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