A few years ago, I bought my first piece of art. To date, I’d decorated my walls with a tattered poster garnered during Study Abroad and a few other haphazardly framed (read: IKEA) mass-produced images. Wandering through San Francisco’s Renegade Craft Fair, I gazed past unapproachably priced macrame, rose gold everything and handcrafted/sustainable/American-made/whatever garments before setting eyes upon Melissa Holden’s stand, where “Noodle Girls” stood front and center. The minimalist and abstract depiction of two women slurping noodles represented two very important things in my life – female friendship and the superior food group of noodles. I had to have it.
Soon thereafter, I discovered New May Wah, a veritable noodle mecca and really a wonderland of all things Asian ingredients. This place is the size of a Safeway and boasts an entire wall (an ENTIRE WALL!) of fresh noodles. Rice, egg, udon, ramen, thick, thin, wavey, threadlike - if there’s a noodle you need, it’s a noodle they have. I’m committed to eating my way through the whole catalog, but the wide round rice noodles are a personal favorite. They’re light, slippery, chewy and very very slurpable. While I definitely would recommend finding an Asian grocery store to source this specific shape/size, any rice noodle will do the trick here.
Most laksa recipes (granted, the legit ones) have tons of ingredients and take loooong time. This adaptation is optimal for weeknight dinners or scratching the laksa itch without necessitating investing in a ton of ingredients you might not otherwise use regularly. All that being said, this recipe is pretty friggin’ delicious for how quick and easy it is. The secret is using flagrant amounts of fragrant ingredients and being a teeny bit patient to let them meld together to transform into something really special. Beyond flavor, it’s got serious texture game - chewy noodles weave through velvety broth, topped with lots of crunchy things. It’s got some heat (use less curry paste and sambal if you’re sensitive), delicate richness (coconut milk, you make everything better) and even some brightness with the chopped cilantro/jalapeño and squeeze of lime.
I enjoyed it as a quick weeknight meal and then again for a quick desk lunch, though beware of slurp splash. That’s all from this Noodle Girl. Slurp on!
Ingredients (serves 4)
½ yellow onion
2 inch knob of ginger
10 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons yellow curry paste
1 can coconut milk
1-2 cups water
1 tablespoon sambal oleek
1 package firm tofu
Fresh rice noodles
Few springs cilantro
⅓ cup roasted peanuts
4 cups fresh spinach
2 limes, cut in half
Fresh bean sprouts
Dice the onion, peel and finely chop the ginger and finely chop four cloves of garlic.
Head a couple glugs of canola oil in a heavy bottomed pot and when it starts to shimmer, add the onion, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring regularly, until onions are starting to become translucent and mixture is becoming fragrant. Add the curry paste and stir to integrate it.
Once mixture is very fragrant, add coconut milk, sambal oelek and water. Use more or less water depending on how soupy (versus saucy) you want the final product to be. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to a simmer and cover the pot. Let cook for about 20 minutes.
Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil. You’ll come back to this later.
Meanwhile, slice the shallots and remaining garlic cloves as thinly as possible. Heat a couple more glugs of oil in a skillet until very hot. Test the oil by dropping in a garlic slice. If it sizzles immediately, it’s ready. Add the shallots to the pan and spread them out so the slices have some personal space. Let cook for 30 seconds, then flip them over, wait 30 more seconds, and repeat until shallots are browned and crispy. Remove from pan and let cool on a paper towel. Repeat these steps with the garlic cloves. Do not discard oil.
Remove excess moisture from the tofu by gently squeezing it over the sink and dabbing with paper towels. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Cook over medium heat in remaining oil until pieces are golden brown all over. Remove from pan and set aside.
Chop up cilantro, jalapeno (discard the seeds) and peanuts. Combine and set aside as a topping.
Add spinach to the broth and stir to combine. Spinach will wilt quickly.
Add the rice noodles to the boiling water and cook until almost fully cooked. Pour into a colander and add noodles to broth.
Serve in large soup bowls and garnish with cilantro/jalapeño/peanut mixture, fried shallots and garlic, bean sprouts and fresh lime wedges.