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i sweat when the heat is on

Recipe: curry laksa

The heat is on. I believe they are going to be flirting with triple digits down on the flats (in Denver) soon. But it’s a dry heat. Whatever that means.

Actually, I know full well what it means. It means the difference between feeling hot and cranky (dry heat) and feeling homicidal (humid heat). There are places I have avoided visiting because everyone has warned me about the heat and humidity. Diane once told me that I should visit Vietnam. “Sounds great!” I said, “when are the cool months?” There was a long pause and Diane informed me that there aren’t any “cool” months, just hot and really hot months.


I am drawn to Southeast Asian food with its exotic ingredients, tropical influence, and spice. I love it. What intrigues me is how so many hot climate cuisines have so many spicy dishes. Sweat will pour from my brow when I indulge in a bowl of spicy noodles in winter. Imagine having a bowl of hot and spicy something or other in summer. That’s just Crazytown!

fish sauce, pepper, shallots, garlic, lemon grass, galangal, curry, turmeric, chiles

let’s get our spicy on

But you know what? It’s addictive. Spicy is addictive. Yes, even in summer. I’ll turn down a bowl of perfectly tender beef stew while we’re in the throes of summer, but I will crave curry laksa like nobody’s business. We used to enjoy a bowl of this spicy broth filled with noodles, shrimp, vegetables, and tofu puffs when we lived in Southern California and frequented wonderful ethnic restaurants. Which is why I had to learn to make my own now that we live in a bit of an Asian food vacuum. To quell the beast, you know. I am a noodle girl. In the past I would make laksa the cheater way. I would buy a jar of some spicy curry, add chicken broth, other ingredients, and call it good.

i like to add sprouts, tofu puffs, egg noodles, rice vermicelli, and shrimp

the spice paste in all its glory

But no longer! Making your own paste is so totally absolutely positively worth it. And it’s easy if you have something to blend the hell out of the spice paste ingredients. The tofu puffs are the shiznit and you really must include these. You can find them in Asian grocery stores – not the dense fried tofu cubes, but light and fluffy fried tofu puffs that squish like pillows. They soak up the liquid, full of savory goodness, and I dare say I love them as much as the noodles – maybe MORE? Intriguing!

pour coconut milk in with the paste

adding tofu puffs to the heady broth

I couldn’t recall if we ever had both egg and rice noodles in our laksa, but it turns out to be a terrific combination. And if you wanted to just use one kind of noodle, that’s perfectly fine too. Flexibility is key when the weather is hot. No one wants to overthink this. That’s why I omitted the chicken – too hot to deal with chicken and I wasn’t really in the mood for it. But shrimp? Gimme it.

yes, lovely shrimp, you are mine

ladle the broth and plenty of tofu puffs(!!)

Drizzle some coconut milk, garnish with lime and cilantro, and have a side of sambal (red chili paste) if you desire. It was plenty spicy for us without more chili paste. I was sweating bullets, but loving every moment of it. If you find the broth to be too spicy, you can dilute it with more chicken broth and/or coconut milk. Hi. My name is Jen. I am a spicy noodle soup addict. I live in Crazytown.

i can never say no to you!

Curry Laksa
[print recipe]
from New Asian Cuisine (now defunct)

1 lb. boneless chicken breast or thigh (I omitted)
1/2 lb. oysters (I omitted)
1 lb. shrimp (was 1/2 lb, but I doubled it since I omitted the chicken)

spice paste
10 dried red chilies (the little spicy kind)
10 shallots
2 cloves garlic
2 stalks lemongrass
2 tbsps fish sauce
1 tbsp mild curry powder
1-inch piece of galangal
1 tbsp dried turmeric powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil for frying

2 cups coconut milk, reserve 1/2 cup for garnish
4 cups of chicken broth
1 cup of water
12 fried tofu puffs
salt to taste (at least a few pinchfuls of salt)
6 oz. egg noodles
6 oz. rice vermicelli
1 cup mung bean sprouts
2 hard boiled eggs, quartered (optional, I omitted)
cilantro for garnish

If serving with chicken, steam or boil the chicken until cooked and cut into thick slices. Drain the oysters and refrigerate. If serving with shrimp, blanch the shrimp in boiling water, drain and set aside. Place all of the spice paste ingredients except for the oil in a food processor or blender and grind until paste-like. In a large heavy stock pot, heat the oil over medium high heat until it is hot. Stir in the spice paste and cook (keep stirring) for about 8 to 10 minutes until a red oil begins to separate from the paste. Add coconut milk, chicken broth, water, and tofu puffs to the pot. Stir it together and let it come to a simmer. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes. Salt to taste. In a separate pot, bring water to a boil for blanching the noodles. Blanch the rice vermicelli until tender, then remove from the water (but keep the water so you can blanch the egg noodles!). Do the same with the egg noodles. Now you can ditch the water.

Place some rice vermicelli and egg noodles in each bowl. Top with bean sprouts, chicken (if using), oysters or shrimp, and egg (if using). Ladle the laksa broth over the goodies and drizzle some coconut milk over the top. Garnish with cilantro and lime wedges.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

pressure cooker beef pho taiwanese beef noodle soup vietnamese grilled lemongrass pork (thit heo nuong xa) thai red curry with tofu and basil

24 nibbles at “i sweat when the heat is on”

  1. Caroline says:

    Hm, this looks delicious!
    I laughed at what you wrote about the heat because it’s exactly how I feel! I can take dry heat because in the shade, it’s always bearable but humid heat is a complete nightmare for me.
    I would LOVE to visit places like India, Thailand and Vietnam but I know I will suffer horribly from the humidity. I went to Brazil last year and even though the country is beautiful and people really friendly, I hated every minute of it because I literally felt like I was melting!
    When I booked my trip to Japan, I chose February just because I knew for sure that it wouldn’t be humid then! :)

  2. Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga says:

    Coconut milk, chilis, lemongrass, turmeric…oh I can taste it from here. And I want it!

