Posts Tagged ‘ garlic ’

Fish Amok

On Monday I decided to attend a Cambodian cooking class. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for some time… since December 2009, actually, when a friend first suggested it. The class took place at a property owned by the restaurant Frizz on Street 240.

We kicked off the day at 9am for a quick tour of common Cambodian cooking ingredients at one of the better vegetable markets in town, Kandal market. It’s a place that I’ve been to a number of times, so it wasn’t really that exciting for me, but the class is geared toward tourists and not… locals, so I didn’t complain.

Our class was lead by a young guy named Heng (or was it Keng?) who had actually gone through the horeca training program at Friends International. He was a pretty vibrant guy who spoke English relatively well, and knew a fair bit about the culinary history of Cambodia.

After our market tour with Heng, we headed back to our kitchen, an open-air facility on the second floor of a building behind the restaurant. The first thing on the menu was Cambodian spring rolls (chaio yor).

Now, I’ve been particularly curious about Cambodian spring rolls, because I asked our former maid to make some for us when I first arrived in Cambodia this summer, and she weaseled her way out of it twice, claiming that they were very difficult to make. By the end of this class however, I determined that the maid was definitely not made a former maid in error. Cambodian spring rolls are super easy.

Basically, it involves two cups of grated taro root (coco yam) and 2 cups of grated carrot. The most involved step is taking the starch out of the taro, which is easily done by sprinkling about a tablespoon of salt onto the yam and gently squeezing and working the yam for about 3-5 minutes until the moisture is drawn out of the yam.

Next, we spiced the spring roll filling with some sugar and ground black pepper and about a tablespoon of ground peanut.

The next step was to roll the spring rolls… very straightforward, we just used a beaten egg to seal the rolls, and took care to make them as tight as possible, so as to keep them from soaking up too much oil when they are fried.

After that, we fried the spring rolls in about 3 cups of cooking oil inside of a wok, until they were golden brown.

As for the dipping sauce, it’s just a variation of nuoc cham, with the very same ingredients, so see my previous entry for details.

The next thing on the menu was the fish amok. While there is a great overlap between Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese food, fish amok is one of those dishes that is very, very Cambodian. It’s a quick favourite among visitors and expats alike, because of the sweet taste of the coconut milk and cream in the amok.

Oddly enough, the recipe featured in the cookbook we were given is different from the recipe we used in the class, so I’m going off the top of my head for some of the quantities. In any case, here goes:

Kroeung (herb paste)

-10 dried red chilies (the non spicy, larger variety) soaked, drained and chopped into a paste.

-4 cloves garlic

-3 tbsp of galangal (cut small) … if you can’t find galangal, use ginger root

– 8 thinly sliced lemongrass stalks (outer leaves and lower part of bulb removed–chop starting at the bulb end, and chop about one-third of the length of the stalks, and discard the rest)

-zest of 1/3 kaffir lime

-1 tsp salt

-2 tbsp of chopped fresh turmeric

-1  to 3 sliced bird’s eye chilies, depending on how much heat you want

-1 small shallot


Combine all the ingredients in a food processor (or mortar) and blend to a thick paste.

Amok – Serves 4


–3 tbsp fish sauce

-3 tbsp kaffir lime leaves

-3 chili peppers

-500g snakehead fish (trei ros), or any meaty white fish…

-2 cups coconut milk

-3/4 cup coconut cream

-1 egg, beaten

-8 banana leaves (might be smart to buy extras, especially the first time)

Making the banana cup:

First, clean the leaves with a wet cloth, then dip them into boiling water so they are soft and do not crack when being shaped.

Cut the leaves into circles about 25cm in diameter and place two together, with the shiny sides facing outward.

Make a square in the middle of the circle, this will be the bottom of the cup.

Then, put a thumb on one right angle of the square and pull up two sides, tucking the fold, and pinning together with a tiny bamboo stick, toothpick, or stapler.

Repeat this four times, so that the cup has five equally spaced folds.

The rest of the amok:

Slice the fish thinly and set aside. Stir the kroeung into 1 cup of coconut milk. When it has dissolved, add the egg, fish sauce and sliced fish. Then add the remaining coconut milk and mix well.

