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Peter Green

Cambodian/Khmer Cooking

102 posts in this topic

Chris,

You are fortunate to have met an enlightened & modern woman. Ask her about her forbears and near relations and you will hear stories that will make you laugh and weep at the same time. At GourmetIndia we have started a disscussion on this topic because many of us have witnesssed precious swathes, not just small numbers, but entire corpus of recipes of certain ethnic traditions vanish with maiden aunts and aged parents.

The pace of change is so extreme in India, the dislocation from rural roots alsos so extreme, and the types of foods require space, time, labor, rural products and an extreme desire to sacrifice oneself for the family. Therefore, one prerogative might be to hold closely to such treasures and be lauded for these, slim returns for a life spent laboring over practically nothing. Underlying this is a subconscious bitterness or a complicated psychology that I will leave for more expert minds. Anyway, the net result is that more than 75% of the foods I have known and relished in my childood are completely lost, and unknown to the next generation, which is regarded by many in my generation as some sort of cultural and spiritual savages, irredeemable!! They likewise share a similar view about us!

Returning to the Cambodian kroeung in question, I woul be very grateful if you could make some inquiries at your end, and see where that leads. I have a suspicion, where the kroeng paste itself is concerned, for this "chicken curry", there are shades of a generic peninsular Indian cooked spice paste at work here:

The peninsular masala paste would start with a small red shallot or boiling onion + some cloves of garlic being roasted on embers or hot ashes; on a gas flame, here in the USA. Then, peeled and slowly roasted in oil with some whole spices, then ground to a wet paste. To simplify even more, but lose some depth of flavor & smokiness, sliced or diced onion/shallot & garlic can be slow-roated with whole spices [not too slow because the essential oils will evaporate] & wet ground.

As far as I can gauge, the ingredients include:

Shallots or boiling onion

Garlic

Galangal

aromatic dry red pepper, like BOLDOG paprika or gochugaru whole or ancho, soaked, flesh scraped out, pounded: idea is to create not heat but a flavor base, remembering that the blackened flakes will also add some heat of their own. The whole dish must be pleasant, piquant-warm, on the mild side, no macho heat competition here.

coriander seed

black peppercorns

Star anise

fennel

green cardamom

cassia bark [ that which is sold as cinnamon, for the most part!]

nutmeg

You can adjust the spicing to your liking, remembering that there will be coconut milk entering the picture to tame the sharp edges as well as potatoes, plus sweet potatoes & bamboo shoots if you like. Some Cambodians love a LOT of lemongrass, but YMMV.

NB: You can also use some anchovy fillets here to good effect, if you do not have/tolerate some of the more exotic fermented fish products.

Cornish hens work really well, failing which skinned thighs cut into boneless cubes, throwing the bones into the pot as well. With the Cornish hens or poussins, wash dry, joint and rub with salt & turmeric. This will form a thin coat & prevent spattering +help browning. Lightly brown in peanut oil & set aside. In the same oil/pan, brown halved/quartered russets/Yukon Golds, and sweet potatoes if you like.

Next, gently brown a small amount of very finely sliced onions, covering them to wilt, then uncovering them to brown. Add a tiny amount of sugar after they are golden, then kroeng paste, cook for a bit, add chicken. Some like to add cilantro or Thai lime leaves, either to paste or to the pan. Let your tastes guide you. Too many flavors piled on top of one another may be counterproductive.

Thin coconut milk may be added now, i.e. the cream spooned off and saved for the very end. Simmer covered, with salt until potatoes, sweet potatoes and or bamboo shoots done. Add a judicious amount of blackened chili flakes. Things will look terrible. Cook a tiny bit longer, like 3 minutes, then add reserved coconut cream and balance seasonings. Correct with fish sace, sugar salt.

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I believe [not 100% certain] the longish, fairlry hot peppers, but NUMEX dry red may be used too, are stemmed & deseeded. They are then deep-fried in big batches in vegetable oil until past the mahogany stage. When taken out, drained & cooled, they will still be turning color, still cooking from the residual heat so this factor needs to be taken into account to judge the final "blackening" to be achieved.

