Escape to South East Asia with our Prawn Laksa

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Escape to South East Asia with our Prawn Laksa

Prawn laksa with Thai basil and lime, photo taken from Leiths How to Cook

Get ready for your tastebuds to be transported with our take on the popular Peranakan dish.


Serves 4

For the spice paste
4cm piece of fresh root ginger
3 shallots
3 garlic cloves
3 lemongrass stalks
4 - 6 red chillies
1 tsp shrimp paste
4 tbsp peanut or sunflower oil
Handful of coriander leaves
1 - 1.5 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp caster sugar
3 tbsp tamarind paste

For the laksa
170g rice noodles, 3 - 4mm wide
2 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
16 raw tiger prawns, shell on
600ml chicken and veal stock or fish stock
2 tsp nam pla (fish sauce)
200 - 300ml coconut milk
1 lime
Handful of coriander
Handful of Thai basil

For the garnishes
Half a cucumber
1 lime
Bean sprouts
Thai basil leaves
Chilli oil


  1. To make the spice paste, peel and finely chop the ginger, shallots and garlic, and finely chop the lemongrass and chillies. Put into a blender or small food processor bowl with the shrimp paste and oil, and blend until smooth. Roughly chop the coriander and add to the mixture with the turmeric, sugar and tamarind paste; blend until combined. The spice paste can be made a few days in advance, but the chilli heat tends to increase with keeping, so take care when using it.
  2. Cook the rice noodles according to the packet instructions, or soak in boiling water for 5–10 minutes until tender. Drain and refresh in cold water, drain again and toss a little of the oil through them to prevent them from sticking together.
  3. To prepare the garnishes, halve the cucumber lengthways and scoop out the seeds, then cut into julienne. Cut the lime into wedges. Set aside.
  4. Prepare the prawns; they can be peeled before or after cooking, depending on whether you want everyone to peel their own.
  5. Heat the 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the spice paste and cook for 3–4 minutes, stirring until just beginning to brown, which allows the flavours to develop.
  6. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and taste. It can be reduced a little for a stronger flavour, if you like (bearing in mind that the coconut milk will dilute the flavour and make it more rounded). Stir through the nam pla and coconut milk.
  7. Just before serving, add the prawns and heat gently. Simmer for 3–4 minutes, or until the prawns are just cooked (they will change from grey to pink and curl up). Meanwhile, juice the lime and coarsely chop the coriander and Thai basil.
  8. Season the broth with lime juice and add the chopped herbs. If it needs more saltiness, add a little more nam pla. Divide the noodles between 4 bowls, pour over the hot broth and top with the bean sprouts, Thai basil leaves and cucumber. Serve with a wedge of lime and drizzle over chilli oil for more heat.


The quantities of ingredients in the spice paste can be altered according to taste. However, the spice paste and the finished laksa should be a balanced combination of chilli heat, sourness, sweetness and saltiness.


Meat laksa: Substitute lean, tender meat, such as a thinly sliced chicken breast or 225 g thinly sliced pork tenderloin, for the prawns and simmer the laksa until the meat is cooked through.

Vegetarian laksa: Omit the shrimp paste and fish sauce, seasoning with extra salt. Use vegetable stock. Replace the prawns with vegetables and cook the laksa until they are tender. Try adding 85 g each mangetout and green beans a few minutes before the end of the cooking time. Or add ½ small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded, cut into 2 cm dice and par-boiled or roasted. Or add 1 small aubergine, cut into 2 cm dice and sautéed in sunflower oil until soft.

An easy way to peel ginger...

Scrape the fine papery skin with a teaspoon; it will come away easily. A teaspoon makes it easier to access awkward bits too, so you don’t waste much.

Lily Grouse

Author: Lily Grouse

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