Laksa: Ticket to Flavourtown!

I cannot say enough positive things about Laksa, despite only have a vague idea of what it is or where originated. According to this mildly confusing Wikipedia article, vagueness is a characteristic of Laksa, being something that seems to be a mish mash recipe from various cultures.

What I can tell you with certainty is this: it’s a soup, it’s a snap to make and it’s absolutely delicious!

JD and I were lucky enough to be introduced to this culinary wonder by our friends Ashley and John, recent transplants to our city and dedicated Sunday dinner attendees. Ashley gave me the essential directions and ingredients and I went to our local Asian market to procure what I needed. As Ashley so aptly put it “It’s one of those things where you buy the ingredients but then you have them so they just live in your fridge until you’re ready to make it again”.

Laksa is something you can make to  suit your own tastes: milder, spicier, adding in the  veggies and protein that you want. Shrimp? Sure! Noodles? Why not! It’s very flexible – however note that it not necessarily suitable for vegetarians – the Laksa paste I bought had shrimp listed in the ingredients.

One administrative item before we get on to the good part – there is now a “Print & PDF” button at the bottom of my posts. This nifty feature allows you to print posts and recipes (there a button you can check to remove images) or save them as .pdf files on your computer. Handy! I am testing this option so if there is something more convenient that you can suggest, please do so.

For the Laksa that JD and I ate, I decided on onions, mushrooms, and some leftover chicken. So slice a large onion, add to your large soup pot with some oil and cook over medium heat until onion softens, about 5 minutes. (On that note, I feel that I post so many onion photos that the alternate title for this blog could be “photos of sliced onions by Julia”.)

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Go ahead and slice some mushrooms –  I used basic white mushrooms but you could use any variety. Add them to the onions and cook, stirring, 2-3 more minutes. Giving them time to simmer in the soup is key according to Ashley: “it makes them into mushroomy balls of laksa flavoured deliciousness”.

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Add  a couple of tablespoons of black bean paste

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Add a teaspoon (to start) of  ground chilies in oil with garlic – the bottle of which is apparently impossible to photograph (apologies!)

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Add your Laksa paste – I could only find this in a single-pot making packet but Ashley assures me that a well-stocked Asian market will have jars of Laksa paste. If you have a packet, add it all. If you have a jar, start with 3-4 tbsp and add more to taste, if needed. She also suggests a 2:1 ratio of Laksa paste to black bean paste.

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Add one can of coconut milk and about 3 cups chicken broth

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Bring soup to a simmer, cover, and continue simmering for about 15 minutes until vegetables are soft and flavours have blended

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Add your protein of choice – I used leftover chicken from a roasted chicken I made earlier in the week but shrimp or tofu would also be great

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Ashley says “You want that delicious chili oil action happening”, as shown below

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Then you want to prep your herbs – this really takes the soup to the next level. Some delicious cilantro and thai basil

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Add your chopped cilantro and thai basil to your soup bowls with some fresh lime wedges

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If you’re crazy like we are, you can also add some additional chili paste to your soup bowl (also pour yourself a big glass of water)

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Ladle Laksa into bowls and enjoy!

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Laksa

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 large Onion, sliced thinly

2 cloves Garlic, minced (I forgot both the garlic and ginger and almost didn’t notice, so you can omit if you wish)

1 tsp Ginger, minced

1/2 lb Mushrooms, sliced

1 packet Laksa paste* or 3-4 TBSP of Laksa paste from a jar

2 tsp Ground chili with fried garlic paste* (less if you like things less spicy, omit if you want it mild)

2 TBSP Black bean paste* (also known as black bean sauce)

1 can Coconut milk

3 cups Chicken broth

2 cups Chicken, cooked and shredded, or protein of your choice

Chopped cilantro

Chopped thai basil

Fresh lime

* These ingredients can be picked up at your local Asian market.

  1. Slice onion and add to your large soup pot with some oil and cook over medium heat until onion softens, about 5 minutes.

  2. Slice your mushrooms, mince ginger and garlic and add to pot. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes.

  3. Add black bean paste, chili paste, Laksa paste, coconut milk, and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking, covered, for about 15 minutes until flavours have combined. Add chicken and simmer 5 more minutes.