Since the ribs [placenta] contain  the active principle capsaicin, the fumes from frying even deseeded mild to medium hot pods are noxious. The lady did this outdoors in the summer!! She would make a huge bag, and crumble them like crushed corn flakes, to be stored in the freezer for the whole year.

The flavor principle of  whole dry red peppers charred near-black is not unknown in India, but is used sparingly in ones and twos, and only as an adjunct or relish, never in handsful as a principle flavor. I was intrigued to learn that northern Burma ramps up the use of charred dry peppers, but still less than what I have seen with this particular Cambodian family. The quantity increases in parts of northern Thailand that share a link with Burma.

Cambodia is distant from this area, and I wonder if there is a Muslim link or some other cultural connection, or if this is a purely independent development. So far, I have been unable to extract any meaningful cultural information, because these people become very defensive and suspicious when their recipes and food secrets are probed. There is the language barrier, the unfortunate history of this region and a very characteristic Asian secretiveness [that I have found in Indian women as well] regarding recipes. Far better that recipes be lost than they be handed down to anyone, even to relatives (save direct descendants). Recipes will never be denied but neither accurately transmitted, seemingly minor but essential tips omitted.

thanks for the details...it occurred to me that, depending on the amount of oil used for deep frying the peppers, one could strain the oil after the deep frying and chili oil would be the result...so two cooking ingredients for the price of one!


The link "Cooking - Food - Recipes - Cookbook Collections" on my site contains my 1000+ cookbook collections, recipes, and other food information: http://dmreed.com

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v., I'll try to see what I can find out about the kroeung, but given the focus of the research I'm doing (it's on Khmer-American home cooking), I think I'm going to get variations within a general theme. The kroeung sold at the Narin Market is, I think, very basic: ground (or processed -- no pounding here) lemongrass, kaffir lime, shallots, galangal, and that may be it. No spices, no heat, no roasting in evidence, no garlic -- all iirc.

Next time I go I'll pester them to see what I can learn. Turns out a tall white guy buying lort, sdao, galangal, and so on gets a lot of friendly attention/advice.

When a friend texted me today and asked me what I got, I realized that some people tuning into this topic might benefit from an ingredient primer, so:

3826950356_07258cdbb5.jpg

From left to right, cilantro or coriander (with roots -- important), holy basil, and sdao, or what Riviere calls bitter Khmer leaves. Riviere compares them to sorrel, which makes sense only if you add an astringent, bitter edge to the sorrel; spinach would miss the point entirely. I was strongly discouraged from buying sdao by three different people in the store.

3826950242_3171fb6873.jpg

Left column: winged beans, very fresh today, so I got a few to add to a mushroom salad I was making for lunch; Thai red and serrano chiles; the cleaned and trimmed coriander roots. Center is scallions and galangal. Right: kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, ginger.

3826151863_decc77fa10.jpg

A simple pickled chile condiment found throughout Thailand; green peppercorns in brine (at about a 95% savings over Williams Sonoma); krachai in brine. One day I hope to find both of the latter items fresh at Narin....

Oh, and breakfast:

3826950288_bb5a5d22e3.jpg

Lort (or lot), the taro, pork, and peanut fried snack (good looking recipe here). I could eat fifty of these per day. Sriracha in the little dish.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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When I can find good looking oyster mushrooms, I try to make David Thompson's simple, delicious mushroom salad. I made it early, blanching then shocking the beans and then quickly cooking first the oysters then the shiitake. A few more ingredients and... lunch:

3827935309_cd607accd6.jpg

I made two dishes, as I mentioned above. I was going to sub out the black for green peppercorns, but then decided to stick to the Riviere recipe for shrimp with black pepper and cilantro:

3828734258_598aa4d1d7.jpg

This very simple recipe is really good. The step that intrigued me was adding the shrimp, garlic, and oil all at once to the caramelizing sugar. I made this in a wok -- mistake -- so I had a hard time reading the darkness of the caramel. I added the shrimp too early, stopping the caramelization before it was sufficiently dark. As a result, I was worried about overcooking the shrimp, so I removed them to reduce the sauce and then add the pepper, fish sauce, and coriander.

