Last night, I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show, The Layover, in which he spent a dizzying 30 hours in Singapore and ate his way through something like 8 meals. His last meal before he boarded his 17 hour flight back to New York was a heavenly-looking laksa, a spicy Peranakan noodle soup, for breakfast. Watching him patiently standing in line, sweating through his expensive shirt on an ordinary, humid morning in Singapore, made me long for that bowl of goodness.
So, here it is: a hot, spicy bowl of noodles and curry to simulate being in or around Singapore, minus the fascism. Since laksa usually involves some meat, it was merely a jumping-off point. In fact, once I started cooking, I went more in a Burmese direction – this is a modified khow suey, really, from the Shan state in Myanmar/Burma – than a Malaysian one (all references being very loose here). It doesn’t really matter; what you’ll find are big flavors and a balance of spiciness, sourness, and sweetness. Best of all, this dish is entirely vegan and vegetarian (simply omit the boiled egg as condiment).
This is a great dish for a dinner party—not only because its easy to scale up—but because all the condiments look so pretty laid out on the table, and everyone can personalize the curry to their liking. There’s something very nice about allowing your guests to engineer their own magic. What makes it super fun to eat are the condiments: a bit of egg, some fried garlic and shallots, fresh coriander, some green chili and lime. Worth every bit of extra effort.
A note about cooking:
Everything cooks up pretty fast, so make sure that all your veggies are chopped and ready to go before you start cooking. OR, if you are multitasking, chopping while your garlic and shallots are cooking, make sure to keep a close watch on them, so that you don’t burn them (I often have to make two batches)! You will have several things on the stove at once; at times, this feels like you’re creating music, with different melodic and rhythmic lines coming together, but it can also feel a bit chaotic. I’ve tried my best to show what kinds of multitasking work best here and when you really might want to do things one at a time.
Prep time: 40 minutes (with some multitasking)
1/2 lb. egg noodles/Canton noodles/spaghetti (all work well in this)
5 oz. five spice or other pressed tofu (if you cannot find pressed tofu, use extra firm)
1/4 cup canola or sunflower oil
1 can coconut milk
1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste
1” ginger, to grate
Two cups of baby bok choy (green beans or other greens work very well here too), washed
2 carrots, peeled and chopped in rounds
6 cloves garlic, sliced as thinly as you can
2 shallots, sliced with a mandolin or as thinly as you can
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 green chilies, chopped (or dried red chili is fine too)
1 tsp. red chili powder
Juice of one lime
Peanuts, for garnish
Cilantro, for garnish
2 eggs, hard boiled
Limes, for garnish
1/2 cup of warm water
Salt and pepper, to taste
- If using the five-spice tofu, cut your tofu into cubes and cut the carrots into rounds. Add the ginger-garlic paste and turmeric and mix everything well. (If you can’t find pressed tofu and are using tofu in water, drain your tofu well, cut it into cubes, and fry it in 1 tbsp. of sesame oil, to sear it. See: http://mortarandpestle.info/malaysian-coconut-curry-with-okra-chips/ for more detailed instructions)
- Steps 2, 3, and 4 can be done at the same time. In a large saucepan, bring water to boil for your noodles. Keep an eye on the time and remove them a minute before what the package instructions say. Set aside.
- Place two eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring this to a rolling boil, turn off the heat and cover the eggs. They will be ready in 10 minutes and will be hard boiled but still a bit creamy. Once done, chop your eggs and place in a small bowl and set aside.
- At the same time, heat the sunflower oil in a saucepan on medium heat. Slice your garlic and shallots (you can use a mandolin if you have one). When the oil is hot, fry the garlic and turn down the heat to medium-low. Keep your eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t burn. In the meantime, place a paper towel on a dinner plate. When the garlic turns golden brown, remove it with a slotted spoon and place it on the paper towel. Fry your shallots in the same oil until they are crispy and brown (not black!) again making sure not to burn them. Set aside on a paper towel.
5. Take 1 tbsp. of the oil from the fried garlic and shallots and pour into a medium or heavy bottomed pan on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and green chili. Once the cumin starts sputtering, add the marinated tofu and carrots into the pan. Let the tofu and carrots cook for 30 seconds, and then add in the coconut milk with the warm water. Gently scrape the bottom of the pan, to get any bits of ginger or garlic. Turn the heat down to medium-low and bring the curry to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes. 6. While your curry is simmering, heat a small saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the peanuts and roast until they are brown (3-4 minutes). Shake the pan occasionally to make sure they roast evenly. Set the peanuts aside in a small bowl.
7. Chop your condiments – the cilantro/coriander leaves and lime wedges. Place your peanuts, shallots, and garlic, in separate small bowls. Once the curry has been simmering for about 10 minutes and the carrots are softened, add in the baby bok choy, along with 1 tsp. red chilli powder, salt and juice of one lime. Grate 1” piece of ginger into the curry. 8. Add your noodles and gently ladle the curry on top. Let everything simmer for another 2 minutes, until the baby bok choy is tender, but still firm. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
9. Turn off the heat. Serve your bowl of curried noodles with your accompaniments: wedge of lemon, scallions, green/red chili, cilantro, peanuts, fried shallots, fried garlic, and egg.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s finally spring?