I thought I’d better post one last healthy recipe before Simmer slides down the same slippery December slope my kitchen has long since tumbled down. Suffice to say I brought home 5 pounds of butter along with 3 dozen eggs yesterday, and I’ve been elbow deep in toffee, gingerbread, speculaas, and candied nuts ever since. I make all this under the clever guise of gift giving, but if you’re anything like me this time of year, you end up eating at least half of whatever you make to give away, which is roughly equal to your weight in baked goods. I can go days eating only cookies and clementines without complaint. It’s dangerous.
In an effort to reacquaint my table with those colorful and often leafy items know as vegetables (buried and forgotten in the refrigerator these days), I made a fragrant Laksa for dinner last week. Laksa, I learned, is a Malaysian spicy coconut-based noodle soup, closely related to Thai coconut curries. The recipe here is loosely based on one from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, which caught my eye after my friends Ali and Dave told me about a Laksa they ate on a recent trip to Australia. A perfect meal this time of year, the soup is richly warming without being heavy or overly filling. Most Laksas are made with seafood or vegetables like eggplant and bean sprouts, but the flavors here – ginger, garlic, cilantro, lemon, and coconut – are beautiful and unexpected paired with winter squash. I used butternut here, but any squash or pumpkin you have on hand will work nicely. Makes one large pot of soup, enough to serve 4 as a main meal.
For the Laksa
- 10oz peeled and cubed butternut squash (one small squash)
- 1 medium green chili
- 2 small cloves of garlic
- a one inch square piece of ginger
- a small handful of cilantro
- ½ tsp grated lemon zest
- ½ tsp grated lime zest
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 12oz can coconut milk
- ½ pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 tbsp Thai fish sauce or to taste (substitute soy sauce for a vegetarian version)
- The juice of half a lemon
- Salt to taste
- ½ lb Asian style noodles, cooked and drained
- Plenty of chopped fresh cilantro and mint for garnish
Steam the squash until it’s tender, but not falling apart. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, combine the chili, garlic, ginger, cilantro, lemon zest, and lime zest in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well combined. Drizzle in the olive oil and continue processing until you have a smooth paste.
Set a medium soup pot over medium heat and add the paste. Stirring constantly, sauté 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the stock, coconut milk, tomatoes, fish sauce, and lemon juice. Cook until the tomatoes are tender and falling apart, about 10 minutes. Add the cooked squash, mashing some into the broth and leaving most in whole pieces. Simmer an additional 2 minutes and then taste for seasoning, adding salt and/or more lemon juice as needed. Stir some chopped fresh cilantro and mint into the broth, reserving some for topping.
Distribute the noodles between 4 soup bowls, top with the soup and garnish with more fresh chopped herbs.