How do you sum up a Laksa for somebody who hasn’t tried it before? On the one hand it ticks lots of boxes that somehow bring to mind healthy thoughts: spicy; fresh-flavours; crunchy veg and soup. On the other hand it has that essential comfort-food ingredient carbohydrate (in the form of noodles), and is bathed in luscious, creamy coconut milk.
There is an interesting wikipedia page on laksa for those who like to know more about culinary traditions and history; apparently there are actually two types of laksa, curry laksa and assam laksa. I must admit that my recipe is a complete culinary hybrid with the coconut milk base of curry laksa and the sour notes of an assam laksa. The main inspiration for my recipe is in Jo Pratt’s lovely new (and surprisingly pink and girly) book, In the Mood for Food, with a few twists of my own inspired by health and storecupboard. It comes out just creamy enough to feel like a treat and has a great mix of textures. Sometimes I think it is just the small things that really make a difference, for example I’ve followed Jo’s tip to slice the prawns in half lengthways which means that you get a bit of prawn in nearly every mouthful.
Noodle soup dishes like Laksa and Miso soups are fantastic places to use up bits of leftover veg from the fridge (within reason, I suspect parsnip wouldn’t go well here). The original recipe had a couple of spring onions in it per person but given that all you have to do is chop them up and throw them in it’s a good opportunity to eat a bit more veg. You can put in as much or as little as you want but for this dish to count as one of your ‘five a day’ you want to include at least 80g of veg per person.
Something that this post made me think about that I’ve never really considered before is whether or not coconut counts towards your fruit and veg quota. The whole ‘what counts’ thing is essentially based on scientific consensus so there isn’t a definitive answer, but my hunch is that counting coconut flesh or coconut milk as a portion would be considered counter-productive because of its very high saturated fat content. There isn’t an official fruit and veg portions expert group to give a verdict on the matter but I did see that Sam, the Food Standards Agency’s nutritionist agrees with me on this (coconut apparently is considered more akin to a nut than a fruit). In this laksa the effects of the saturated fat in the coconut milk are tempered by diluting it with stock and adding some richness back in the form of peanut butter. The final result is not low-fat but the balance of fats in the dish are improved by these two adjustments. Nuts are full of monounsatured fats and replacing saturated fat with these monounsaturates can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
This laksa is prawn-based but feel free to change this around, perhaps swopping for some tofu or cooked chicken. Shopping for seafood and prawns in particular seems to be an ethical minefield these days. The trawling method of catching prawns causes damage to the sea bed and causes a shocking amount of extra sea life to be trawled up with the prawns then discarded. Sadly the alternative, prawn farming (generally happening in developing countries such as Honduras, Indonesia and Guatemala), is causing the destruction of huge tracts of mangrove forest (a vital part of the earth’s ecosystem) and is generally reliant on pesticides and antibiotics. In reality the situation is even more complicated than this when you try to take into account all of the human, health and environmental concerns (it takes me ages to decide which prawns to buy in the supermarket!). In terms of sensible suggestions for what to buy in the UK Rose Prince in her Savvy Shopper column suggests looking out for North Atlantic prawns or for those produced as part of the Ethical Trade Initiative.
Enough of the serious stuff. For me this recipe is a perfect supper for staying in at the weekend and watching a movie. Beware though, for a TV dinner this is supremely messy to eat (if you are as inept with chopsticks as I am you’ll miss half the movie chasing the noodles). It’s not cheating to have a spoon to hand for the soupy bits at the end.
Recipe for Lighter Prawn Laksa
2 blocks or about 170g of noodles (egg, rice or soba would all work)
150g cooked prawns (halved lengthways)
200ml coconut milk (reduced fat)
500ml hot vegetable stock
1tbsp crunchy peanut butter (the unsweetened organic sort)
2tsp lime juice
1tsp thai red curry paste
1 tsp thai fish sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
About 200g finely sliced crunchy green veg (e.g pak choi, sugar snap peas, mange tout, french beans)
2 spring onions (slice into three lengthways and then into long thin ribbons)
A handful of roughly chopped fresh coriander (leaves and stalks)
Cook the noodles according to instructions and rinse with cold water to stop them cooking. Divide the noodles equally between two deep bowls.
Gently warm the coconut milk in the pan, adding the curry paste and peanut butter. Stir these together until these three ingredients have mixed together nicely.
Add the stock, fish sauce, ginger and prawns and warm for another five minutes (keeping it hot but not boiling). Then add the green veg and cook for another five minutes or so until the veg have cooked a little but are still crunchy (this will depend on what you used and how finely you chopped it).
Add the remaining few ingredients (the lime juice, spring onion and coriander) and pour over the noodles in the bowls.
Serve with chopsticks and spoons.