Since I have been blabbering about Asam laksa non-stop for about a month straight, I thought it would be appropriate to provide you with an Asam laksa recipe at long last. Asam laksa is a mix of Malay and Chinese cuisine, a noodle soup that is traditionally made with fish. It is widely available in Malaysia, Singapore and in some parts of Indonesia. I have sampled several variations on the laksa, most of them made with a creamy coconut broth, but my favourite was the sour broth variant we found on Penang Island: the Penang Asam Laksa, a unique and complex blend of spicy, sweet and sour flavours. And so the hunt for a vegetarian Asam Laksa recipe began.
One ingredient that is, in my view, absolutely essential to any Asam Laksa is a very aromatic and little known herb called Vietnamese coriander, Vietnamese mint, laksa herb, persicaria odorata or, my favourite designation, daun kesum. This is the best herb in life, I am not kidding. Its distinctive flavour could be described as citrus-y (it vaguely reminds me of yuzu in how it is both citrus-y and floral), with a similar pungency to cilantro and a taste that could be akin to mint, cilantro and perhaps tarragon all wrapped up together. It’s a uniquely fragrant herb that’s very hard to describe and oh-so delicious. If you cannot find it in your local Asian market when preparing your vegan grocery list, I would replace it with equal parts mint and cilantro, and perhaps a wee bit of lemon zest (or yuzu if you can find it!). You can also order seeds online and grow your own. I know I will when I get home!
vegetarian asam laksa recipe
This is my very loose interpretation of what is possibly the best dish I have sampled in the whole of South-East Asia. I have omitted some ingredients that might just be a little too exotic to be found in western supermarkets and have added kale for some extra nutrition. I know some ingredients are still a little difficult to find, but you can just use this recipe as a base to inspire you, or feel free to let me know if you can think of good alternatives.
500g laksa noodles (or thick round rice noodles, I’m thinking Japanese udon noodles could be a great substitute)
FOR THE LAKSA PASTE
4 fresh chilies
2 stalks lemongrass
1 clove garlic
1 small piece turmeric (or 1 tsp. powdered turmeric)
1 small piece fresh peeled galangal (or ginger)
1 tablespoon vegan shrimp paste (or miso)
FOR THE BROTH
6 cups water
2 tbsp. cooking oil
Golf ball size fermented tamarind paste (asam) (also used in my jamu recipe – it has to be the sour variety)
OR ½ cup lemon or lime juice (subtract this from the water)
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. soy sauce
Daun kesum leaves or a mix of mint, cilantro and citrus zest
A little mint if you are using daun kesum
Chopped pineapple chunks to taste
Finely diced red onion to taste
Finely shredded kale or any green leafy vegetable (traditionally lettuce is used)
Shredded vegan fish (I used a premade packaged one (it’s basically just textured soy protein). Alternatively, you could use shredded tofu puff (widely available in Asian supermarkets or omit this altogether if you are not into this type of rather quite processed stuff).
Spoon of yellow bean paste (Just omit if you don’t have any, not a big deal)
Few slices of thinly sliced chili
1. Process all the laksa paste ingredients in a food processor until smooth. You can also grind it with a pestle and mortar to be more traditional, but, in my case, ain’t nobody got time for that.
2. Heat up the oil in a large nonstick pot on a medium heat.
3. Add the laksa paste and sauté for 8-10 minutes.
4. Add all the broth ingredients, bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
5. Add the shredded fish/tofu puff and pineapple for the last 5 minutes of cooking and make sure whatever noodles you are using are cooked according to package instructions at around this time as well.
6. Adjust seasoning to taste, adding more tamarind, sugar or soy sauce if you would like a more sour, sweet or salty broth.
7. To serve, ladle the broth over a big bowl of noodle sprinkled with kale, laksa herb, red onion and serve with a spoonful of vegan shrimp paste to stir in and chopsticks.
Enjoy! Menikmati hidangan anda!