Next time: no wok (stainless saute pan), less oil, and darker caramel. But this was great, the sweetness of the caramel and shrimp playing off the bite of the pepper. I added minced coriander root to the dish to brighten it up a bit, which was a good idea.

Here's the grilled eggplant with pork.

3827935433_dba4aa6c1e.jpg

I had variations of this dish in Chiang Mai, though with holy basil instead of cilantro, and so I subbed that in. I also added a couple of minced kaffir lime leaves -- again, like the coriander root above, to add a bit of an edge.

Though it looks like -- well, you know what it looks like -- it's a truly classic dish. The key is to let the pork and aromatics fry for a good long while, until the meat has started to brown. That gives a nutty quality to the dish that is lacking otherwise. I added the sugar a bit early, to let it caramelize slightly as well.

Very eager to continue with the book. However, I'm wondering if it's a bit cleaned up for the generic reader. In particular, I'm wondering how bitterness plays in the cuisine when not framed for Westerners....


Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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There's a piece in the latest Bayon Pearnik, issue 156 on the 2nd to last page of the pdf that discusses "Strange Cambodian Foods", written by Steve Hili.

It talks in general about the usual sensational items (yes, the tarantula legs do sort of taste like crab) but he dwells upon something I hadn't seen in mainland South East Asia before - chicken fetuses (fetii? fetid?) in the shell, or balut to everyone familiar to the Philippines.

Interesting, and I understand ethnography places the Khmer closer to the Malay, so it makes sense.

It's just not something I'd thought I'd find there.

I should go back soon.

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There's a piece in the latest Bayon Pearnik, issue 156 on the 2nd to last page of the pdf that discusses "Strange Cambodian Foods", written by Steve Hili. 

It talks in general about the usual sensational items (yes, the tarantula legs do sort of taste like crab) but he dwells upon something I hadn't seen in mainland South East Asia before - chicken fetuses (fetii?  fetid?) in the shell, or balut to everyone familiar to the Philippines.

Interesting, and I understand ethnography places the Khmer closer to the Malay, so it makes sense. 

It's just not something I'd thought I'd find there.

I should go back soon.

I thought the Vietnamese also had a balut-like egg. I vaguely remember seeing Bourdain eating one in Vietnam on Cook's Tour way back when.

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The Khmer Krom are today an ethnic minority in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. Long ago, they were perhaps far more significant there, so their situation now is not good. Anyway, they have a neat website with some really interesting recipes, including purely vegetarian ones, quite a rarity in this part of the world.

One more addition to the annals of Khmer cooking:

http://www.khmerkromrecipes.com/

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Here's the grilled eggplant with pork.

3827935433_dba4aa6c1e.jpg

I had variations of this dish in Chiang Mai, though with holy basil instead of cilantro, and so I subbed that in. I also added a couple of minced kaffir lime leaves -- again, like the coriander root above, to add a bit of an edge.

Though it looks like -- well, you know what it looks like -- it's a truly classic dish. The key is to let the pork and aromatics fry for a good long while, until the meat has started to brown. That gives a nutty quality to the dish that is lacking otherwise. I added the sugar a bit early, to let it caramelize slightly as well.

Very eager to continue with the book. However, I'm wondering if it's a bit cleaned up for the generic reader. In particular, I'm wondering how bitterness plays in the cuisine when not framed for Westerners....

Sorry if I just missed this upthread, but which book are you referring to?

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I had some feedback from my friend's Khmer wife:

She "says they use 90% of the time, duck egg, not chicken. Though there is some chicken done too. You'd have to talk to her cause its a wierd sounding name.

duck egg = bong thea kon (something like that).

chicken = bong moen kon. "

I gave up long ago on transliterating Khmer.

note: edited to remove a name I'd missed.


Edited by Peter Green (log)

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Lunch note: that pork & eggplant dish reheats extremely well.

Bought the book, and it certainly does. Delicious.

