I used to follow a liberal version of the paleo diet, and it was very successful for some time. But I got sick of carb-shaming and I don’t think any diet that excludes anything is one I can get on board with. Everything in moderation and eating as many whole foods as I can is for me, the best way forward. I feel there’s no use trying to eat paleo versions of old favourites like spaghetti made with courgette or pizza made with chestnut flour. Most of the time it doesn’t work and when there are so many other delicious, inherently paleo dishes around, why bother faking it? A good example is Malaysian laksa, a curry-based soup made with coconut milk and loads of vegetables. This is a great meal that contains no dairy, no grains, no sugars and it can be tailored to vegetarians too.
My sister recommended I try Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute squash laksa, but when I looked over the recipe, my experience with Asian cooking told me it might need some flavour boosts. So I had a look at Ottolenghi’s laksa, as he regularly submits vegetarian recipes for The Guardian. Somewhere between the two, I managed to create my own recipe that can be made using mostly found ingredients, and a few specialist ones. The secret is in the spice paste. Ottolenghi says this is the key for good flavour and that you should saute it over a low heat for at least 20 minutes so I think as long as you do that, the recipe will survive one or two missed ingredients. I know it’s much easier to open a jar, but I was extremely satisfied that I managed to create such an authentic flavour all by myself.
Note: Coconut milk is super high in fat, so if you want to switch to a lower fat alternative to coconut milk, I now use Light Evaporated Milk and you can even get light evaporated coconut milk in some stores, which would probably be even better.
Ingredients (serves 2):
For the paste
1 tsp tumeric powder
2 tsp curry powder
1 red onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped
1 tsp lemongrass (from a jar is probably easiest)
1 tbsp sambal oelek (or chilli paste, or any other chilli-based ingredient)
Handful of corriander stems and roots, chopped
Zest of one lime or 4 kaffir lime leaves (shredded)
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
For the soup
1 tbsp fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1 can coconut milk
Mixed chopped vegetables including butternut squash, snow peas or green beans, red pepper, broccoli, carrot, baby spinach leaves, asparagus, bean sprouts
Either a carton, or cube/pod of chicken (or vegetable) stock and about 2 cups of water
Optional: chicken, prawns or tofu for protein.
Put all the ingredients up to and including the oil into a mini processor, or as I did, a jug (and a stick blender). Wizz till it forms a paste.
Saute the paste in some oil in a sauce pan for 5-10 minutes on low heat.
Add any meat and brown it off in the paste.
Pour in stock and any large pieces of vegetable like squash. Simmer on low for half an hour.
Add coconut milk and the rest of the vegetables and simmer for another ten minutes.
Finish off by seasoning with some fish sauce and lime juice.