Angee Leong and her husband, David Padget, live in Raytown, but as she was born and raised in Malaysia, her tropical, Southeast Asian heritage flavors all she does. Leong, a cook at a Lee’s Summit high school, once sold dumplings at local farmers markets and readily shares her delicious foods with family and friends. She has three adult children living in Malaysia and enjoys their visits.
Q: What do you enjoy about living in the heartland?
A: I was delighted to discover that the Kansas City area has a large, active and friendly group of Malaysians. I like the fellowship the group offers and since I like to cook, I enjoy sharing our traditional food at the local festivals and gatherings.
Q: What is Malaysia like and what has influenced the cuisine?
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A: Malaysia is in Southeast Asia, and the overall climate, all year long, is hot and humid, yet we serve steaming hot and spicy hot foods year-round.
The cuisine is a fusion of many cultures, and as the country was once a part of the ancient spice trade routes, many of the dishes feature spices, such as dried chili peppers, ginger and curries. Asian cooking is all about flavor, and that is especially true for the foods of Malaysia. And a colorful, beautiful presentation is particularly important.
Q: What is Malaysian Curry Laksa?
A: This curry dish is a signature dish of Malaysia, and it is served all year long, even on hot summer days, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It can be either a main dish or a snack.
Everyone in my country, of every ethnicity and culture, seems to enjoy serving a version of this flavorful and beautiful coconut milk-based soup. In the northern part of Malaysia this soup is often known as curry mee and is flavored with a fried chili paste, while in the central and southern part of Malaysia, curry laksa is thick and fiery.
As it is a noodle soup, where flavorful broth is poured over cooked noodles and then is topped with fresh ingredients, it may remind some people of ramen. The ingredients and toppings, such as bean sprouts, coconut milk, cucumbers, mint and lime, are fresh and colorful and balance the temperature and spiciness.
Q: Where do you purchase the spices and other specialty ingredients for this dish? Do you substitute some ingredients?
A: I purchase many of the ingredients, especially the spices and the tofu puffs, at Chinatown Food Market in the River Market area of Kansas City or at 888 International Market or Pan-Asia Market, both in Overland Park.
In Malaysia, the traditional curry laksa would have been made with cockles, a sweet, quarter-sized mollusk, but most people now substitute shrimp. The recipe I am sharing is written to cook chicken breasts, but when time is short you can substitute shredded rotisserie chicken.
Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore are cookbook authors and food consultants who make up The Electrified Cooks. They have published 11 cookbooks and thousands of recipes. They are members of Les Dames d’Escoffier and blog at pluggedintocooking.com. Email them at KCComeIntoMyKitchen@gmail.com.
Malaysian Curry Laksa (Curry Mee)
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 dried red chili peppers
1 stalk lemongrass, about 3 to 4 inches long
5 shallots, peeled and halved
3 cloves garlic, halved
1 (1 1/2 inch) piece ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup curry powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 bone-in chicken breast halves, skin removed
12 ounces fresh bean sprouts
6 ounces dried rice vermicelli (soak in warm water for 30 minutes to soften, drain)
12 ounces dried Asian egg noodles
8 ounces peeled, deveined medium or large shrimp
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
20 pieces tofu puffs, quartered (from an Asian market), optional
Salt, to taste
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into julienne strips
3 to 4 sprigs mint leaves, stems discarded,
1 lime, cut into wedges
Make the spice paste: Remove the seeds from the chili peppers and place the peppers in a small, deep bowl. Cover them with hot water and soak for about 30 minutes or until softened; drain.
Trim off the bottom of the lemongrass and discard any dry outer leaves.
Place the chili pepper, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, ginger and 1/4 cup water in a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into a bowl. Mix in the curry powder to form a thick paste. Set aside.
Make the soup: Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the spice paste and stir fry the spice paste until fragrant, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken breasts and cook about 3 minutes on each side, or until well browned.
Pour in 6 cups of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes or until the chicken is tender and fully cooked.
Fill a separate pot half full of water and heat until boiling. Add the bean sprouts to the boiling water and cook for 20 seconds. Remove the sprouts with a metal strainer and set the bean sprouts aside.
Add the rice vermicelli to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the vermicelli with a metal strainer and set aside.
Cook the egg noodles in the boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the noodles with metal strainer and set aside.
Remove the chicken breasts from the curry soup with tongs and set aside to cool slightly. When chicken is cool enough to handle, shred the meat and discard bones.
Lower shrimp into the curry soup with a metal strainer. Allow shrimp to cook for 3 to 4 minutes until shrimp curl and turn pink. Remove the shrimp with a metal strainer and set aside.
Pour the coconut milk into the soup. Add tofu puffs and season to taste with salt. Turn up the heat and bring the soup to a boil.
Place a portion of rice vermicelli, egg noodles, bean sprouts, some shredded chicken and shrimp in an individual serving bowl. Pour the curry soup over the noodles. Garnish with cucumber, mint leaves and lime wedge.