Tuesday 18 November 2008

NCR Pumpkin and Tofu Laksa

Blame it on the weather! Blame it on the shrimp! Blame it on blogging! I had to make laksa last week as the temperatures soared to 35 C. I had planned on baking something in the oven til the heat got the better of me. Then I saw a link from Cassie to BBC Food's Pumpkin and Tofu Laksa recipe by Celia Brooks Brown and it seemed just right for such weather.

Laksa is something I have been meaning to cook for a while. I keep seeing others blog their versions. I’ve promised myself I will do the same. Despite my love of this soup, it is one that constantly thwarts me because so many version of the laksa paste and laksas served in restaurants have shrimp in them and are not vegetarian. I’d like to say I just whip up some paste at home but the ingredients have always seemed a bit of a challenge. But I felt that the BBC version was within my grasp – no shrimp paste, candlenuts or galangal.

I stopped off at the supermarket and got a few ingredients that I was missing and headed home to whip it up. It took me longer than the 30 minutes promised in the recipe but wasn’t overly difficult. My food processor didn’t produce a really smooth paste even after a lot of blending and scraping down the sides but what it produced was passable. Ironically on the same night I had set out to make it I finally found a laksa paste in the supermarket without shrimp paste in it – after some months of searching – but I am sure it will not be as good as my home made attempt!

I decided to do my own thing and cook the pumpkin in the soup rather than prior to adding to it. Unfortunately this meant I missed the bit in the recipe about adding the pumpkin water (oops!) which might account for the soup being a little thick. The second night I added more water to thin it out and it was much better (so I have amended this in my version of the recipe below). I also added a few vegetables that I had in the house rather than a more traditional cucumber and tomato.

The recipe only called for vermicelli noodles but I have always liked laksa with both thick hokkien and thin vermicelli so I used a combination of them. I appreciate the recipe says to warm the noodles and then add to the bowl and pour soup over them, but as I knew I would have leftovers, I thought it easier to add them to the soup – which meant I half served it with tongs!

While making the laksa was a bit of a challenge for me, eating it was a challenge for E. He doesn’t order it whenever the opportunity arises when he is eating out so he is not familiar with the way the noodles flick turmeric-stained sauce everywhere. It is the sort of soup to eat with either a decent serviette down your front or even a teatowel tied around your neck. This is not a meal that can be eaten elegantly. But for me, the fragrant coconut soup with slurpy noodles and lots of fresh vegetables is heavenly and worth any mess.

E (aka The Grim Eater) disagrees. I served it so late the first night that it was dark outside and we ate it indoors but he needed some hedgehog fudge slice and to watch an episode of Get Smart, from our box set, to recover. On the second night we decided to eat outside. Unfortunately the dark clouds of the cool change were already gathering as we sat to eat. There were a few ominous rain drops but they cleared to allow us to eat. By the time the rain came on I had finished and E found it a useful excuse to say he had eaten enough. I, on the other hand, was most content!

I am sending this soup to Holler and Lisa for their No Croutons Required event. This month they are requesting any type of pasta in a soup or salad.

Pumpkin and Tofu Laksa
(adapted from BBC Food)
Serves 4

350g tofu, dried with kitchen paper and chopped
canola oil, for frying
200g pumpkin or butternut squash, trimmed, peeled and diced
400ml tin of coconut milk
1 litre water
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 tsp agave nectar
200g asparagus, trimmed and chopped
3 button mushrooms, sliced
½ red capsicum, sliced
80g rice vermicelli noodles
200g hokkien noodles

For the spice paste:
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1-2 red chillis, de-seeded and finely chopped
5cm/2in fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 small onion, chopped
¼ tsp ground turmeric
2 stalks lemongrass, sliced
4 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped

To serve:
2 spring onions, chopped
4 handfuls of beansprouts
coriander and mint leave (I didn’t use)
large handful of basil leaves
Optional: thinly sliced capsicum, tomato wedges, thin strips of cucumber

Place about 1 cm of oil in a frypan and heat over medium heat. Place tofu gently in oil to fry til just turning golden and crisp. Turn with an eggflip or spatula and fry on other side. Drain on kitchen paper.

