Last week, there was a excellent and timely article in the Food section of the New York Times on Asian chicken soups. The article highlights the curry coconut milk soups of Southeast Asia. These soups go by varying names; Curry laksa, Curry mee, la sa ga, khao poon in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.
I have been studying and becoming familiar with the food in Malaysia in preparation of our trip. I remember the wonderful food I had in Singapore several years ago and our introduction to Indonesian food when we lived in the Netherlands. The food in Malaysia is somewhat similar. I found the book "Exotic Kitchens of Malaysia" by Copeland Marks at the library. It has been a great introduction to the dishes and ingredients of Malaysian cooking. There are several dishes that are also found in Indonesia such as Nasi Goreng (similar to fried rice).
The New York Times article caught my eye. I looked at the recipe for Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Soup (Curry Mee). It sounded excellent although it uses ingredients that are more Thai than Malaysian. Southeast Asian cooking uses a pungent fish or shrimp product to provide a salty overtone similar to anchovy paste is used in Southern Italian cooking. It provides a salty depth. Thai and Vietnamese use fish sauce. Malaysian cooking uses belacan. It was used in several recipes in the Exotic Kitchens cookbook so I recently went looking for it. I found it in the Indonesian section of Ranch 99. This recipe uses fish sauce which is easier to find.
Most of the ingredients are available at Asian grocers in large cities. The SE Asian curry spice mix could be a little hard to find. The Kaffir lime leaves are option and could be a little hard to come by. They are worth finding since they do add a nice citrus note to the curry.
The noodles were another challenging ingredient. I stood for a long time in front of the wide variety of dried rice and wheat noodles at Ranch 99. Most of the packages were in Thai or Vietnamese. I pulled out the glasses and started looking at each of the packages for the minute English information. I finally found rice vermicelli. These are very thin rice noodles as compared with the thicker rice noodles for Phat Thai. But you can use any type of Asian noodle or even a dried Italian pasta such as angel hair or thicker. I thought the rice vermicelli would be too thin since it is similar to angel hair but it was great in the soup. I think that a yellow Chinese noodle is more traditional but I'd recommend using some type of rice noodle. Another place to look is in your produce area or where you find tofu in your grocer. Some store here on the west coast will have fresh Chinese or Japanese udon noodles in the product area. Both of these noodles will also work.
Once you have all the ingredients, the soup goes together very quickly. It is very spicy and rich but excellent. Sambal (chili paste) is extremely hot - use with caution. I made the soup with shrimp instead of the chicken but either would be great.
Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Soup (Curry Mee)
From New York Times.
Serving: 4 main courses
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced lemon grass or pale green cilantro roots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dark red chili paste, such as sambal, more for serving
3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken thigh or breast meat, thinly sliced and cut into bite-size pieces (I substituted about 1/2 pound of prawns)
3 tablespoons curry powder, preferably Malaysian, Thai or Vietnamese
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar, more to taste
About 12 kaffir lime leaves or curry leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)
8 ounces dried thin rice noodles (bun or vermicelli), or other Asian noodles such as udon or lai fun
Salt to taste
1 cup bean sprouts
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 scallions, cut into thin rings
2 shallots, thinly sliced and deep fried in vegetable oil until brown (optional)
Quartered limes for serving.
1. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion, ginger and lemon grass and cook, stirring, until softened, about 10 minutes. Do not brown; reduce heat if necessary. Add garlic and chili paste and stir until fragrant. Raise heat, add chicken and stir-fry one minute. Add curry powder and paprika and stir to coat. Then add coconut milk, half-and-half, chicken stock, turmeric, fish sauce, sugar and lime or curry leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 7 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook rice noodles in boiling water according to package directions (about 4 minutes). Rinse and drain. (If using prawns, add them to the coconut broth just as you start to cook the noodles)
3. Taste broth and adjust seasonings with salt and sugar. Divide noodles into large soup bowls. Bring broth to a boil, then ladle over noodles. Top with bean sprouts, cilantro, scallions and fried shallots, if using. Pass limes and sambal at the table.
Lemongrass, Cilantro, Coconut Milk, Rice Vermillcelli, Malaysian Curry Powder, Sambal, Galangal (ginger), Lime leaves.