Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Location: Southeast Asia; between Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos
Area: Over 180,000 sq km; 90th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Oklahoma
Population: Over 14.7 million; 66th largest in the world
Capital: Phnom Penh
Ethnic Groups: 90% Khmer
Exports: Hong Kong is their top partner
Khmer Rouge: This regime, led by Pol Pot, is said to be responsible for killing around 2 million people, one-third of the contemporary population (mid 1970's).  According to Wikipedia:
They immediately evacuated the cities and sent the entire population on forced marches to rural work projects. They attempted to rebuild the country's agriculture on the model of the 11th century, discarded Western medicine, and destroyed temples, libraries, and anything considered Western.
Source: CIA Factbook, Wikipedia

I have been more excited for Cambodia than any other country in a long time.  First of all THANK YOU GOD that I am finally in the C's.  Seriously.

Secondly, for a recent wedding, Kevin and I were in Milwaukee.  We visited the art museum with his parents.  I think it is the most gorgeous and architecturally innovative museum I've ever seen.  Also, they had an exhibit on the Forbidden City.  I enjoyed it a lot, and of course it dumped us out into the gift shop.  In the midst of laughing about things like the "Chinglish" books and admiring the beautiful scarves, Kevin found the cookbooks.  They had some Chinese ones, but they also had one for Southeast Asia.  It looked beautiful and interesting and I immediately fell in love.
And Pad Thai on the cover?  Instant happiness.
Too bad I got this after Burma.  I went through and marked a bunch of Cambodian recipes that seemed plausible.  I plan on making the others at a later date.  The real question is whether I should write about them or not.

After the first narrowing down, Kevin picked.  We settled on four recipes: Fragrant Cambodian Chicken Wings, Stir-Fried Pumpkins and Snow Peas, Cambodian Garlic Pork (which required another recipe as a dip), and Sweet New Years Rice Cakes.  Phew.  And since I wasn't going to cook a four-course meal just for Kevin, we invited Rachel over to partake in the fruits of labor.

I knew that shopping was going to be an interesting adventure, so I looked for a new international store that would focus on this part of the world more.  Enter El Grande International Supermarket.  It had mixed reviews online, but it was on the way home from work which was one of my biggest criteria.  Walking in for the first time was almost as overwhelming as going to Ikea (but not quite).  You could buy whole sugar canes.  There were more types of cucumber than I knew existed.  I saw a number of ingredients that were in recipes I rejected because of the obscure ingredients.

Unfortunately, the store was organized by nationality rather than type of food, which made some things rather difficult to find.  Also, when I asked what one unlabeled food was, the employee had to go get someone who knew English to write it down for him.  It felt authentic, but wasn't very convenient.  I ended up coming out of there with: lemongrass, squash, and glutinous rice.  I was never able to find banana leaves or galangal.  I guess my search for a store will never truly be over.

Since I knew there was going to be a lot of work involved, I did as much early prep as I could.  The chicken wings had to sit in the spices for a while, so they were a natural starting place.
I had never worked with lemongrass before, but we did get to smell some in the Caribbean on our honeymoon.  In fact, our cab driver stopped on the middle of a windy road to pick some and bring it to us.
Running back across the road, because you really couldn't tell if another car was coming.
It was actually very similar to endives.  Take the outer parts off, then go from there.
They are super long.
Don't keep the end part!
There were a lot of spices and flavorings, and then I was supposed to mash them all together.  Since I don't have a spice grinder, I used my food processor.
Ginger.  This was my substitution for galangal.  The book has a lot of reference material and was clear to point out they aren't the same thing, but it was my only option.
Kevin's mom got me these gloves so I wouldn't burn myself anymore.  After we took the picture, we found out they weren't spicy at all.
There was also garlic!
I don't think the consistency was quite right, because the recipe said "until finely ground."  There wasn't as much grinding as pureeing.  Oil, turmeric, and some other flavors were added to complete the marinade.

