Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!
Pre-Covid, when my son was visiting Cambodia, he described his visit to Angkor Wat saying he noticed parallels with Indian temples that we had visited, seen in movies and read about. His guide showed him twin bas reliefs, hundreds of meters long, depicting sculpted scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Devas and asuras exist in the form of gigantic sculptures, standing, enormous legs braced on the ground, as they pull the serpent Vasuki as a rope, and churn away at the Ocean of milk.
This got me thinking about Cambodian food and my son said that it was all about contrasts-sweet and bitter, salty and sour. Influenced by their neighbors, Cambodian cuisine includes noodle soup similar to Vietnamese phở, salads and sour soups commonly found in Thailand, noodles and stir fries handed down from years of Chinese migration and Indian-inspired curries.
Cambodia’s national dish is Fish amok, a fish curry that gets its signature flavor from kroeung, an aromatic curry paste made with lemongrass, galangal, fresh turmeric, shallots, garlic, and a little chili. The kroeung is mixed with coconut milk, which turns a beautiful golden yellow. Mild white fish and shredded kaffir lime leaves are added to the curry, which is steamed in a banana-leaf cup. Being vegetarian, I made a meatless version.
So, till we can visit Cambodia and immerse ourselves in its culture and fascinating history, stroll through the night markets of Siem Reap, and get lost in the famous Russian market of Phnom Penh, let’s experience Cambodia through its food with recipes we recreate at home.
Nime Chow (Fresh Cambodian Spring Rolls with Peanut Dressing)
- 1 ½ ounces uncooked cellophane noodles
- 12 (8-inch round) sheets rice paper
- 2 cups thinly sliced lettuce
- 1 cup grated carrot
- 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
- 12 medium basil leaves
- 1 cup hot water
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (for vegetarians omit the sauce)
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- ½ cup finely chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
- Combine bean threads and 2 cups hot water in a bowl; let stand 10 minutes. Drain; cut into 2-inch lengths.
- Add cold water to a large shallow dish to a depth of 1 inch. Place whole rice paper sheet in the dish of water. Let stand 30 seconds or until soft (but don’t over soak because then it will tear easily and be harder to work with). Remove sheet from water.
- Place rice paper sheet on a flat surface. Place lettuce, arrange 2 tablespoons grated carrot, 1 ½ tablespoons bean threads, 2 tablespoons bean sprouts, and 3 basil leaves over lettuce. Fold sides of rice paper sheets over filling; roll up tightly, jelly-roll fashion. Gently press seam to seal; place, seam side down, on a serving platter (cover to keep from drying). Repeat procedure with remaining rice paper sheets, lettuce, carrot, bean threads, bean sprouts, and basil.
- Cut each roll in half crosswise.
- To make the sauce, combine first 3 ingredients in a small bowl; stir well. Cool completely. Stir in remaining ingredients and serve with the rolls.
Meatless (Vegetable) Amok
All my ingredients are from Angkor Foods. They are local, fresh and authentic in taste and texture.
Curry Paste Ingredients:
- 1 red onion
- 3-4 stalks lemon grass (I have used Angkor Foods Lemongrass Paste)
- 3-4 clove of garlic
- 6+ Kaffir lime leaves (I have used Kaffir Lime Leaf Flakes)
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) galangal, peeled and chopped (I have used Angkor Foods Galangal Powder)
- Fresh ginger – enough for a 2-3 tablespoons
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
- Spicy peppers – to personal taste
- 1/4 -1/2 cup sugar
- Lime juice
- Veggies of your choice: Tofu, mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, cauliflower florets, bell peppers
- 1 bell pepper, cut into long slices
- 400mL can coconut milk
- Soy sauce or salt
For added spice: Chrouk Metae – Cambodian Chili Paste
- Make the Paste: Peel the onion and garlic. Roughly chop all the ingredients and toss them into a food processor or blender. Blend until they all become a paste. Add oil/lime juice as needed.
- Fry the paste for 3-4 minutes until the aromas are released. Add the coconut milk and simmer for 20 minutes. While simmering, add additional Keffir lime leaves and lemongrass to really infuse those flavors into the Amok.
- As the paste is simmering, pan fry your tofu. Add soy sauce or salt and season to preference.
- Add the vegetables to the curry. Let the mixture simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add additional milk to keep the consistency from getting too thick.
- Taste as it is cooking and season as needed. Add more sugar if the mixture is too bitter.
Cambodian bai cha (fried rice)
- 4 eggs beaten (optional)
- ½ cup carrot finely diced
- ½ cup french beans finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups cooked rice separated
- 1/4 cup spring onions sliced
- 1 tsp sesame oil (optional but preferred)
- Heat a little vegetable oil in a wok add the eggs to the wok and swirl around to make an omelet. When the omelet is just cooked through, remove from the wok, allow to cool a little and slice into bite-sized pieces. (If you don’t eat eggs, leave this step out and proceed to the next step)
- Heat the sesame oil, add the garlic and fry for one minute, add the carrots and beans, cook till they’ve softened a little but still have a bite to them (al dente).
- Over high heat, add the rice, sugar, salt and soy sauce and stir-fry until all the rice has been incorporated into the mix and has taken on a little color.
Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: [email protected]