Laksa is a traditional spicy noodle dish of Southeast Asia (especially Malaysia). It’s chile-rich and bright with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, but has plenty of coconut milk to temper the heat. In this version with crab, it becomes a one-bowl meal.
Soft-Shell Crab Laksa
For the crisp-fried shallots
- 1 large shallot, cut crosswise into thin rings
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup vegetable oil
For the laksa
- 6 oz. bean thread vermicelli noodles
- 6 medium cloves garlic
- 3 oz. (about 2) long red chiles, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro stems
- 2 lemongrass stems, white part only, thinly sliced
- 5 (single) fresh kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp. ground turmeric
- 3 14-oz. cans unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 Tbs. grated palm sugar (jaggery)
- 1/2 tsp. tamarind concentrate, optional
- 6 cleaned soft shell crabs (about 3-1/2 oz. each after cleaning)
- 3 Tbs. fish sauce
- 3 Tbs. fresh lime juice
- 1/4 napa cabbage, finely shredded (2 cups)
- 4 oz. firm tofu, diced into 3/4-inch cubes
- 1 handful of bean sprouts, trimmed
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 3 limes, halved
Fry the shallots
- Put the shallots in a wide bowl, add the flour, and toss to coat, separating the rings as you go. Put them in a sieve over the bowl and shake off the excess flour.
- Heat the oil in an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add the shallots in batches and fry until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain as fried. Set aside.
Make the laksa
- Soak the noodles in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes to soften.
- Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, process the garlic, chiles, cilantro stems, lemongrass, and lime leaves, and turmeric with 2 Tbs. water to make a paste, or pound using a mortar and pestle.
- Bring the coconut milk to a boil in a 6-quart pot over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Add the spice paste, palm sugar, and tamarind, if using, and stir well until the sugar is dissolved. Add the crab, bring back to a boil, then turn off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes, or until the crab is just cooked through (an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the crab should read 145°F).
- Add the fish sauce, lime juice, cabbage, and tofu. Turn the heat back on to medium-high and cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat.
- Divide the noodles and crab among four bowls, spoon over the sauce and garnish with the bean sprouts, herb leaves, and crisp-fried shallots. Serve with the lime halves.