  4. Chop herbs and add to soup bowls. Add fresh lime wedges to bowl or serve alongside.

  5. Ladle soup into bowls and enjoy.

Smoky Chorizo & Cabbage Soup

Despite the heat, I have been reluctant to let go of some of the principal comforts of winter, including soup and sleeping with a giant duvet. Cabbage soup typically gets a bad rap but I love the combination of hearty and healthy. This is a riff on another version I make often and it is  so much more than the sum of its parts. Plus, the addition of celeriac (aka celery root) gives it something special since it is a lighter, less starchy root with a vague but yummy flavour of celery salt. This is a lovely, smoky soup that is very hearty but won’t weigh you down. Especially since you have all those springtime things to do while your bum print fades from the couch until winter comes round again…

By the way, JD ate three bowls in a row so you know this must pass muster. Alright, on to the directions:

First chop a couple of slice of smoked bacon. I use applewood smoked, 3 thick slices will do nicely.

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Then grab yourself a small spicy chorizo (you may use mild if you prefer)chorizo

  Chop your chorizo into coins, like soDSC_8574

And cook over medium-high heat, so that bacon starts to crisp and the chorizo starts to release its delicious red oil

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Add your old friends onion and garlicDSC_8576

Now you can either slice a small cabbage, or half of a large one (so pretty)DSC_8579

Cabbage roughly slicedDSC_8582

Add to your pot and continue to cook on medium heat. It looks daunting at first, but I assure you that it will cook downDSC_8584

This is a celery root. It is ugly but delicious. I cut away the tops and sides and peel any leftover bits with a vegetable peeler.DSC_8587

Roughly chop your celery root into chunksDSC_8591

Add two or three fresh tomatoes, choppedDSC_8595

Add some tomato paste and about 4.5 cups of chicken broth, you want the cabbage to be nearly covered.

This is my trick for tomato paste: buy a large can, brush an ice cube tray with olive oil or spray with cooking spray, fill cubes with tomato paste, freeze, and pop out of tray and store in a plastic bag in the freezer. Saves so much time and effort when you need to add tomato paste to a recipe.

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So easy, no?

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Once you’ve added your celery root, tomatoes, tomato paste, and chicken broth, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until cabbage has shrunk significantlyDSC_8599

Taste and adjust seasoning. At this point you may also need to add a little more water or stock, depending on how soupy you like it. I added pepper, a pinch of salt, some red pepper flakes. Spanish smoked paprika would also be delicious if you have it on hand. Let simmer another 10 minutes and serve.DSC_8605

Smoky Chorizo and Cabbage Soup

Serves 4 with leftovers

Ingredients

1 small hot chorizo sausage, sliced into coins

3-4 slices of bacon, preferably a smoked variety, chopped

1 medium onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small cabbage,  core removed and sliced (or 1/2 a large)

4.5 cups chicken broth

1 small celery root (aka celeriac), peeled and chopped into chunks

2-3 Roma or vine tomatoes, chopped

2 TBSP tomato paste

Salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes, to taste

  1. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook bacon and chorizo until bacon starts to get crispy and chorizo releases its delicious red oil, about 5 minute. If you have more than 2 or 3 tbsp of fat in your pan, remove excess with a spoon.

  2. Add sliced onion and minced garlic, lower heat to medium, and continue to cook while onion softens and garlic becomes aromatic, 5 minutes more.

  3. Add sliced cabbage and stir gently to coat. While you prep the rest of your ingredients, stir cabbage periodically as it cooks down.

  4. Add celery root, chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and broth to the pot so that cabbage is nearly covered. Cover and allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes until cabbage has greatly shrunk in size and is very soft.

  5. Taste soup and adjust seasonings – you may need a pinch of salt, some pepper, and some hot pepper flakes. Allow to simmer 10 more minutes so that flavours combine.

  6. Serve and enjoy

    More to come!
    Julia

Chicken Soup with Chicken-Chickpea Dumplings

Sometimes you want to be comforted by your meals. In winter, this often means reaching for another serving of a cheesy casserole or curling up on a stormy day with a big plate of nachos – and there is nothing wrong with that, on occasion.

