Cooking with… Shirley of Køkken69

As you know, I’m always searching for vegetarian versions of hawker center classics to reproduce in my own kitchen. I’ve always wanted to sample some laksa. Rice noodles? Coconut milk? I’m sold! Well, Shirley of Køkken69 to the rescue. Shirley, a chemist by training, draws upon her lab experiences and applies them to her cooking adventures.

Her gorgeous blog is a treasure trove of easy recipes and stunning photographs. Check out her Durian Snowskin Mooncake, Ondeh Ondeh (Onde Onde): Sweet Potato Glutinous Rice Balls, and Hokkaido Milk Loaf (Hokkaido Milk Bread).

And now, over to Shirley…

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Laksa, is a spicy noodle dish that is popular in Singapore and Malaysia. Believed to have Peranakan roots, there are two primary versions: the coconut milk based curry laksa (featured here) and the more tangy Penang Assam laksa.

Made with a melange of beautiful spices and spiked with the lovely umami flavour of belachan (dried shrimp paste), the stock is enriched with coconut milk and served with thick rice vermicelli noodles, tofu, hardboiled eggs, fish cake, cockles, and bean sprouts.

So how does one turn this mouth watering dish vegetarian? Obviously the fish cake and cockles have to go but that is not a problem at all. I am equally happy if my favourite laksa is served only with tofu, hardboiled eggs, and bean sprouts. My main concern is the stock. Omitting the belachan and the dried shrimps basically removes an important component of the dish.

The only way I know how to inject the flavour of the sea into a vegetarian dish is through a konbu (Japanese seaweed) stock. So, that was what I decided to do. Instead of adding just plain water, I added konbu stock. Additionally, to re-create the texture of the minced dried shrimp particles in the stock, I added dried soy crumbles (available at tofu stalls/Chinese vegetarian stalls).

Verdict? The foundation of the spices was there to provide integrity to the dish. To those with a less sensitive palate, it tastes quite similar to the original version. However, I was able to pick up the slightly sharp raw taste of the spices. With the umami flavour of the belachan missing, the seasoning had to rely solely on the balance between salt and sugar, rendering the overall flavour somewhat flatter than the original version.

Nevertheless, I am quite confident that this will be well received by my vegetarian friends. Hope you will enjoy the recipe!

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Vegetarian Laksa

Konbu Stock
Water, 900 mL
Dried konbu, 12 cm piece

Laksa Rempah (Spice paste)
Lemongrass, 1 piece
Galanga, 20g
Tumeric, 10g
Shallots, 120g
Candle nut, 18g
Dried chili, 7 (soaked in hot water for 5 mins and seeds removed)
Coriander powder, 1 tbsp
Thick coconut cream, 150ml
Coconut milk, 600ml

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Chili Oil
Dried chilies, 10 (cut into sections)
Oil, 150ml

Garnishes and Noodles
Tofu puffs (taupok), 6 pieces (sliced)
Bean sprouts, 300g
Dried soy crumbles, 50g (soak in hot water to soften and mince in a blender)
Laksa leaves, 10 leaves, chopped finely
Fresh rice vermicelli, 450g (blanched for 2 mins in boiling water)
Quail’s eggs, 12 (cooked and peeled)

Seasoning
Salt, 1 tbsp
Sugar, 1 tbsp

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1. To prepare the stock, place konbu and water in a pot and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Place the pot over medium heat until small bubbles appear on the konbu. Remove the konbu from the water and set aside stock for use later.
2. Blend all ingredients, except for the coconut milk, for rempah to form a paste. Set aside.
3. To create the chili oil, heat a wok until very hot. Add oil, lower the heat, and add the dried chilies. Fry until fragrant and chilies turn dark. Using a slotted spoon, remove dried chili from oil.
4. Continue to heat chili oil over medium heat and add the rempah paste prepared in step (2). Fry rempah over low to medium heat for 10 minutes. Water can be sprinkled over the frying rempah to prevent rempah from burning.
5. The rempah should turn quite dark in colour. Add thick coconut cream to rempah in the wok and continue to fry until well blended. Turn up heat and add konbu stock from step (1). Stir and heat to bring the stock back to boil. Add thin coconut milk and simmer.
6. Add salt and sugar. Add minced dried soy crumbles and tofu puffs. Simmer for another 5 minutes. If stock becomes too thick, add a little more water.
7. Spoon stock over rice vermicelli and garnish with tofu puff, bean sprouts, quail’s eggs, and laksa leaves.

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I welcome recipes from Singapore and beyond for Cooking with…. Priority is given to original recipes that have not yet appeared online. Please indicate if your recipe has already appeared online or has been submitted elsewhere. Please email all recipes, including high-quality .jpgs, to me with the subject line ‘Recipes.’

(Additional credits: Photographs by Shirley of Køkken69; geometric watercolor pattern via August Empress.)

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