February 12, 2011
Juli and I love curries, and for something different, I decided to prepare a Cambodian-style curry. From what I've read about Cambodian (or Khmer) cuisine, it shows influences from the cooking traditions of many other nations, including neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, China and India, reflecting trade with other Asian nations, and even France, due to it having been part of France's colonial empire in years past. Cambodian curries (called kari), especially, show a strong Indian influence, as they use spice mixes more typical of Indian cuisine than that of other Southeast Asian nations. Cambodian cuisine is also characterized by heavy reliance on coconut milk and by the presence of familiar Southeast Asian ingredients such as lemongrass and fish sauce.
The recipe I prepared was based on one for Richly Spiced Cambodian Chicken Curry from the book Hot and Spicy Recipes 500, edited by Beverley Jollands. This book looks quite a lot like 500 Hot and Spicy Recipes by Jenni Fleetwood, even to the point of having the same illustrations on the cover, but a comparison with Amazon's listing for Fleetwood's book shows the contents of the two books differ, as does the publisher. I can't even find an Amazon listing for the Jollands book.
Recently I've started using pre-chopped lemongrass paste in place of buying and chopping stalks of lemongrass. This is largely a matter of convenience, as pre-prepared lemongrass is readily available at some of the groceries we shop at (including the larger Dahls and Hy-Vee stores), rather than requiring a stop by the Asian specialty stores, and because it's a time-saver. 1/6 of a package is equivalent to a stalk of lemongrass, so it's easy to figure out how much to use, and I don't find that the flavor suffers any in comparison to fresh lemongrass (or as fresh as I'm able to find, anyhow).
I'm happy to say that my first foray into Cambodian cooking went quite well. Although based on a basic Indian curry, the addition of Southeast Asian flavors gave the dish a flavor distinct from any Indian food we've ever had. One really nice touch was the nutty undertone provided by use of ample amounts of sesame oil.
We served up the Cambodian Chicken Curry with some jasmine rice and, for dessert, deep-fried mung bean and sesame dumplings. Jasmine rice is commonly used in Thai cooking, while the dumplings are a Vietnamese specialty, but both went great with the curry, and since - as noted above - Cambodian cuisine borrows a lot of elements from other cuisines, including both Thai and Vietnamese, the mix is perhaps somewhat authentic.
Having enjoyed this dish, I'm going to be on the lookout for more Cambodian recipes. I suspect you might want to do the same if you try out this recipe.
Cambodian Chicken Curry
yield = 5-6 servings
3 tablespoons Madras curry powder
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons fresh, peeled ginger, minced fine
2 stalks lemongrass (or equivalent in lemongrass paste)
2 shallots, minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons chili paste
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup fresh, whole basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh, whole cilantro leaves
Mix the curry powder and turmeric in a small bowl. Put the chicken in a larger bowl and add 1/2 of the curry mixture, stirring to coat the chicken. Set aside.
Add the sugar to a small saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring almost constantly, until the mixture turns golden. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Add the sesame and vegetable oils to a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the ginger, lemongrass, shallots and garlic. Stir-fry one minute, then stir in the rest of the curry powder mixture and the chili paste, followed by the chicken. Stir-fry three minutes, then add the sweet potato and stir-fry until the chicken is no longer pink.
Add the fish sauce and one cup water. Use the liquid to deglaze the bottom of the pan, then stir in the coconut milk and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook uncovered 15 minutes.
Stir in 1/2 of the basil and cilantro and remove from heat. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining basil and cilantro. Serve with rice or noodles.