While tofu fries, make the spice paste by pureeing all ingredients in food processor with 3 tablespoons of water (or a bit more if needed). This took me quite a few goes and a lot of scraping down the side and it still wasn’t smooth but was enough of a paste.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large wok or frypan. Add spice paste and fry for two minutes to release aromas. Add coconut milk, soy sauce, agave and pumpkin. Boil and simmer for about 10 minutes until pumpkin is cooked but firm not soft. Add tofu, asparagus, mushrooms and capsicum. Simmer an additional 5 minutes

Meanwhile place vermicelli noodles in a bowl of boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain. Add vermicelli and hokkien noodles to the soup for a minute or two to warm them. Add more water if necessary. (NB in the BBC recipe, it is suggested that noodles are placed in bowls and noodles ladled over them.)

To serve use tongs to serve noodles and a ladle to serve remaining soup into bowls. Top with bean sprouts, spring onions, herbs, and vegetables as desired. Position your serviette to catch the drips and get slurping!

On the Stereo:
La Nouvelle Art du Deuil: Tomografia Assiale Computerizzata


  1. This soup looks delicious... I have never tried Laksa because I am not a fan of fishy things and they usually have prawns or shrimp as you say... I am saving this to try soon, I have been meaning to get more tofu into my diet...

    I know exactly what night you are talking about too... I was (stupidly) cooking quiche that night... and not only that I made steamed vegetables to go with it... duh, could I be any dumber?!?! lol...

  2. You know, I've never met a blog that I so consistently seem to bookmark every... single... recipe :)

  3. What a fabulous soup! I've never had laksa. This sounds amazing--and I can't believe all the work you put into it (esp making your own paste, though I agree yours is of course better).

    Have you seen the Get Smart movie? I never enjoyed the show as a kid--I was too young to "get it" (or should I say too young to get Get Smart?)--but I've happened upon it on TV on the rare occasion and can't stop laughing.

  4. That looks so good! A feast for the eyes and the belly. Thanks for contributing it :) I think the spice paste would be a good one to keep at the ready in the fridge for other things too, although I caonnot imagine anything else being quite as good as this!

  5. This is a new soup to me, but it sounds and looks so tempting. I've been eating lots of pumpkin these past few days, and would have enjoyed this no doubt. Thanks for this lovely entry!

  6. thanks Tara - the heat takes you by surprise at this time of year - I plan ahead and then when it gets too hot I can't bear to turn on the oven! But this is a good one to save for a hot day!

    thanks Shauna - that's very sweet of you - we must share our excellent taste in food!

    thanks ricki - couldn't bear to see the recent get smart movie - I love the original show too much which I saw ad nauseum on repeat as a kid. Now I'd highly recommend you try laksa - it would have gone well in your coconut series.

    Thanks Holler - I wish I was more clever with making spice paste ahead but just don't get organised - but I buy a jar occasionally for the fridge when I can find it without shrimp

    Thanks Lisa - I think you would love this with lots of chillis (I only used one) as well as pumpkin :-)

  7. Very inviting! I want to dip one of those giant, deep Asian-style spoons into the middle of that bowl - start there and work my way around.

  8. thanks Susan - with dishes like these I could do with just that sort of spoon in our house!

  9. I bet the vegetarians that I know would go crazy over this! Thanks for the recipe :)

  10. I have to admit that I wasn't sure what a laksa was when you mentioned it before - but now I know I think it looks rather tasty!

  11. thanks Lorraine - I am sure your veg friends would love it

    thanks Lysy - I am surprised Laksa is not more widely known but maybe is more popular in Australia given our proximity to SE Asia

  12. Thanks for this entry! I adore Ms. Brown's recipes and they are fun to adapt to your own preferences.

  13. thanks Lisa - I have a growing appreciation of Ms Brown's recipes - anyone who can make laksa seem accessible is worth checking out

  14. seriously delish. congrats!!! i can't wait to make this!

  15. Definitely going to try this. Congrats for winning the festive challenge

  16. I am in love with the look of this!! I've never had laksa but you're making me feel like I must.

  17. Just saw you won the No Croutons Required this month. Well done. And what a lovely recipe - I do so love laksa, but there's always that pesky bit of shrimp in there. Well done for posting . . . and winning!

  18. Thanks Ashley - hope you enjoy it

    thanks Anjay - it is worth a try!

    thanks Ashley - you are right about needing to try Laksa - you wont regret it

    thanks Kathryn - always lovely to find a good shrimp-free laksa

  19. Your laksa looks way more delicious than mine!! Thanks for reminding me of this. :)


Thanks for dropping by. I love hearing from you. Please share your thoughts and questions. Annoyingly the spammers are bombarding me so I have turned on the pesky captcha code (refresh to find an easy one if you don't like the first one)