    “The tofu puffs are the shiznit and you really must include these.” — Ok I have never even heard of those!!?? Where have I been living. All I know of are the dense cubes which is precisely NOT what I want. I want the puffs!

    Since yes, they clearly sound like the shiz!!

  3. Cooking with Michele says:

    One of the reasons these hot countries eat such spicy food is specifically that it makes you sweat, which in turn cools you down as the air hits you. Seems weird, but it works. I have no defense, however, for your tofu puff love affair!

  4. Erin says:

    Awesome!! I’m totally making this! Haven’t had it since I lived in Singapore…my friend and I would sit across the table from one another (at 11 years old) crying from the heat and loving every bite of this amazing concoction. Thanks so much for the recipe!

  5. Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence says:

    I’ve never tried tofu puffs. I’ll have to seek them out at my local Asian markets. They sound wonderful!

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Deeba says:

    This looks seriously good! Just back from Sydney where we had the most delicious Laksa curry {first time ever} and the men in the family are on my case to make some more. MUST make some soon. Brilliant post…love it when the heat is on!

  7. Cate says:

    If you stick to FAR north Vietnam it is actually kind of cool during the winter, but yeah most of Southeast Asia just has hot and hotter (which I adore).
    I need to make this for my mom – it’s her favorite. And if being a spicy noodle soup addict makes you a Crazytown resident, I’m right there with you.

  8. Susan says:

    I’ve never heard of tofu puffs. I adore Vietnamese food, and will definitely try to make this :)

  9. Jessica says:

    Cooking with Michelle is right – spicy foods are especially popular during hot months because they help you sweat, therefore cool down. In Korea they have special foods they eat on the “three hottest days of summer” – they are all either spicy or hot temperature.

  10. Allie says:

    First of all, YUM, and I miss those tofu puffs. Second of all, this is my first summer in Ithaca, after spending every other past summer in dry heat central of Arizona (110 degrees is a norm). The humidity is worse! It’s worse! There’s no AC in most places here, there’s no escaping the cloying humidity… rahhhh.

  11. Cooking Courses says:

    This looks fantastic – I going to give it a go this weekend, thanks for the recipe.

  12. Lee Chuah says:

    Jen, try mint instead of cilantro.

  13. Kate says:

    (Ohhhh! Bought those kind of tofu puffs thinking they were the kind for stuffing with rice.) Another wonderful recipe to try. Spicy hot soup in the summer? YES!

  14. Fiona says:

    Girl. That is amazing. I favorited it on Foodgawker before I realized it was from you. Also: two noodles? Crazytown!

    But I think this is the destiny toward which my Cuisinart mini-prep has been hurtling. And like Kate, I bought tofu puffs to use with rice. So I actually even have one of these ingredients in my house right now. One out of ten, but who’s counting?

  15. Shoshanna says:

    Hey Jen,

    In the instructions to this recipe, you wrote “Drain the oysters and refrigerate.” I’m really confused. I didn’t see oysters in the ingredients list. Should it be?

    Thanks! I’m looking forward to making it versus driving 30 min out to get a bowl of laksa all the time!

  16. Kimberly says:

    This looks delicious! Thanks, Jen.

  17. Sara says:

    First, this looks delicious and I want it in my stomach immediately. I have a question though, you say to reserve the noodle water in the directions – what for? No other pertinent instructions are given after that :)

  18. Cheryl says:

    Yes, I’m from Singapore and we eat hot&spicy food all the time!! We just love our spices :D It’s crazy to eat hot food in hot weather, but it’s totally worth the sweat and tears :))

  19. Cardamom junkie says:

    That looks so delicious. I love Laksa! I am from India and I can totally see how heat can be homicidal. Hotter the better…I mean the food, not weather.

  20. Agnes says:

    Ironically, spices only grow well in hot weather, especially the hot ones; I’ve tried to grow red pepper here in the Northern Hemisphere, but the peppers produced had no taste.

  21. Taylor says:

    Where specifically do you get your tofu puffs? Can I get them in Boulder?

  22. jenyu says:

    Cooking with Michele – I’m not sure I buy that because when I would sweat in Virginia summers, I did feel as if I was cooling down. I just felt like I was drowning!

    Erin – ha! That’s awesome :)

    Deeba – ooooh, lucky you – Sydney!!

    Cate – sweeeeet.

    Allie – I remember those Cornell days… ugh. That’s why I live here and not there :) You’ll be done soon!

    Lee Chuah – interesting. I think I will!

    Fiona – you rock, lady. And I love people who love nooooooodles :) xo

    Shoshanna – thanks for catching that! I didn’t use oysters and so left it out of the ingredients, but then it was in the instructions… anyway, consider them optional :)

    Sara – the noodle water is used to boil both kinds of noodles – that’s why it’s reserved. But I made it (hopefully) more clear in the instructions. Definitely not reserved for the broth.

    Cardamom junkie – I hear ya!

    Taylor – Yes, the Asian Seafood Market in Boulder carries tofu puffs (usually in the refrigerated section on the right as you walk in). But if you can’t find them, ask Maria.

  23. Vicky says:

    Sounds delicious – I absolutely love laksa but have never tried to make it with a spice paste from scratch. Not sure about finding the tofu puffs though — do you think the soup can be made without them?

  24. jenyu says:

    Vicky – certainly, you can make it without the tofu puffs, but if you can find an Asian grocery store, then definitely look for them.

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