Laksa is a dish of Peranakan origin. Peranakans are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled in the British archipelago - including Malaya (now Malaysia) and Singapore. Many of these Chinese immigrants married the local Malays and adopted the local way of living. Members of this hybrid community refer to themselves as Baba Nonya- Baba being the term for the males and Nonya for the females.
Apart from the architecture and food, even their clothing was locally influenced to evolve into their unique way of Peranakan attire. I can't write about Peranakans without mentioning their beautiful Sarong Kebaya and the intricate beaded slippers called Kasut Manek (See pictures above). Apparently, it takes 100 hours to finish one pair!! A true test of artistry and craftmanship.
From the Malay influence, a signature Nonya cuisine emerged using typical Malay spices like fiery red chilies, lemongrass, turmeric and shrimp paste etc. Nonya Laksa is a very popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia. It is cooked using special Laksa Beehoon simmered in a spicy coconut shrimp broth. It is usually served non-vegetarian using chicken, fish or prawns.
I have attempted the vegetarian version here using non-shrimp based curry and substituting tofus for the protein. And I have used reduced fat coconut milk to make it skinnier than the original version. The thought of using skim milk did cross my mind but sometimes its ok to be a little sinful, I guess :) I have not tried the actual Laksa so I am not sure about how this vegetarian version compares to it. But my helper who recently had her Laksa fix vouches that it is a close competition! Another challenge accepted and accomplished! Yay to me :)
Ingredients (serves 4 as a main meal)
Ingredients for Spice Paste (to blend)
1 thumb size turmeric rhizome
1 thumb size blue ginger (galangal)
2 tbsp roasted sesame seed paste
6 dried chillies, blanched in hot water for 30 mins till softened (or 3 tsp chilli paste)
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp canola oil
1 lemon grass
1 litre veg stock
400ml low fat coconut milk ( skim milk can be used as well)
1.5 tsps salt (adjust according to your preference)
1 tsp sugar
1 block of firm tofu, cut into small rectangles and shallow fried/airfried
2 cup beansprouts, blanched in hot water for 2 mins
2 packets of Laksa Beehoon, blanched in hot water for merely 10 secs (don't blanch for too long, it will turn mushy)
1/2 cup Laksa leaves, chopped fine
1 tsp sambal chilli
1)Get all the ingredients for the spice paste ready.
2) Grind to a smooth paste.
3) Add the canola oil to a soup pot and fry the blended spice paste and the lemongrass for 5-10 mins.
4) When the lovely aroma of the cooked spice paste fills your kitchen, add the veg stock and then the reduced fat coconut milk. Stir well to combine. Season with salt and sugar.
5) Add the tofu pieces and let the gravy simmer for 10 mins. (This is my own step as I thought that the tofu pieces will absorb the rich gravy and will taste yummy in the end. Usually it is just served on top of the dish just before serving.) In the meantime, blanch the beansprouts and chop the laksa leaves. Blanch the beehoon for no more than 10 secs. Remember the beehoon will also cook later in the hot gravy.
6) For the final steps, start assembling the ingredients. It is important to remember that Laksa must be assembled just before serving. Place the blanched beehoon first in a shallow bowl. Then top with the blanched beansprouts. (Apologies for the quality of my photos - it was difficult to get a nice shot with the sunrays streaming in through my kitchen windows.)
7) Scoop the still simmering gravy with tofu pieces over the beehoon and beansprouts.
8) Finally, garnish with the chopped laksa leaves and add a teaspoon of chilli sambal for that extra kick. Enjoy your first taste of Peranakan cuisine - vegetarian version ! [When I finished cooking Laksa yesterday, my first thought 'Is it really this easy and so straightforward?' I had always thought that Laksa must be a cumbersome time consuming dish. I was pleasantly surprised :) ]