven’t been able to find in the US :( My parents grew some lemongrass in their garden this year and I’ve been continually raiding their stock to use with cooking.

    • November 10, 2012 12:34 pm

      Thanks! Having access to fresh lemongrass sounds awesome! One of my friends in Japan grows some in a big planter on her balcony, and she mostly just uses it to snip some and brew it in hot water for lemongrass tea…

      I actually know of a place in Santa Barbara that usually stocks fresh galangal, but I’ve never actually bought it!(?!) Luckily, I think the dried slices/chips of galanga usually do their job pretty well in infusing soups with an amazing flavor (like with Tom Kha Gai soup). I use the ground galangal powder way less often… in fact the only time I can remember using that recently was for this laksa! I only have it in my pantry because I have an unnecessary-spice-buying problem…

      • November 10, 2012 1:38 pm

        Ohh, I will have to try and find the galangal chips in an Asian grocery store- I hadn’t even thought of that!

      • November 10, 2012 10:59 pm

        Definitely! They’re not really “chips,” I just said that for lack of a better word, based on their size and shape (see the ingredients photos in the Tom Kha Gai soup post for what they look like). Just ask around for “dried galangal” and see if you can find any. :)


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