Assam Laksa

These chiles will add a deep, nutty flavor to dishes and are great to use in salsas and sauces. It is a medium-hot chile that is good in soups, stews, sauces and sausage.

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For Spice Paste:
10-12 dried red chiles, soaked in warm water until softened, then deseeded and roughly chopped
6 small fresh red chiles, deseeded and roughly chopped
8 French shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, white parts only, roughly sliced
5 cm piece of galagal
1 1/2 tsp belacan powder or 1 tsp belacan paste
1 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil

For the stock:
2 whole mackerel fish (about 800 gr)
2.5 liters of water
Couple of extra fish heads or bones (optional, but makes fish flavor stronger)

For the Soup:
100 gr seedless tamarind pulp
125 ml hot water
5 pieces of dried tamarin peel or dried tamarind skin
5 large sprigs of polygonum odoratum (Laksa leaf/Vietnamese coriander)
1 Tbsp salt (adjust to taste)
3 Tbsp sugar (adjust to taste)
1 tsp fish sauce
2-3 Tbsp prawn paste or hae ko (adjust to taste)

For the bowls:
500-750 g of Laifen or any thick laksa rice noodles, cooked
2 LEbanese cucumbers, julienned
1 large red onion, very thinly sliced
Pineapple, finely chopped
Fresh red chiles, deseeded and sliced
Mint leaves
Polygonum leaves
Prawn paste or hae ko, whisked with a little boiling water to a slightly runny consistency

Optional garnish:
Wild ginger bud, finely chopped (also known as ginger flower, torch ginger, or bunga kantan)


For the paste:
With a stick blender, food processor or mortar and pestle, ground all the spice ingredients until it turns to a paste. If you’re making this in advance, store it in a clean jar in the fridge until ready to use.

For the soup:
Clean, gut and scale your mackerel and rinse off the blood (you can get your fish monger to do this for you but make sure you keep the heads). Bring the 2.5 litres of water to a boil, then carefully lower the fish and the extra fish heads/bones if you’re using.

Cook for 10 minutes then remove the whole mackerel (leave the other bones in the pot). Set aside the mackerels to cool and reduce the heat of the stock to low.

Add the warm water to the tamarind pulp and leave to stand for a few minutes. Squeeze the tamarind pulp to break it up and extract the juice. Keep squeezing until all the pulp has broken up. Strain and set aside. For a lazier option, use a stick blender to pulverise the water and pulp together before adding to the fish stock.

Add the spice paste, tamarind juice, tamarind peel and polygonum leaves and simmer on low for 40 minutes. Season with salt, sugar, fish sauce and prawn paste to taste.

Meanwhile, when the mackerel has cooled enough, use your hands to remove the flesh from the fish and set aside. Be sure to remove all the bones, brown bits and skin. Flake and set aside.

Strain the stock and check your seasonings with salt and sugar (it should be balanced with salty, sour and sweet). Add about a third of the flaked mackerel to the soup and use the rest to garnish the bowls. For a thicker soup, add more fish flakes.

Fill bowls with cooked noodles and ladle hot soup over it. Garnish with cucumber, onions, pineapple, chile, mint leaves and serve immediately with prawn paste to the side.