Nice ‘n’ Spicy

Baby it’s cold outside! A quick to prepare soup, full of warming spices and filling noodles is just the ticket.

Put very simply Laksa is a coconut milk based curry noodle soup,  with either chicken or prawns, originating in the Malaysia/Indonesia/Singapore area. Not so simple is finding an authentic recipe. Thanks to big name chef Jamie Oliver, who I personally find rather annoying, nearly every blogger and recipe sharing site (on the first few search pages) merely trots out his rather apochryphal recipe involving butternut squash. I’m sure it’s very nice, but it’s not Laksa! And as for the asparagus, ewww! Also not a traditional Indonesian vegetable as far as I’m aware, do correct me if I’m wrong!

My version was put together after comparing several recipes and choosing what sounded like the best bits from each one. Rice noodles are the most traditional but feel free to use your prefered variety. If you don’t have fish sauce just use more soy sauce, and if you can’t get hold of lime leaves – don’t worry about it. I used a mixture of white fish and prawns because me and the boys don’t eat anything with an exoskeleton and Mr Crumbs won’t eat fish! Alternatively, use 2-4 chicken portions instead.

Laksa serves 4

  • ½ a bunch of coriander
  • 2 peeled cloves garlic
  • 2 peeled and chopped onions
  • a 4cm chunk of peeled ginger root
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1tsp each of ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric and chilli flakes
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 fillets of white fish, cut into chunks
  • 200g raw shelled prawns
  • ½ litre fish or chicken stock
  • 1 tin of coconut milk
  • ½ tbsp each soy sauce and fish sauce
  • juice of half a lime (or lemon)
  • enough rice noodles for your family

Whizz the coriander, stalks included, plus the garlic, onions and ginger, in a blender until pureed. You could use a pestle and mortar if you like, but the fumes really get to the eyes!

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Gently fry the puree for 3 mins. Add the powdered spices, chilli flakes and lime leaves and fry for another 2 mins.

Add the stock, coconut milk, soy sauce, fish sauce, fish and prawns. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for 10-15 mins or until the fish is cooked through. Add the lime juice, then taste for seasoning. If it could do with more salt add a little more fish and/or soy sauce.

While the soup is still cooking, follow the instructions on the noodle packet to cook the noodles. It’s best to cook them separately because they give off a large amount of starch, which would give the soup a slightly “slimey” feel in the mouth!

Divide the noodle between bowls and ladle the soup on top. I serve prawn crackers as a side dish.

It is not certain wher the word Laksa comes from, suggestions include the Cantonese for “spicy sand” and the Hokkien for “dirty”.

Autumn Musing and Soup

Personally I’m glad when the season changes, bringing saner temperatures, colourful leaves and an abundant harvest. It feels good to wear boots, scarves and gloves again and to have an excuse to indulge in the rich and hearty cold weather foods that seem a little out of place during the summer. What could be better than a brisk walk along the canal, followed by a steaming mug of hot chocolate and the expectation of a huge bowl of beef stew and dumplings with plenty of Worcester sauce?

I’m looking forward to sharing some rather filling and indulgent recipes over the coming weeks! Let’s start with a family favourite – Tortellini Soup, actually Small Boy doesn’t like it, but everyone else does. I can’t remember where it came from, maybe the Sainsbury’s Magazine? Anyway, depending on how big a serving, you could enjoy it as a light or a main meal. Because of the pasta you don’t really need bread with it. Vegetarian if you choose a meat free pasta.

Tortellini Soup   serves 4-6

  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 1 litre veg or chicken stock (from a cube is fine)
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes or passata
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 180g frozen or fresh peas
  • 250g pack of tortellini or other filled pasta
  • 1 tbsp chopped basil (optional)

Finely dice the carrots and onion. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the carrots and onion for 5 mins.

Add the stock and tomatoes (I always whizz the tomatoes in a food processor to break them down a little) add the garlic either chopped or crushed. Simmer until the carrots are almost soft (aroung 10 to 15 mins, sometimes longer). Add the peas and simmer until the veg is all cooked through.

Add the pasta and cook for the length of time indicated on the packet, you may need to add a little extra water at this point. When the pasta is cooked through –  stir in the basil and serve.



Beautiful Soup Of The Month

Alice in Wonderland has to be one of the best loved children’s books ever written. Everybody loves Alice, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and the March Hare. Maybe you have a soft spot for the Dormouse or Bill the lizard? Maybe you’re such a big fan that you’re now into weird cosplay (it happens)? Personally, I always loved the part with the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. Where other children were into dragons, I always wanted a Gryphon. Part eagle, part lion, that’s pretty darn cool if you ask me!

As a small child, the Mock Turtle was a confusing creature – why did he have a calf’s head? Why the obsession with soup? Well…

…the book was published in 1865, a time when class and status were everything. Turtle soup was the trendy starter of choice at snobby dinner parties. According to Mrs Beeton, the green fat was of particular relish to epicures (eww!). The upper middle class types wanted to imitate the toffs, the middle class types wanted to imitate the upper middle class types, and so on. At the prohibitive cost of 2s per pound, not everybody could afford fresh, or even tinned turtle. What to do then? Veal meatballs were already part of the recipe, so it was a case of keeping the flavourings exactly as they were, but upping the veal content using a calf’s head. You can see what Lewis Carrol did there, right?

The thought of skinning and boiling up a calf’s head is only marginally less icky and gross than the thought of eating turtle with it’s lovely squishy, green fat (eww again!) Instead my dears, I bring you a new monthly feature (maybe): Soup Of The Month, guaranteed no brains or endangered sealife.

Spiced Sweetcorn soup

Based on a recipe from Delicious Magazine. Serves 4.

  • 4 large corn cobs
  • 6 slices of streaky bacon
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion
  • ½ to 1tsp of chilli flakes or similar (I used Korean red pepper powder)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 litre of chicken stock (from a stock cube is fine)
  • ½ oz (15g) butter

Cube the potatoes, slice the onion and crush the garlic. Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off three of the corn cobs.

In a large saucepan, heat a little olive oil and soften the onion until lightly golden round the edges. Add the crushed garlic and chilli flakes and cook for a minute more.

Add the potatoes, bay leaves and chicken stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 mins or until the potato is soft.

Meanwhile, grill the bacon until it is nice and crispy. Chop into smallish pieces and put to one side. Cut the kernels off the remaining corn cob. In a small frying pan, melt the butter and fry the remaining corn kernels until golden and caramelised.

Blend the soup till smooth (removing the bay leaves first). Divide between bowls and sprinkle with the chopped bacon and caramelised corn. Serve with a good fresh crusty bread. I used Tesco’s corn bread, it seemed fitting.


Lewis Carroll was a total grammar nazi, going so far as to insist that can’t should be written as ca’n’t, won’t as wo’n’t etc, as these are (in theory) more “correct”.