Dish one: waiting to be cooked.  Dish two: Cambodian Garlic Pork.
The instructions, and the picture, imply tiny pieces of pulled pork.  How do you pull it before it is cooked?  I don't understand!  I just chopped it up into tiny bits because I wasn't sure what else to do.  If I didn't cut it ahead of time, it wouldn't have cooked in the three minutes they called for.
Garlic, fish sauce, and some basic spices.
Fish sauce was in almost every one of their recipes.  The author said it is to Southeast Asia what soy sauce is to China.

That was really about it for the entree, so I could move on to soaking the rice for the dessert.  Yay!
Glutinous rice = sweet rice = sticky rice.  I had been unsure.
I didn't want the stir-fry veggies to dry out by prepping too early, so I got a much needed break from my feet.  Oh, and Kevin wanted me to tell you that he was cleaning during this time.
Tesla loves laundry day.  It is apparently relaxing.
Curie would rather sun herself.
When the time came to pick up cooking again, I began the fourth dish: the stir-fry.
The recipe says "pumpkin," but it also mentions butternut.  The internet tells me that a butternut pumpkin = butternut squash.  This is good, because there are no pumpkins out there in the summer.
This was another ingredient I had never used before, although I have eaten it.  The curve makes it annoying to cut all of the meat out.  Not the most efficient thing out there.

I had to keep cutting it in half, and then half again, then half again...etc.
There aren't too many more pictures of what I did for a while, because frankly Kevin was being way more entertaining.  I enlisted his help to open the coconut that was needed for the dessert.  The first step called for an ice pick, which we don't have.  After try a few very un-safe alternatives, he had an idea.
Sanitizing.  He was sure to make sure I had a picture of his thoughtfulness.
Woo!  We now have a hole in the coconut for draining.  Next we were supposed to hammer it on the seam to break it open the rest of the way.  Kevin can get into this type of cooking.
I was more than a little concerned for Rachel's hands here.
It would not work.  No matter what he tried, Kevin could not get that coconut open.  We're declaring it defective!  We could have run to the store to pick some up, but Rachel had to pick Jon up from the airport later.  We had to move on, sans dessert.  Someday.  Someday.  *Shakes fist at sky*

At this point all that remains is baking the chicken, and stir-frying the meat and veggies.  The pork dish was supposed to have a lot of adornments to eat with it.  I missed the part where we needed lettuce to wrap it in.  Oops.  Kevin still made the plate pretty.
Who knew he had it in him?
These look very different from the picture in the book.  I blame it on the consistency, or something.
Snowpeas, squash, green onions, oil, and some basic spices.
This was the extra "recipe" that was involved in the pork dish.  A dip of salt, pepper, and lime.
I was (finally) time to eat!
The chicken wings were an appetizer, which is why they were mostly gone.

As you can tell from the picture above, the wings were a big hit.  They had a lot of flavor without being too hot.  They were easy to eat and sufficiently different from something you would find in the States.  I highly recommend them.  Kevin votes I make them again, and maybe I can figure out my marinade consistency problem.  Even better, the book says you can make a double batch and freeze half of it to bake at a later day.  Yay time savers!

The stir-fry was good but not particularly special.  With the highly spiced chicken, it was probably a good idea to have a side like this to balance it out.  There were ingredients I wouldn't normally use, but the rest was like when I stir-fry regularly.  Whether this means the dish isn't that exciting or I use authentic techniques regularly, I'm not sure.  Not bad, but nothing to write home about.

The garlic pork was similar.  I would not have been surprised to see an item like that on a very American menu.  The part that stood out the most was the dip.  It was so strong that you had to be careful how much you put on.  Overall, it was certainly tasty.  Having the lettuce to wrap the meat and veggies in would have made a difference.  Then it would become more of a finger food and had a completely different eating experience.  Figuring out how they pulled the pork could have helped too.

Obviously, I don't have a final conclusion on the dessert.  :-(  If I made it some other time (I now have that giant thing of rice...), do you want to know what happens?  Hopefully I can find banana leaves too, and not have to use aluminum foil like the book suggested.

The summer is (already), coming to a close, so hopefully I will get more consistent with posting soon.  We'll see how that goes.

Next time: Cameroon

1 comment:

  1. I borrowed this same book from the library and made a copy of the page featuring the Cambodian Garlic Pork. However, I cut off the left side of the page where the ingredients are listed. Could you send me the ingredient list for the recipe?