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Although we can see Spring in the near distance, August has provided us with some of the most bitterly cold days us Canberrans have seen this winter. Winter is going, hopefully soon, but in the meantime, here are a couple of heartwarming soups to warm the cockles of your souls. Or some other such winter idiom.

When trying to come up with interesting soup ideas, there are literally thousands of soups out there, I asked my hairdresser, Karissa, what soup did she love but never made herself? What was in her too hard basket? Laksa. Apparently laksa is one of those soups (more a massive meal in a soup bowl) that people love to eat, but are too afraid to make at home. Let’s be straight up here, I have enough in my two spice baskets, pantry and fridge to make laksa paste from scratch, but I don’t. I literally couldn’t be bothered. I’m too time poor (lazy) to make Asian pastes from scratch, so a jar is perfectly fine. There are some great jar pastes out there, most supermarkets now stock a big range of Asian food, and then there’s your local suburban Asian grocer, which to me is like a lolly shop, only for adults. I use the paste, but zoosh the dish up with fresh ingredients that form the base of a laksa paste.

So, yes, there are a lot of ingredients in a laksa, but they’re not hard to come by, and once you’ve made laksa, the leftover ingredients can be the base of just about any Asian recipe for the remainder of your week. And, who doesn’t love leftover laksa the next day?!?

Chicken Laksa

To feed 4 adults very comfortably

  • 2 chicken breasts, sliced thinly
  • Jar of laksa paste (some jars only require a Tb or so of paste due to the concentrated ingredients, it’s worth reading the label to see how much you need)
  • 2 pkts hokkien noodles
  • 2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 small brown onion
  • 3 or 4 kaffir lime leaves (available in the herb section of the supermarkets, in little plastic containers. These freeze beautifully for future use, and add a delicious lime flavour and aroma to any dish you add them to)
  • juice of one lime, and extra lime wedges for serving
  • 1 pkt beansprouts (these are usually found in the packet lettuce section of the supermarket)
  • bunch of coriander (use the tops for garnishing the soup, but don’t throw out the stems or the roots as they have most of the flavour in this herb and can be frozen for future use where coriander is an important ingredient)
  • 1 can of coconut cream
  • 1 pkt fried tofu (this is an optional extra, but in my opinion, it’s mandatory. I will eat all my non-tofu loving friend’s fried tofu and will order extra tofu in my laksa. They’re like little sponges of of exquisite flavour, just sucking up all that delicious soup)
  • 1 L of chicken stock
  • 1 TB fish sauce
  • a couple of red chilli’s for serving
  • 2 TB oil for frying

Blitz the fresh ginger, garlic cloves, onion and laksa paste in a little hand blender, if you have one. By all means use a mortar and pestle for authenticity, it’s just a little time consuming. Fry the paste ingredients for 5 minutes until the rawness has been cooked out. Add the chicken stock and let simmer for about 5 minutes. At this point I’ll add the coconut cream, after checking for spiciness, as all laksa pastes will vary in heat. Add the whole can if you like your soup a little milder, which my kids do, or add as much as you like to keep your soup hotter. Add the kaffir lime leaves and simmer for 10 minutes to infuse the flavours. Add the sliced chicken after 10 minutes and simmer until cooked. Squeeze in a generous amount of lime juice, and then check for seasoning, adding the fish sauce right at the end of the cooking process.

5 minutes before you’re ready to serve, empty the hokkien noodles into a bowl and pour over boiling water, drain after 5 minutes. The noodles don’t require cooking, but they do need to soften a little. When ready to serve, add noodles, a handful of beansprouts, a couple of pieces of tofu and a little coriander to each individuals bowl.

Pour generous ladlefuls of the soup and chicken into the bowls and serve with a bowl full of coriander, fresh lime, extra beansprouts and chilli on the side for people to help themselves. I’ve served this with a delightful Canberra Riesling from Gallaghers, which is a perfect foil for the spicy soup, clean and crisp, and delicious. You can buy this Riesling at BWS. Riesling is an excellent wine to drink with spicy Asian dishes.

Is there anything more warming in winter than a big hearty bowl of cauliflower soup? Not really, it’s like a big warm hug from the inside out. But then you add crispy chorizo and a little unctuous blue cheese, and you’ve got something on a totally different level. Look, I know blue cheese isn’t everyone’s cup of Earl Grey, but trust me, my man is not a fan of cheese anything, let alone blue, but he ate this with gusto, not even realising it had blue cheese in it. Give it a try. Or not.

Creamy cauliflower chorizo and cheese soup

Feeds 4 adults with big appetites

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 1 chorizo
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 1 onion
  • 1/4 c cream (optional)
  • 50 gms blue cheese (whatever you have on hand is fine)
  • 1 L chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 TB oil for frying

Slice the chorizo in half and then chop into small pieces, and fry with the oil until crispy. Remove the chorizo, but leave the oil in the pot, and drain on paper towel. Chop the garlic and onion finely and fry in the chorizo oil until tender, but not caramelised. Break up the cauliflower into florets and add to the pot, giving it a little fry and coating it in the lovely orange chorizo oils. Already there’s so much flavour in this soup. Add the chicken stock and simmer until the cauliflower is tender, should take around 20 minutes.

Take the soup off the heat and let it cool down a little before you blitz it, otherwise you risk 3rd degree burns if it splashes on you. At this stage check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to your taste, then add the blue cheese. It will melt into the soup, leaving just a trace of blue, a slight muskiness, a delicious savouriness against the smooth cauliflower. Blitz the soup until it’s the desired consistency you want. Add the cream at this stage. If you feel your soup is a little thick, either add more cream or a little milk. The flavour is pretty intense, you don’t need to worry about diluting it with extra liquid.

Serve your soup hot, with the crispy chorizo on top, a good crack of black pepper and some crusty pane di casa from Bakers Delight. To drink with this? It’s a pretty hearty white soup, with a lotta bang for your buck, so I’d probably go a Chardonnay. A local Chardonnay of course, try the Lerida Estate Chardonnay, big bold citrusy flavours, but still light enough to not overpower the soup.

Happy soup eating, Canberra. Bring on the sunshine!

The Food and Wine Marshall