Making this recipe only further convinced me that there are gratifying, stomach-filling recipes that fit the comfort bill without necessarily bogging you down under thousands of calories.

I came across this recipe purely by accident and found it to be both delicious and very filling – not to mention being egg free, dairy free, low carb and just good for what ails you! It was so filling, in fact, that I could not finished the bowl above. I fed this soup to quite a few friends who dropped by for a visit and 4 dumplings were an average sized portion, 6 for a very hungry person.

Try not to skip the fresh herbs, they really elevate the soup to another level.

Oh, and my recipe is loosely based on this one. I actually found the dumplings to be a bit too dense for my taste. The recipe below will have my adjustments so they are a little more tender.

To make the dumplings, you will need chickpea flour. Before you groan about hunting down an unusual ingredient, let me tell you: chickpea flour is super easy to make. You simply whizz dried chickpeas in your food processor/blender/coffee grinder/whatever. I used a magic bullet and it worked a treat, my only complaint being that it was so loud!  Dried chickpeas can be found at your local grocery store, health food store or bulk store.

Chicken and Chickpea Dumplings (Gundi) in Chicken Soup

Adapted from Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks

Dumplings:

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1.5 cups chickpea flour 
  • 2 medium yellow onions, grated
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • About 1 teaspoon salt
  • About 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • About 2 tablespoons water

Soup:

  •  2 quarts/boxes chicken broth
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground tumeric
  • Salt to taste
  • Assorted chopped fresh herbs: any combination of basil, parsley and cilantro

1. In a medium bowl, combine all the meatball ingredients, adding enough water to form a mixture that is smooth but not sticky. Refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours. Using moistened hands, shape into smooth 1-inch balls, about the size of golf balls.

2. In a large pot, add the olivie oil, sliced onions and celerey and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the chicken broth to  lemon juice, turmeric, and salt and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the gundi, cover, and simmer until the gundi are tender, about 40 minutes.

3. Add some chopped fresh herbs to your soup bowl. Spoon dumplings and broth over herbs and serve.

Add chickpea flour (easy to make at home!) and  grated onions

Spices and fresh herbs flavour the dumplings and the soup

Add your ground chicken and blend thoroughly with your impeccably clean hands

Make sure your mixture is well blended – it will be dense

Form your chilled mixture into balls – ready for a long simmer in hot broth

Add your fresh herbs and serve

Quick chicken soup!

Yesterday, the remains of a roasted chicken that I had made for supper a few days’ prior was giving me the eye from its corner of the fridge. As it was raining and miserable, chicken soup was a natural fate for leftovers.

JD and I are eating fewer and fewer processed foods these days, especially things that are high in refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, etc.). Contrary to what you would think, this actually leaves me feeling more satisfied with less cravings for sweets or otherwise. That is what led me to make a chicken soup with egg noodles made of actual eggs. I was concerned it would turn out strange and  be badly received but JD said he loved it and “rationed his noodles” because he enjoyed them so much.

Chicken soup wants to get cozy with you

Very quick chicken soup with ‘egg noodles’

  • 2.5 cups cooked chicken, chopped into bite-size pieces (can use leftovers or a store bought rotisserie bird, skin removed)
  • 1.5  boxes low sodium chicken stock
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb turnip or rutabaga, peeled and cut into cubes (I cheated and used the pre-cut and washed variety you can now buy at the grocery store)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp dried dill, divided
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, grated or minced
  • fresh pepper
  1. In a large pot over medium heat, add olive oil, onions, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add chicken stock, turnip, ginger, pepper and half of the dill. Simmer until turnip is cooked but not mushy, about 10-15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make your noodles. Head a non-stick skilled over medium-low heat. Beat both eggs, all of the parsley and half of the dill together. When skillet is hot, spray with non stick spray and pour half the egg mixture in to coat. Cook about 1 minute until set and flip to cook the other side. Repeat. You will have two thin discs of cooked egg. When cool, slice cooked egg discs into thin strips or ‘noodles’.
  4. Add chicken and ‘noodles’ to pot and continue to simmer until heated through. Taste soup to adjust for seasoning and serve.

 

A photo tutorial and the original recipe for egg noodles can be found here. I used only 2 eggs since I was not making a huge amount of soup. It was just right.