Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Kare Laksa: Malaysian Noodle Soup

As this is my first foray into Malaysian cooking, I thought it best to make something forgiving. Noodle soup usually fits the bill and it doesn't hurt that I'm a noodle soup freak. This style of dish is extremely popular among the Asian working class. Cheap, filling, tasty and quick to prepare, it's no exaggeration to say that noodle soups nourish millions of individuals each and every day. Give it a try and you just might see why! Ughh, that rhymed. Sorry. Didn't mean for that to happen.

One other thing...It's been brought to my attention that some of my readers would like more kitchen-friendly versions of my recipes. To facilitate this request, I am going to create a text only version and upload it to Google Documents. This way, you can just hit print and take into the kitchen a few pieces of paper rather than an entire laptop. Click here for a text only version of this post.

The cookbook (Cradle of Flavor) I'm using is PHENOMENAL if you're at all into the cooking of Singapore, Indonesia or Malaysia. The author, James Oseland, is a gifted cookbook author in that his descriptive prose is actually interesting and his cooking instructions are very clearly written. Not all cookbooks succeed on both fronts. I will be cooking from this book in the future.

Instead of a picture of the ingredients, I made a video:

Shrimp paste. Kind of hard to tell from the picture but it's this brownish, slightly crumbly substance which is sold in a rectangular block. It absolutely reeks. The woman at my local Asian market sold it to me with barely concealed contempt...in fact, she double bagged it because the smell offended her. However, this fermented shrimp product doesn't taste fishy at all when you eat the final dish. It's kind of like fish sauce where the pungent smell is deceptive...it just sorta adds a pleasant savoriness to the end dish. This is a teaspoon of Indonesian trassi :
Place into a piece of foil and fold into a square:
Squish down with the palm of your hand to flatten:
Place directly onto the medium low gas burner. After a minute, you should smell this burning shrimp smell. Flip the package over to toast the other side. Toast for another minute. Turn off the gas and set the package aside. I'll warn you right now...wear some already dirty clothing because the shrimp smell will permeate the fibers and you'll not want to wear it outside:
Please don't laugh at how filthy my stove is.

Whole dried spices...click the picture to see specifics:Finely grind the spices. Add a pinch of ground turmeric:
Peel and roughly chop 110 grams of shallots. Or about 4 ounces:
Take the shallots, toasted shrimp paste, ground spices and a little bit of water and process. Cookbook says the goal is to have a very thick cream soup. Set aside:

Roughly chop 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
Tie two pieces of lemongrass into knots. See this post for a refresher!

Heat your soup pot, toss in oil to coat the bottom and chuck in a cinnamon stick. Cook until the cinnamon is fragrant. This won't take long:

Add the shallot/spice mix. The goal is to have the oil hot enough so the spice mixture fries/sautes. Cook it for 5-7 minutes...you'll notice mine going from watery to dry...it becomes a bit sticky.

Add the chicken and lemongrass knots. Mix everything well...really coat the chicken with the spice mixture. Allow to cook until the chicken is lightly colored.

Add three cups of water and 1.5 cups of coconut milk. Add salt and sugar to taste:Simmer for 45 minutes.

The recipe calls for the addition of some lightly fried tofu but neither my roommate nor I felt that the tofu needed to be fried...it would've been okay just cubed and simmered in the soup. However, for this batch, the tofu was fried. Use 8 oz. of firm tofu:
When the tofu is golden, add to the soup.

Time to assemble the bowls of noodle soup!
Add a small handful of bean sprouts to each bowl:
Add some cooked noodles. I used Chinese egg noodles...toothsome and chewy.
Ladle some of the chicken, tofu and broth over the noodles...garnish with some chili paste, mint leaves and lime...Done! Please use an Asian soup spoon and chopsticks...and don't forget to slurp your noodles!

Time- About an hour. 20 minutes of active prep and the rest is just simmering.

Food Cost-
Coconut Milk-$0.69
Shallots- $0.48
Tofu- $0.50
Lemongrass- $0.15
Incidentals- $0.20
Total-$4.45. I am going to get approximately 5 servings out of this batch so $0.89 per serving on the soup. Noodles are about a buck per bag and a quarter of a bag is good for one serving--$0.25. Add a handful of sprouts, $0.10 and you've got a total of $1.24 per bowl! Astounding!

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