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Apparently many Cambodian dishes employ fermented fish? I've had a Vietnamese noodle soup that's fermented fish-based and apparently it's Cambodian in origin (therefore, it's Cambodian and not Vietamese I guess?). Pungent -not the greatest pleasure to smell it -but the dish has a real depth in flavour and is absolutely addictive once you develop a taste for it!


Musings and Morsels - a film and food blog

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Fermented mudfish appears in many of the Khmer recipes I've been seeing, providing that umami boost with or instead of fermented shrimp, fish sauce, and so on.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Last weekend I spent some time making a few different Khmer dishes from Riviere along with the chicken samla in Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. I didn't take photos of the final dish but I did take a few snaps of the prep.

Mint and basil from the garden:

3971693242_edd2620bd8_o.jpg

Some of the other ingredients for the meal:

3971693258_df901cf023_o.jpg

Here's the fresh turmeric root that got me thinking about the samla:

3971693280_dc7d868939_o.jpg

3970923931_8c68476465_o.jpg

The start of the paste:

3970924007_8741e990a6_o.jpg

45 minutes (and 1 1/4 c of lemon grass later):

3970923975_073e5ca33f_o.jpg

I did manage to photograph the shrimp fritters from Riviere, which were excellent, if a bit malformed:

3970923959_4e32f71a3f_o.jpg

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Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Chris, I think those shrimp fritters look wonderful -- to me, they don't look malformed, they just look like they have nice meaty parts and lovely crispy bits.

Not to digress, but your Thai basil looks beautiful. The stuff I grow here has such tiny leaves. What variety are you growing? What's your secret?


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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I want to try to make fish amok (after those tasty photos), and was looking for a light vegetable dish to accompany, and serve as a counterpoint to the rich coconut sauce. Any recommendations? Any particular Asian greens (and treatment)? Or are such things not eaten in Cambodia?

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It might be more Viet, but I like a quick stir fry of "water spinach" with my dishes. No heavy sauce, maybe just a bit of nam plaa for salt.

Another way to do it is to set up a salad alongside the dish (with rice, of course).

Man, I'm getting hungry again.

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I'm running into more challenges trying to learn to cook a lot of this food. For example, at a new Khmer restaurant here in town I had dishes my partner identified as char khwai (fried bread), beef plear (which is in Riviere as marinated beef salad), hae kainge (ground pork & shrimp wrapped in tofu sausage-style, steamed, sliced, and fried), salor majo kroeng (a thick kroeung-based soup with beef and tripe). Any leads on any of the non-plear items? And, while we're on the subject, is plear the same as lok lak?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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... while we're on the subject, is plear the same as lok lak?

I'm pretty sure Plear is more like a larb: ground meat, mint, lots of lime, pretty spicy.


"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

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Been a while since anyone has posted in here, but... here goes!

Anyone able to share a recipe for ansom chek? It's sticky rice, coconut, red beans and banana, rolled in a banana leaf and steamed to perfection. It's also served at weddings to represent the groom's "naughty bits"... But I am lacking any more precise measurements.

Thanks!


Mark Rinaldi

Food Blogger

http://cookedearth.wordpress.com

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1 hour ago, StephanieGodfrey said:

woww, this made me miss my trip to cambodia last year

 

@StephanieGodfrey, does this mean that you didn't take that trip, or that you took it and have happy memories?  If it's the latter, we'd love to hear about it.  We always love to read about traveling....especially if there are photos that can help us visualize your experience. :) 

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Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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On 3/28/2016 at 11:27 AM, Smithy said:

 

@StephanieGodfrey, does this mean that you didn't take that trip, or that you took it and have happy memories?  If it's the latter, we'd love to hear about it.  We always love to read about traveling....especially if there are photos that can help us visualize your experience. :) 

yeah, i'm had a great time in Cambodia, from the moment we were greeted by our smiling tuk-tuk driver at the Siem Reap Airport, Cambodia completely stole our hearts, promise to return :) I joined a cooking class to make fish amok, here it is

20110723000392.jpg

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