The book:  At Home with Umami, by Laura Santtini (Ryland Peters & Small, $24.95)

The recipe:  Sunshine laksa with crab & snow peas

Why I tried itLaksa is not something one finds in New England.  It’s a Southeast Asian dish that’s about as easy to pin down as a curry, which is to say not at all.  There are probably as many laksas as there are cooks.  It could be a coconut-based curry soup, or a sour one, and it could have nearly any kind of protein imaginable; it probably has noodles.  There isn’t a whole lot of orthodoxy.  And yet for much of this year I, stranded in the laksa-less Northeast, endured mouthwatering laksa narratives from a friend in Australia without ever considering I might just make it myself.  At Home with Umami (rather brilliant concept for a book) put an end to this extended phase of laksa-related self-pity.

Why I loved it: I’m really not sure millet in place of noodles would be sanctioned in the Holy Book of Laksa, but no matter.  You’ve only to look at the list of ingredients for the laksa paste to know that a bowl of highly concentrated delicious lies ahead – shallots, lemongrass, shrimp paste, ginger, curry…need I go on?  I challenge anyone to maintain their reserve as the aromatics hit the pan.  The only real difficulty here is what to do when it’s all over and, in your foolishness, you didn’t think to make twice the amount of laksa paste with an eye to tomorrow.

(And if you want noodles, by all means use noodles.  I applied the laksa paste to some fresh thick udon one night and I honestly thought I’d died and gone to Elysium, my sins improbably forgiven.)

Estimated preparation time:  45 minutes, if you can find the shrimp paste.


Photo credit: Photography by Con Poulos


200 g/1 cup millet
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 x 400-ml/14-oz. cans coconut milk
500 ml/2 cups chicken stock
500 ml/2 cups water
2 tablespoons fish sauce
5 kaffir lime leaves
1 lemongrass stalk, crushed
freshly squeezed juice of 3 limes
250 g/9 oz. white crab meat
200 g/3 small handfuls mangetout/snow peas, cut on the diagonal into 1-cm/1⁄2-in pieces
4 spring onions/scallions, finely chopped

2 red chillies/chiles, deseeded and finely chopped
1 handful of coriander/ cilantro, chopped
lime wedges

3 shallots, cut in half 3 garlic cloves
3 red chillies/chiles, (1 with the seeds left in and 2 deseeded; or leave more with seeds in if you want it hotter)
2 lemongrass stalks, chopped
2.5-cm/1-in. square piece of ginger, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons any nut or seed butter
2 teaspoons shrimp paste
2 teaspoons curry powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil


Place all the laksa paste ingredients in a small food processor and blitz to a paste.

Place the millet in 2 cups of water, bring to a boil and cook till most of the liquid’s been absorbed and the millet is tender, about 10-15 minutes. Set aside and leave covered to stay warm.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a high heat. Add the laksa paste and cook for 1 minute to release all the aromatics.

Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, water, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass to the pot and bring to the boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice.

Take some warm serving bowls and in the base put 1 1⁄2 tablespoons of millet, 1 1⁄2 tablespoons crab meat, one-quarter of the snow peas and some scallions and ladle over the piping hot broth. Serve with the red chiles, cilantro and lime wedges.

From At Home with Umami by Laura Santtini
Ryland Peters & Small, $24.95;