Recipe: Nyonya Laksa Lemak

OMG, this tastes so good! TRY IT!

Anyways, Nyonya laksa lemak is a Nyonya (look up “Nyonya” on Wikipedia to know who the Nyonya people are if you don’t) noodle soup with LOTS of flavor, very complex flavor blend. It tastes amazing! It uses many Southeast Asian herbs like garlic, shallots, turmeric, galangal, red chilies, etc. into an EXTREMELY TASTY broth, and then coconut milk is added, making it even more tasty with so many great layers of flavor! If you haven’t tried it and you like Asian food, you MUST TRY IT!

All the herbs in it actually helped cure my cold! Really!

Let’s look at the ingredients. If you aren’t familiar with Southeast Asian cooking, many of these ingredients may seem confusing, but I’ll explain where to find them.

1. Garlic and Shallots – You should have no problem finding. Asian shallots are smaller than Western shallots, so use less amount if using Western shallots. No precise amount because that’s how Asian cooking is 🙂 Definitely do not skip! Unless you are Indian and abstain from garlic and onion. In that case, maybe add a little asafoetida/hing to the oil right before adding the paste.

2. Lemongrass – They sell this at nom-Asian stores now too, not just Asian stores! Please don’t skip – these are very important! To prepare, remove the outer tough layers (for me, there are usually 2). Cut off an inch at the bottom until you see purple rings, then really thinly slice until you see no more purple rings. The tops can be used for lemongrass tea. Just cut tops into smaller pieces and lightly crush, then boil with a liter of water, strain, and enjoy. You can use the pieces one more time for a weaker tea or discard.

3. Belacan – When walking somewhere in the Asian store’s aisles, you may smell a horrid smell. Tada! You found the shrimp paste section. Made of salted, fermented, and dried krill/really tiny shrimp. There are Malaysian/Indonesian versions (belacan) and Thai versions (kapi). Use the belacan for this recipe. Slice a piece off and toast both sides without oil in a pan. Warning: the smell. Once it smells enough, remove to a small plate to cool down (or just put it into the blender). If you are a vegetarian/vegan/allergic/disgusted by the idea/smell of shrimp paste, use a tsp of vegemite or marmite. Many Americans think vegemite smells terrible. Go open the shrimp paste and it’s a new experience! 😉

4. Turmeric and Galangal – These are rhizomes like ginger. Please don’t mindlessly think that they taste the same as ginger, though! These are found near the herbs in the refrigerated vegetable section of Asian stores. Galangal can also be found frozen and imported from Thailand. These are much cheaper and actually have better flavor! The only problem is cutting the frozen galangal. I warn you not to chop your hand off! The turmeric is very important for its color. If you can’t get it, use turmeric powder, maybe 1/2 a tbsp or so. Galangal is very important for its distinct flavor. When tasting the soup, I could taste the galangal flavor. It isn’t overpowering, but great for the flavor combination. If you really can’t find it, skip it but you will lose flavor.

5. Candlenuts – These are hard to find. You can substitute macadamia nuts or Brazil nuts (use 1/2 the amount of Brazil nuts because they are big) for similar results. I store them in the freezer because they can go rancid with high oil content.

6. Dried Red Chilies – For a very mildly spicy soup, I use 5 dried California chilies with 1/2 of the seeds removed. Depending on the type of chili, it will have different spiciness. You can use 1/2 fresh and 1/2 dried chilies, or all dried chilies. For a fresh and dry combination of mildly spicy soup, I would use California dried chiles and Fresno fresh chilies, deseeded. For a spicier one, use cayenne peppers.

7. Dried Shrimp – If you are vegetarian, using vegemite/marmite instead of the shrimp paste, skip these. Otherwise, they add great flavors. Find them in Chinese grocery stores.

8. Coconut Milk – I use the green carton of Aroy-D coconut milk, containing 1 cup of coconut milk without any preservatives. I find it very convenient to use in recipes requiring 1 cup coconut milk, like this one.

9. Daun Kesum – The scientific name is Persicaria odorata. The Vietnamese name is rau răm. In English, it can be called Vietnamese coriander. The Malaysian name is daun kesum or daun kesom. It is important for laksa, and characterizes the flavor of laksa. It can be found with the herbs in the Asian store, but if you can’t find it, you must skip it. The laksa will be missing the flavor, but still really, really delicious.

10. Tofu Puffs – These are fried tofu squares and taste so delicious when they soak up the soup YUMMY!!!! They can also be used to make a vegetarian Thai curry that I will share a recipe sometime.

