It seems like forever since we made our Vietnamese banh mi thit, and indeed it was nearly a full month ago. Our recent weeks have been filled with birthday celebrations, stag and hen dos, catching up with friends and a cupcake decorating class, to name a few events: all pretty much centred around food (as is our way), but not necessarily international food. So we were pleased to get back to the challenge and cook a Cambodian meal this weekend. Ash spent just over a week in Cambodia in 2004, visiting the temples of Angkor, the peaceful beaches of Sihanoukville, the crazy hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh and the museums that record – lest we forget – the horrors of Cambodia’s recent past. So he had a number of food experiences to bring to our dinner table.
Ash’s journey from Thailand was something of an adventure: the pre-booked luxury mini bus had broken down so 14 people with luggage climbed into the back of a pick-up truck at the border and, after a few hours of clinging on for dear life, arrived in Siam Reap. Along the roads of the cities and towns were hawkers and traders trying to sell post cards, trinkets and souvenirs, as well as fast food and snacks of many different kinds, one of which was skewers of barbecued meat.
Being a westerner used to food hygiene standards which are somewhat higher than is typically found in Asia, this was, at first glance, a little unnerving. However, after a little while, you realise that seeing food cooked fresh in front of your eyes means that it is fresh and probably as clean as (if not cleaner than) that in a restaurant where it is prepared behind closed doors. These little skewers of BBQ meat marinated in chilli, citrus and herbs became quite a treat during Ash’s trip across Asia but particularly Cambodia, hence our decision to make them at home. We chose ngiom, a Cambodian ‘coleslaw’, to serve with our lemongrass beef skewers (or sach ko nung slirk s’krey chomkak), but they could equally be served on a bed of steamed rice.
Sach ko nung slirk s’krey chomkak (Lemongrass beef skewers)
Recipe from Khmer Krom Recipes.
450g sirloin steak, sliced into thin strips
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 spring onion, finely chopped
2 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 fresh hot chilli peppers, chopped
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours, preferably overnight. (We left it for about six hours – it was delicious, though the depth of flavour on the beef could only get better if left longer.)
2. When ready to cook, thread the slices of beef onto skewers and cook on a hot grill or griddle pan to your liking. (We like our beef quite rare so made sure it was still pink in the middle.)
Ngiom (Cambodian coleslaw)
Recipe from Recipe of Health – so it must be good!
60g cellophane noodles
1/4 small cabbage, shredded
1 1/4 carrots, shredded
60g peanuts, roasted and chopped
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 1/4 tbsp rice vinegar
3/4 tbsp sugar
3/4 hot red chilli pepper, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
(Original recipe also said to add 1/2 tbsp basil, but we didn’t have any. Apologies for the odd measurements, too – it’s a quartered ‘serves 12’ recipe.)
1. Soak the noodles for 2 minutes in boiling water, drain and set aside.
2. Whisk together the fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and chilli and set aside.
3. Toss cabbage, carrots and noodles in a large bowl, add the dressing and toss again.
4. Garnish with peanuts and mint.
Serves 2 generously.
Like the last two meals we’ve made in this challenge, we really enjoyed this! We’re loving the simplicity and freshness of the South-East Asian recipes. We’d love to make these beef skewers again on a proper BBQ instead of the indoor griddle pan we were forced to use thanks to the all-too-predictable British weather. The coleslaw was also a winner, and so simple – it could be whipped up in less than half an hour and served with any protein for a quick and easy midweek meal.
For what it’s worth (and part of the reason it took us so long to make anything Cambodian), an alternative meal that we considered making was ‘Cambodian Soup’, a beef broth with vegetables into which pieces of raw beef are dropped for a few seconds (or even held with chopsticks) before being eaten. Ash was introduced to this meal when a group of backpackers decided that after 3 days of being taxied around the temples at dawn and dusk it was time to treat their drivers to a meal. Climbing onto the back of respective motorcycles, they were driven to a small outdoor restaurant apparently in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of Siam Reap. Six or seven drivers sat with their tourist hosts at a large table, in the centre of which was the soup pot bubbling on a small burner stove. The meal lasted several hours, much beer was drunk and a great time was had by all as more vegetables, beef, chilli, egg and even cows tendon were added to the pot and removed in sequence by a ‘soupmaster’ who had no shortage of advice and assistance from his companions in much the same way that Australians watch a BBQ! Unfortunately, a good recipe for Cambodian soup was not to be found and trying to make something up based on the information available would not have done the dish service, so the decision was made to eat BBQ beef. A decision we don’t regret – not least because the soup preparation could have taken a few days!
Next on our list is Thailand, and we already know we’re going to try to make a creditable version of the ubiquitous Pad Thai. Watch this space!