This spicy noodle soup looks more complicated than it actually is; all you really need to do is add ingredients to the pot, one by one. Because there are moments while you wait for something to simmer up or cook through, there is a gentle rhythm to making laska that I enjoy. Rather than prepping everything beforehand, you’ll find that you can happily prep along the way.
The key to great laksa is a great laksa paste – and it really should be a paste, not a liquid. You’ll want to find one that contains shrimp paste and spices like coriander, cumin and fennel seeds, turmeric and lemongrass, ginger and even cinnamon. A little goes a long way, so consider the price of a well made laksa paste an investment in many dinners to come.
The other important part of making laksa is balancing the three seasonings: lime juice, fish sauce and brown sugar. I've suggested you start with a tablespoon of each, then taste and adjust until you hit the balance that suits you.
You can garnish laksa as much as you like, and each of the options I've listed below adds their own flavours and colours to the dish. It's your call, and it will be absolutely fine if you don't use any. A tofu puff, a deep-fried cube of tofu, is an authentic but totally optional touch. You can buy them frozen in packs of six – check the freezer cabinets of your Asian grocery store. It can be cut up and added straight from the freezer.
Finally, using vermicelli bean thread noodles (also called cellophane or glass noodles) means you don’t have to pre-soak them – the hot soup will soften them for you.
2 tablespoons laksa paste
400ml (14 fl oz) coconut milk
500ml (2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
1 large chicken breast fillet, thickly sliced
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
100g (4 oz) green beans, trimmed and halved
2 x 50g (2 oz) packets vermicelli bean thread noodles
optional garnishes: 2 tofu puffs, sliced into three; 1 spring onion (scallion), finely sliced; ½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes; coriander (cilantro) leaves; crisp-fried shallots (hanh kho phi)
Heat the laksa paste in a saucepan over medium heat for a minute or so until it is warmed through and fragrant.
Stir in the coconut milk and chicken stock. Allow it to come up to a gentle simmer.
Slide in the chicken and let it cook for 5 minutes.
Measure in the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar, and stir through, then taste and adjust (see note above) Add the beans and tofu puffs (if using), cooking just long enough to heat them through, a minute at the most.
Put the bundles of noodles in deep bowls and ladle over the soup.
Sprinkle over the spring onion, coriander leaves and a smattering of chilli flakes. Finish with a crown of crisp fried shallots in the centre. Let it stand for a couple of minutes, and serve.