This is lightly adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe for Pumpkin Laksa in his wonderful book Tender. It’s creamy and spicy and surprisingly easy, a deep bowl of comforting flavour. The bright colour of the squash- I used onion squash but any hard-skinned and firm-fleshed squash will do- contrasts with the mild herby green of the soup, making this dish a bright thing to break up January’s grey. It comes scattered with herbs and crispy shallots, so that it is fresh and textural and all around a pleasure. If you want an even easier dish, use premade laksa paste (or even green curry paste would do) and skip the shallots (though I highly recommend you include them if you can.) This soup is a feast for all the senses, and you can’t help but be cheered up when presented with it.
Serves 2 to 3; prep & cooking time: approximately 45 minutes
1/2 onion squash (or similar)
coriander, mint, and thai basil leaves (to garnish)
600ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 400ml tin coconut milk (I used Locavore’s award winning one, but any will do)
2 tablespoons fish sauce (or vegan seaweed-based alternative)
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
3-4 tablespoons sunflower, vegetable, or other flavourless oil
Juice of 1 lime
Dried noodles (I used mung bean vermicelli noodles, but rice sticks, egg noodles, or even ramen would work- whatever you fancy!)
For the curry paste (or substitute for two-three generous spoonfulls of premade laksa paste)
3-5 bird’s eye chillies
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
A generous thumb-measure of ginger (I have small thumbs and love ginger, so always use two thumbs’ worth)
2 stalks lemongrass
1 handful fresh coriander, leaves and stems both
1 handful thai basil leaves
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
First, skin the squash with a sharp knife. Sometimes it’s easier to do this after slicing it into wedges.
Cut the squash into chunks and steam. I used a microwave steamer, but you can steam the squash in a proper steam basket in the hob if you prefer. A steaming situation can also be made up with a large lidded pot and a plate- lots of options here. In any case, steam until the squash is soft and tender, but not mush.
Meanwhile, make the spice paste. It’s easy if you have a food processor: just cut the tops off the chillies, roughly chop the ginger and lemongrass, and blitz all the spice paste ingredients in the processor until a rough paste forms. If you don’t have a food processor, it’s time to get out your pestle & motar. Cut everything up fairly finely with a sharp knife, then grind away at them until you have a paste. It doesn’t need to be perfect. If you have neither, I would recommend buying ready-made laksa paste.
Fry the spice paste in a large saucepan for about a minute.
Add the coconut milk and stock, stirring, and bring to a boil.
Simmer for about ten minutes.
Meanwhile, slice the shallots as finely as you can (using a mandolin if you have one)
Pour the neutral oil into a large frying pan or wok, add the shallots, and place over a low heat. The shallots should be totally covered by oil- add more if they aren’t.
Fry the shallots gently for 10-15 minutes, stirring often with a spatula or tongs. They’re done when they’re all a lovely golden brown colour. Keep an eye on them as they burn very quickly- one moment they’re pale, the next they’re dark and bitter and no good.
When they’re ready, take them out of the oil with a slotted spoon or with tongs. Drain on some kitchen paper or a very clean tea-towel.
Add the squash, fish sauce, soy sauce, and lime juice to the soup. Let simmer for about 5-10 minutes
Meanwhile, prepare the noodles to the packet instructions
When the noodles are done, portion them out into deep bowls.
Ladle the soup over each bowl of noodles, then scatter with coriander leaves, mint leaves, thai basil leaves, and a generous handful of the crispy fried shallots. Have extra lime slices, fish sauce, herbs, and finely chopped chillies on the table so everyone can adjust their bowl to their taste.