Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Steaming it up in Cambodia

The Khmer speaking Southeastern Asian country of Cambodia is alive with culture and the arts. Just looking at the temple of Angkor Wat or the beautiful Royal Ballet of Cambodia dancers will prove the country's rich culture. The Khmer people are mostly Buddhist, and this also impacts their culture. Their ancient Buddhist literature dates back to ancient times, but was not recorded until more recently. There are also many different forms of music. Cambodian cuisine always features rice along with other dishes such as soup, curries, and noodles. Meals feature around three dishes along with the rice. I chose to make a soup, vegetable, and fish curry.
 


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Pickled limes are apparently a thing in Cambodia. I'd never heard of them before, but I have no complaints. Samlar Machu means sour soup, and the limes definitely give the broth a unique taste. Soup is a common accompaniment to any Cambodian meal, whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. One very popular Cambodian soup, Kuy Teav, is actually a breakfast dish!
 
Samlar Machu
1 pound chicken thighs, cut into 1” cubes
4 cloves sliced garlic
1 tsp fish sauce
1 pickled lime
4 green onions, sliced
 
Cover the chicken and garlic with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Thinly slice the lime and stir it along with the green onions and fish sauce into the soup. Remove from the heat and serve.

 
 

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This spicy eggplant dish is best served with rice. It's a great side dish, and is also filling enough to be a vegetarian main.
 
Chrout Trop
1 eggplant, cut into ½” cubes
salt, as needed
1 tbsp ginger, cut into thin slices
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper powder
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp water
4 green onions, sliced
1 tsp oil
Toss the eggplant cubes with salt and allow it to sit for 15 minutes. Rinse and drain with water, and squeeze out any excess moisture. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the eggplant and ginger, stirring occasionally until tender (about 10 minutes). Meanwhile, whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, cayenne, and water. Stir the mixture in with the eggplant, and cook over medium high heat until all the liquid has evaporated. Toss with green onions and serve.
 
 
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 Amok trey is the national dish of Cambodia, and is very popular in Cambodian restaurants. It is made up of steamed curried fish with an egg mixed into it to give it a custard-like texture. Traditionally it is steamed in banana leaves, but I substituted spinach.


Amok Trey
1 ½ pounds cod, cut into 1” cubes
4 tbsp red curry paste
3 tsp fish sauce
2 eggs
1 cup coconut milk
spinach or banana leaves
2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded

Heat the curry paste and fish oil over medium heat, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk and continue to stir for another 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, whisk in the eggs, and add the fish. Allow the mixture to sit for 15 minutes to allow the fish to marinate. Stir in the kaffir lime leaves. Either wrap the mixture in banana leaves or line 4 ramekins with spinach and pour the fish mixture on top. Steam for 15 minutes, or until the fish is cooked.


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I was not too fond of my Cambodian meal. It was a bit stressful to make, and did not have the best results. Like nearby Myanmar, I think the problem mostly resided in the heavy use of ginger and fish sauce. It was a good experience, though, and I found the process of making amok trey very interesting.

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