1 kg/2 lb firm whole white fish, including head
2 rounded tablespoons dried tamarind
6-8 large dried red chillies
2 stems lemon grass
2.5 cm/1 in slice fresh turmeric
or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon chopped galangal in brine
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried shrimp paste
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons palm or brown sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
750 g/1 1/2 lb fresh rice noodles
or 250 g/8 oz dried rice vermicelli
1 onion, sliced thinly
6 slices half-ripe pineapple
1 seedless cucumber cut in strips
good handful fresh laksa leaves
2 torch ginger flower buds
Clean and scale fish and simmer in 1 litre (2 pints) lightly salted water for 15 minutes or until fish is cooked. Strain, reserving stock.
Discard head and remove flesh from bones, discarding skin. Keep half of the fish in large pieces and flake the other half. Soak tamarind in 3 cups hot water, kneading it in the water to dissolve as much of the pulp as possible. Strain, discarding seeds and fibres. Break off stems of chillies and discard. Shake out and discard seeds and soak chillies in 1 cup hot water.
Slice lemon grass finely. If using fresh turmeric, scrape off skin and chop roughly. In a blender combine lemon grass, turmeric, galangal, onions, soaked chillies and shrimp paste. Add some of the water in which chillies soaked to facilitate blending to a purée.
Heat oil in a saucepan and fry purée over low heat, stirring, until cooked and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add tamarind liquid, bring to simmering point and let it cook for 5 minutes. Stir in sugar, salt and fish stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in flaked fish and fish pieces.
Pour boiling water over fresh rice noodles in a colander, or cook dried rice vermicelli in boiling water for 3 minutes or until tender. Drain well. Divide noodles among individual bowls, top with sliced onion, pieces of pineapple and cucumber, pour on simmering soup and sprinkle with shredded laksa leaves and finely sliced ginger flowers.
Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)