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Indian Inspired Curries Make it Easy to Go Amok With Cambodian Cuisine

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)

Nime Chow

INGREDIENTS

Rolls:

  • 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

Peanut Sauce:

  • 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 

PREPARATION

  • 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. 

Vegetable Amok

INGREDIENTS

Curry Paste Ingredients:

Amok Ingredients:

  • 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

PREPARATION

  • 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)

Bai Cha

INGREDIENTS

  • 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)

PREPARATION

  • 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: mona@indiacurrents.com

Gulab Jamun Cake

My Love Affair With Cardamom

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

I come from a family of spice traders. My mother-in-law’s family hails from the Cardamom Hills and Thekkady in Kerala. Their land is beautifully verdant, with cardamom growing in a tropical rainforest-like environment, wild alongside pepper vines, cloves, and lots of unidentifiable wild greens, butterflies, and bees everywhere.

My life has been full of spice, as I witnessed the yearly ritual of sourcing and storing spices for the coming year. My mom and aunts talked endlessly about what was in season, sourcing single-origin spices, discussing how to roast them to perfection, and hiring people to freshly grind everything on the terrace of our building. This of course segued into a discussion about recipes and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on their latest creations. 

Spices play such a vital role in Indian cuisine. The blended use of herbs and spices has been part of our culture for millennia, and that their use had some medicinal and restorative properties is well documented in Ayurveda.

With the resurgence of interest in everything natural, I wanted to explore, along with you, one spice that has caught my fancy and share some recipes using it. This week it is the warm and fruity Cardamom. I love how it instantly elevates every dish into something just a bit more refined and comforting.

I’m a self-taught cook and married to someone who needs dessert every night, so I became a self-taught baker. Homemade desserts are so much healthier than the manufactured versions, additive-free, made with natural ingredients, and you can easily sub the fat and sugar content. I tend to gravitate towards non-fussy recipes, down and dirty, with no special equipment needed.

Here I share two of my current favs, with a generous dose of cardamom in them. The first is a Gulab Jamun Cake recipe created by Hetal Vasavada and the second is a Cardamom Latte. I have tweaked several recipes that I found online and in cookbooks in order to arrive at the perfect balance of flavors.

Tips

I find that home-ground cardamom (both whole pod and seeds only) boasts a much stronger flavor than pre-ground store-bought varieties. Grind them in big batches–take the easy road, leave the husks on–and store them in an airtight container in the freezer for a year.

Gulab Jamun Cake

This cake is a fusion with all the treasured flavors of classic Gulab Jamun without the deep frying or long soak in sugar syrup. What’s not to love?

Ingredients for 1 Bundt cake or 6 mini Bundt-lets

Gulab Jamun Cake made by Mona Shah
Gulab Jamun Cake made by Mona Shah

Cardamom Infused Sponge Cake

  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup  dry full -at or non-fat milk powder
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated or castor (powdered) sugar
  • 8-10 saffron strands
  • ¾ tsp cardamom powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs

Alternatively, to make it eggless you can:

  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup granulated or castor (powdered) sugar
  • ½ cup Plain Yogurt/Curd
  • ¾ cup Milk
  • ½ cup Oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ tsp cardamom powder
  • ½ tsp salt

For the Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 8 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Glaze and Garnish

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar (1 ¾ if you want it sweeter)
  • 1 tablespoon dried rose petals
  • ½ tablespoon whole and ½ tablespoon finely chopped pistachios
  • I garnished with pink/red hearts and some gold sugar flakes 
  • Optional: Top with halfmoon gulab jamuns placed an inch apart and serve warm with vanilla ice cream

Preparation

Make the cardamom cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F Grease a 10-cup Bundt pan with butter.
  2. Whisk the butter, sugar and cardamom powder with a hand or stand mixer till the butter is light and fluffy, about 9/10 mins.  Add salt and vanilla essence and whisk till combined.
  3. Now add one egg at a time, till incorporated.
  4. Add the milk powder to your flour mixture and whisk till combined. Add these dry ingredients till incorporated. Do not overmix.
  5. Pour the batter into your greased Bundt pan and tap on counter to release air bubbles.
  6. Bake for 35-40 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is baking make the Sugar Syrup.

Note: We want the syrup to be warm when pouring on the cake.

  1. Add the water, sugar, saffron, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the rose water and lime juice. 
  2. Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods from the syrup and discard. 
  3. Reserve 60 ml of the syrup for the glaze.
  4. Once the cake is done poke holes all over it with a fork. Pour the warm syrup over the warm, just out of oven, Bundt cake. Rest the cake for 10/15 mins for the syrup to be fully soaked. 
  5. Place your serving platter over the bundt pan and invert into the platter. Be very careful during this step. The cake is heavy with syrup and will break or form cracks, so be very gentle during this step.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and reserved syrup to make a glaze.
  7. Pour the glaze over the Bundt cake. Sprinkle with the dried rose petals, pistachios and gulab jamun half (if using).

For the Eggless Cake base

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F Grease a 10-cup Bundt pan with butter.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the milk and lemon juice. Set aside for 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Whisk in the oil and rosewater.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, milk powder, semolina, corn flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom and saffron.
  4. Gradually combine the wet ingredients into the dry till incorporated. Do not overmix.
  5. Bake for 55-60 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Fall Flavors in my Cardamom Latte

  • Cardamom Latte
    Cardamom Latte

    8 ounces strong French press coffee (I used George Howell’s Tarrazu Vienna with hints of Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Walnut)

  • Optional: 1 heaped tablespoon of Instant Coffee (Nescafe or Bru, with hints of chicory, are optimal)—Add 2 drops of water and beat with a spoon until white and slightly frothy.
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons Thyme Cardamom Syrup (Note: Flavor it with whatever spice you have on hand.
  • I’ve used Thyme but rosemary, pumpkin, lavender all work really well)

For the Thyme Cardamom Syrup

  1. In a small pan over low heat, toast the cardamom pods until fragrant, stirring often. Watch closely to avoid burning them.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush the cardamom pods. Pour the pods and any exposed seeds into a medium sauce pan.
  3. Add the water, sugar and thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.  
  4. Strain solids through a fine-mesh sieve. Store syrup in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Preparation

  1. Heat milk till hot. Use a whisk or a spoon to beat milk until foamy.  
  2. Place 2 tablespoons of cardamom syrup in a mug. 
  3. Pour hot, strong coffee over syrup. 
  4. Top with foamy milk and serve.

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.