11. Fish Balls – These are made of fish paste formed into balls and cooked. You can actually make them yourself, but it’s a lot of work, hehe.

12. Calamansi Juice – In the USA, use lime or lemon juice instead because calamansi is very hard to find. You can grow it, but lime/lemon works great.

13. 2 Kinds of Noodles – Rice vermicelli and egg noodles are used traditionally. Actually, if you don’t use these kinds of noodles, it’s okay. Almost any noodles taste delicious in laksa. I’ve had it with Chinese wheat noodles (no egg), which aren’t crispy like egg noodles, but still work great. If you are gluten free, using all rice vermicelli is also delicious. I think even pasta would be good in this!

Yay! Now once you have everything, let’s get cooking!

My recipe is adapted from Nyonya Cooking, a really amazing source of Nyonya recipe videos on YouTube. Please check out her channel! 🙂 Also, please watch her video for a visual guide. I change parts of the recipe, but it is still extremely helpful to watch.

Okay, so here is the ingredient list: Serves around 4 people

3-4 stalks lemongrass, prepared as described above

15 grams belacan (if you can’t measure, just slice off a little), toasted as described above, or a tsp or so of vegetamite/marmite

8 shallots (Asian size), peeled and roughly chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

15 grams turmeric, peeled and roughly chopped

15 grams galangal, peeled and roughly chopped

5 dried California chilies, deseeded partially cut up and soaked in hot water for some time, strained and reserve the water to include in the broth, or 3 of the soaked California chilies plus 3 fresh red Fresno chilies, deseeded or partially deseeded (both make a very mildly spicy laksa. If you like a spicier one, use cayenne peppers!)

6 candlenuts/macadamia nuts or 3-4 Brazil nuts

20 grams dried shrimps, soaked in hot water for half an hour, strained and reserve the water to add. skip if vegetarian/vegan/allergic etc.

1/4 cup cooking oil

1 liter chicken broth, shrimp(prawn)/fish broth (If you use good fresh prawns for the laksa, remove shells and heads and saute in a tbsp oil oil until red, then add water and simmer half an hour, then strain), a combination, or vegetable broth if vegetarian (I used chicken broth. Actually a tbsp of Better Than Bouillon paste, hehe. It’s so convenient and cheaper than chicken broth cartons, and it tastes like real chicken broth instead of bouillon broth!)

1 cup coconut milk

salt and sugar to taste (I actually used palm sugar. Go easy on salt if broth is salty!!!)

400 grams fresh prawns

tofu puffs

fish balls

2 hard boiled eggs, but in half

sambal (optional if you want more spicy! Please watch the video on Nyonya Cooking to see how to make it :))

chifonnaded (fine strips) daun kesum leaves for garnish

julienned cucumber for garnish

noodles of choice (see the ingredients explanations), the serving amounts for 4 people


1. Add all the ingredients from lemongrass to dried shrimp into a blender with a little water. Blend well. This is really hard on regular blenders. Maybe try a food processor. It will be a little coarse, but may still work. I recommend the Blendtec, what I use now! It costs a lot!!! But less at Costco, hehe. And actually less than the Vitamix, so I recommend it more. Please read other people’s reviews online to see. I add everything with like 1/4 cup water and then blend on HIGH speed for the 50 seconds and it becomes really smooth.

2. Heat a pot and add 1/4 cup oil. Add the paste and saute until darker color. It will be somewhat drier. You don’t need to saute way too much.

3. Add the stock (and soaking liquids for chilies and dried shrimp) and coconut milk.

4. Bring to a boil and taste. Add salt and sugar to your taste. Be careful to not add too much salt. I accidentally added a little too much and it became a little too salty, but still good.

5. Simmer the soup while cooking the noodles. Also cook the shrimp and blanch tofu puffs to remove oil. Add tofu puffs and fish balls to the soup after blanching. I cooked the shrimp in the soup too, but you can also do separately.

6. Assemble! First put noodles in bowls. Ladle soup with tofu puffs, fish balls, and shrimp. Garnish with cucumber and daun kesum and hard boiled egg. Put some sambal in a soup spoon if you wish. Lastly squeeze calamansi/lime/lemon juice on top. Enjoy!

This tastes so AMAZING!!! Really great! So many complex layers of flavors! YUMMY! And it was so flavorful with so many herbs, I think it helped cure my cold, hehe! 🙂 PLEASE TRY!


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