A streamlined way to get this fantastic noodle soup on the table in under 15 minutes.
I wouldn't normally publish a recipe that requires you to buy an ingredient that you can only really use for one dish. I can't stand waste – time, money, food or space – and have no intention of encouraging it among my readers. That said, I'm going to send you out into the world to track down laksa paste, and I promise you that it will be worth every second and every cent.
Unlike many recondite ingredients, laksa paste is not difficult to find. Any Asian grocery will have it and my favourite brand has even turned up on the shelves of the local supermarket. Once acquired, you're on a winning streak: it has a wonderfully long shelf life, even after opening, and the knowledge that a fabulous dinner is only minutes away gives me some semblance of peace of mind. A little goes a long way, so consider the price of a good laksa paste an investment in many dinners to come.
This is my streamlined version of laksa, simplified for ease and speed but as tasty as all get up. Prawns and bok choy – or any similar leafy Asian green – need almost no cooking time, and the bundles of thin vermicelli bean thread noodles (also called cellophane or glass noodles) are cooked by hot soup itself, so there’s no need to pre-soak them.
You season laksa with a trio of contrasting flavours: lime juice, fish sauce and brown sugar. I suggest you start with a tablespoon of each, then taste the soup, adjusting it until you reach the balance of sweetness and sourness that works for you. Alternatively, have all three available on the table and let people adjust to their own taste.
You can garnish a laksa as much as you like with fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, spring onion (scallions), sliced tofu puffs, more dried chilli flakes and crisp-fried shallots (hanh kho phi). I’ve shown some uncharacteristic restraint in the photo but, please, go for your life.
2 tablespoons laksa paste
300ml (1¼ cups) coconut milk
500ml (2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
250g (½ pound) prawns, peeled and deveined, tails on
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
50g (2 oz) packets vermicelli bean thread noodles
1 bunch bok choy, roughly chopped
In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the laksa paste over medium heat for a minute or so until it is warmed through and fragrant. If your laksa paste is very thick or dry, add a few drops of peanut oil to help it along.
Stir in a little of the coconut milk and blend well. Add the rest of the coconut milk and the stock, stirring to combine, and let it come up to a simmer.
Measure in the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar, and stir through. Taste and adjust for balance (see note above).
Add the prawns and, one minute later, the bok choy. They will cook almost immediately, and continue cooking after they are served.
Drop a nest of bean thread noodles into the bottom of deep two bowls and ladle over the soup. Let it sit for two minutes before serving to let the noodles soften and garnish to your heart’s content.