[Photograph: Kate Williams]

In Lonely Planet's The World's Best Spicy Food, writer Tienlon Ho describes laksa lemak as "a reassuring hug followed by a pinch in the cheek; it's creamy and smooth with a lingering spice kick." Indeed, the seafood-rich coconut and noodle soup is a bowl of warm, gently spicy comfort. Ho's recipe also includes plenty of Southeast Asian funk—dried shrimp, fish cakes, and sambal belacan all make an appearance. But from the first slurp, one tastes not a cacophony of ingredients, but a rounded, fragrant, and transportive bowl of soup.

Why I picked this recipe: I'll dive into a bowl of laksa any day.

What worked: The soup requires a lot of hands-on stirring time, but it's worth it.

What didn't: I thought the soup needed a generous squeeze of lime juice right before serving—a problem that was easily solved.

Suggested tweaks: This laksa calls for a number of hard-to-find ingredients. If you're close to a large Asian grocery store, you should be able to find everything. If not, here's my best guess for substitutions: in place of the galangal, use more ginger; in place of the fresh turmeric, use 1 teaspoon dried; in place of the dried shrimp, use fish sauce to taste; in place of laksa leaves, use equal parts mint and cilantro; in place of fish cakes, use extra shrimp; in place of cockles, use small clams; in place of sambal belacan, use a mix of fish sauce and chili-garlic sauce.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The World's Best Spicy Food to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, KQED's Bay Area Bites, SFoodie, and Berkeleyside NOSH. She blogs at Cooking Wolves. Follow her @KateHWiliams.

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