Saturday, March 20, 2010

Assam Laksa

Kiki's Assam Laksa

Hello all! It's been a while since my last post and believe me I have been brewing ideas for the next post, this post. I was inspired by an episode of Poh's show that featured Thai cuisine. In that show, a visiting chef made curry paste from scratch. That, combined with the increasingly limited space in my bar fridge (as a result of ever growing number of jars) pushes me to embark on my new experiment: Assam Laksa!

Assam laksa is not the same thing as laksa. As I understand it, assam laksa is one of many delicious Nyonya dishes originating from Penang island, Malaysia. This dish is FRESH!, flavorsome and fantastic served on a hot day with a glass of iced tea or chilled glass of white wine. Its main star ingredient is assam or tamarind, among a crew of many other spices: fresh tumeric root, galangal, lemon grass, mint leaves, shallots, garlic, belachan and chilli. Rest assured, all ingredients are not impossible to find in your local grocer in Sydney. Assam/tamarind paste is available in the supermarket in a jar; the rest can be found in your local vegetable and fruit store or farmer's markets in excellent fresh forms, at least I did.

It's worth it, I promise

This afternoon I found in a local farmer's market what I thought was ginger flower or a version of galangal and I excitedly brought it, among other fresh ingredients, home. On to my mortar and pestle and beyonnndddd!!! If like me you've never used mortar and pestle before, don't be afraid. It's really quite soothing to be pounding away mindlessly especially bearing in mind the promise of a delicious end product. Food processor is another option for those without said equipments and though I have been warned that the end product is not the same, I understand that these days it's more common to find food processors than the prehistoric mortar and pestle in most homes. So go ahead and press that button, bzzz bzzzzz. :D

Don't let the ingredients scare you, they're available in most grocery stores

To make my version of assam laksa, you will need the following ingredients.


  • 3 shallots
  • 2 teaspoon if minced garlic
  • 8 bird eye chillies
  • 3 teaspoon of belachan (fermented prawn paste)
  • 1thumb size of tumeric root
  • 3 stalks of lemon grass, just the white bits
  • 1 fist size of galangal
Broth and Soup:
  • 3 tbsp of tamarind puree
  • 1 bunch of pakchoy, washed thoroughly
  • a bunch of enoki mushrooms (straw mushroom), cleaned and remove roots
  • 500g of white fish (I used Ling fillets)
  • 2 large handfuls of fish tofu or marinara mix
  • Fish sauce
  • 2 limes
  • 1 ginger flower, sliced
  • 1 shallots, sliced
  • 1 lime, halved
  • mint leaves
  • 2 chillies, chopped
Admittedly there are a lot of ingredients involved, even for the paste alone, so I have increased the super-sized this recipe to make the effort worth it for people like myself who don't have a lot of time on hand. Do this recipe on a weekend and you can freeze the leftovers for a week worth of lunch!

Pound the paste ingredients separately if you have a small mortar

Now let's get down to business. First and foremost, pound all the paste ingredients in a mortar and pestle and you want to do this nice and early. As I learned from TV, you want to chop the ingredients as finely as you could, because it would save you a lot of work in the pounding step.

Chop up the paste ingredients as this will make the pounding step a lot easier

Get a pot of water (about 3 liters) boiling with 2 pinches of salt & tamarind puree. Blanch bunches of pakchoy for 2 minutes, then drain and arrange on serving bowls. Boil fish and fish tofu/marinara mix for 10 minutes, remove the fishes while reserving the broth. Flake the fish fillets.

Bubble bubble...

Stir fry the paste in 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil until fragrant. Add the reserved fish broth plus 1 liter of boiling water, fish fillets, fish tofu/marinara mix, enoki mushroom, juice of 2 limes. Season with fish sauce and salt, adding the sliced ginger flower last. Simmer for an hour before serving in bowls with garnishes and steamed jasmine rice.

Not just a pretty face, garnish adds extra dimension in flavor

Some extra notes:
  1. Tumeric is will stain anything and everything except porcelain in my personal observation. So before you chop/pound away, spread your kitchen counter top with old newspaper and be prepared to have yellow hands for the next few days. Oh, and wear an apron!

    Warning: Tumeric stains!

  2. Use a deep-welled mortar for pounding to avoid the paste ingredients on your shirt, face and every corner of your kitchen.


Junkfood said...

ahhh.. looks darn good.. I could almost imagine the fragrant aroma of the laksa..

Now to find the nearest place tt sells this.. which I'm sure would not look remotely as nice.. but still.. >.<

Note to self.. Never visit Kiki's blog when hungry because you'll only salivate. T_T

Ernie Yulyaningsih said...

Hi JunkFood,

A little stroll down to your local hawker center will definitely earn you some mean assam laksa. I miss Singapore! Good luck! :D

Juen said...

Because of you I went all the way to have Asam Laksa today! lol

Ernie Yulyaningsih said...

I'm kinda sorry (not really). Hehehe, I hope it was delicious!

That's Ron said...


hey kiki! quick question... i saw ur previous review of Blanchmaru... I'm goin to sydney for a few days... do u think it is worth a visit?

Ernie Yulyaningsih said...

Hey Ron,

Yes, give them a visit. I loved the food there and the degustation is a good option. :) Bon apetit and have a great trip!