Thursday, July 26, 2012

Recipes from Cambodia

Hey look at that. Nearly one year of doing this and I’m finally on the letter “C.”

I have to say, I have been having some great luck this month with TbS meals. I didn’t think I was going to be able to top Burma’s duck and potato curry or those delicious Burmese rolls any time soon, but Cambodia surprised me. They have some good food in Cambodia.

I didn’t expect startlingly good food in Cambodia for reasons that weren’t entirely fair. I am finding through the course of doing my research and cooking these meals that my knowledge of the world is sadly limited to the stuff that makes it into the news, which is why the word “Cambodia” instantly conjured up negative images in my head. The sum total of what I know about Cambodia is that in the 1970s a brutal regime called the “Khmer Rouge” seized control of the country, and set about destroying anything and everything associated with western culture, including libraries, money, western medicine, schools and western-style commerce. Almost everyone in the country who was a part of the intellectual elite was murdered, and everyone else was evacuated from urban areas and forced into agricultural labor camps. The regime, it turns out, thought that an 11th century model of agriculture was in the best interests of the population. The “best interests” of the population apparently also included killing two million people in various colorful ways including but not limited to starvation, overwork, execution and disease. Have you heard the term “Killing Fields?” That’s where it came from.

So I went into this with the unfair subconscious idea that a History of Evil also must mean Bad Food. It doesn’t, and in all fairness Cambodia’s terrible past is behind it now (the country now has a constitutional monarchy not too unlike what they have in the United Kingdom). Which brings me back to the food.

I had a really hard time choosing recipes. They all looked good, and I downloaded and saved a lot more of them than I needed for this entry. Most of them (and all those I actually settled on) came from a site called Khmer Krom Recipes, which is run by Cambodian Mylinh Nakry.

Here’s my menu:

Sach Moan Cari Ang Chomkak
(Grilled Curry Chicken on a Stick)
  • 1 lb chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 2 tbsp minced lemon grass (I grated mine)
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tbsp honey or light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (to prevent drying)
Accompanied by:

Tirk Salouk Swai
(Mango Salsa)

  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 green onion,chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 hot chili peppers, chopped 

Bai Krob Chanti
(Cinnamon Cashew Rice)

  • 1 cup uncooked Jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup roasted cashews
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Dash cinnamon
And finally for dessert:

Num Taloak
(Persimmon Coffee Cake)

  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4 persimmons, peeled, seeded and mashed
  • 6 oz walnuts
  • 2 tbsp powered sugar
A happy bonus to all this good food is that it was really easy to cook, which is often not true of meals that have complex flavors.

I started with the chicken, since it needs to be marinated for a few hours. Here are the instructions:

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Place the chicken strips on skewers and pour the rest of the marinade over. Cook on a grill over low heat until the chicken is golden brown all over (I just put mine under the broiler. They really do need an open flame.) Serve with mango salsa on the side.

Which brings me to the mango salsa:

Put all the ingredients in a blender and pulse until creamy (alternately, you can also just mix the chopped ingredients together in a bowl for a chunky salsa, but I liked the creamier version).

I said it was easy, right?

Now on to the Num Taloak (and no, the fact that the Khmer word for cake is “num” was not lost on me).

First preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Then oil a cake pan (I used butter) and sprinkle a little bit of flour on the bottom.

Mix the eggs with the sugar and melted butter. Keep mixing until creamy. It helps if you have a six-year-old doing it for you.

Now add the salt, baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla extract and flour. Finally add the persimmon.

When it is mixed well, add the walnuts.

Transfer the mixture to your prepared cake pan and back for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Now I should note, I had to bake mine a whole lot longer than 25 minutes (it was probably more like an hour) but my oven is weird and unpredictable. And even though the toothpick technically came out clean, the cake did not seem at all cooked. I suspect this was because the persimmons were so wet and just did not incorporate that well into the flour. But I don’t know, I suppose I could have cooked it even longer. I don’t know what the texture is supposed to be like, so I can’t say whether or not I got it right. I will say that it was delicious, though.

Finally the rice. Now the original recipe called for cooking in a rice cooker (which calls for much less water), but I don’t have a rice cooker so I used this method:

Place the water in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice, bring back to a boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed.

Now add the butter, salt and cinnamon. Stir to combine and set aside.

Put the cashews into a small, dry skillet. Keep stirring until they are hot or browning slightly (depending on your preference). Add the cashews to the rice and stir gently to combine.

Now for the critique: every single thing on my plate was delicious. The curry chicken reminded me of a kebab that Martin and I do sometimes, but the flavor was totally unique. The mango salsa was spicy and fruity, which is a divine combination. And the rice was mild with just a little hint of cinnamon, which made it a perfect side for the intensely flavorful chicken and salsa.

Despite the spiciness of the meal, my kids devoured it. Except for the mango salsa, of course, because “ew it’s greeeeeeeen” (up until recently my kids wouldn’t even eat green frosting). Everyone had seconds of the cake--despite its questionable texture, it was still pretty yummy.

There wasn’t a single dish on this week’s menu that Martin didn’t want me to make again. And instead of deleting all those extra recipes I downloaded (the ones that didn’t make it into this meal), I’m planning to cook them all at some point. Cambodian food is that good.

Next week: Cameroon

For printable versions of this week’s recipes:


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