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