Divide the mixture evenly among the four banana leaf cups and steam for 15-20 minutes, then put the coconut cream on top, as well as the kaffir leaves (thinly sliced) and thinly sliced sweet chili pepper for garnish. Steam further until the mixture is solid, but still moist.

Serve with rice, and enjoy!!



Another family staple in my house is bruschetta. You can’t go wrong with tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some fresh bread. Throw some cheese on it, and you’ve got a pretty filling sandwich alternative.

The recipe I used to use for bruschetta is sadly no longer online… or if it is, I can’t find it….

I’m horrible at writing down quantities, I just kind of chuck everything into a pan until it tastes right, but here’s my best effort:


-1 baguette/focaccia bread

-4 cloves garlic (I always double this)

-1 /3 cup olive oil (extra virgin is best!)

-1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

-1 tbsp chopped fresh basil

-Salt and black pepper to taste

-700g roma tomatoes, chopped


1. Mince or crush the garlic and add it to the olive oil, set aside.

2. Slice the baguette into 1.5cm slices.

3. Brush the slices with some of the olive oil/garlic mixture. Make sure to reserve 1 tbsp.

4. Put the bread slices oil side up on the top rack of the oven, and broil until the bread browns a bit. This should take about 5 minutes, depending on the oven. You just want to dry the bread enough so that it’s not soggy when you put the tomatoes on it. Be careful not to burn the bread!

5. In the meantime, put the remaining olive oil and tomatoes, balsamic vinegar  into the pan on medium heat. Add in the balsamic vinegar and  basil, mixing the ingredients with a wooden spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook the tomatoes until they have softened a bit, no more than 5 minutes.

6. Spoon the tomato onto the bread slices and serve. Alternatively, you can put the bruschetta back in the oven after you’ve put the tomatoes on, and sprinkle it with some finely grated parmesan or some other low-moisture Italian cheese of choice.

These days I’m trying to stay away from bread, but I still love tomatoes, so I often prepare tomatoes bruschetta style to serve as a side dish. Here they are, and the next time I make proper bruschetta, I’ll add the pic.

Mashed Potaters…

In keeping with the crappy Dutch weather, I decided to make some mashed potatoes earlier this week. This is another recipe inspired by a meal often served in my university’s cafeteria. I decided to make red-skin mashed potatoes to accompany some barbecued chicken breast.

I took about 0.75 kilos of red potatoes, scrubbed them, and removed the bad bits. Then I cut them up into chunks, and put them in a pot, filling the water until it just covered the potatoes, and threw in a bit of salt. I also added about 6 thinly sliced garlic cloves to the pot and mixed them around so they’d be evenly distributed.

I brought the water to a boil on high heat, then reduced it so the potatoes would cook slowly for about 10 minutes. I took them off the heat, and strained the potatoes with a colander.

Putting the pot back on the stove on low heat, I added about 2tbsp of unsalted butter, and about 1/4 cup of koffiemelk (its consistency is somewhere between Carnation milk and homogenized milk). The reason for this is that my mother is lactose intolerant, so fresh milk products are a no-no. After that, I added about 1.5tbsp of kruidenboter (herb butter). I also put in about 1/4 cup of grated belegen cheese (a quick search on Wikipedia has taught me that belegen is moderately aged ‘gouda’). Then I mashed away!

The potatoes turned out pretty good, I must say. I had made this about 10 days ago with less garlic, and they were alright. This time around I was a bit apprehensive about the fact I had basically doubled the garlic, but the boiling process pretty much ensures that the flavour won’t overpower the potatoes as long as you don’t go overboard.

Where a pear is not a pear….

If you ever find yourself in Cameroon (major exports: oil, soccer players), and you ask a local for a pear, they will hand you an avocado. You’ll be hard-pressed to find what the western world identifies as pear over there. Fortunately, avocados in Cameroon are a pleasant treat. When they’re in season, the avocados are amazing–so rich, they almost taste buttery. Honestly, I have yet to taste a better species of avocado, and believe me when I say I’ve tried many.

The last time I was in Cameroon, back in 2006, my sister and I wound up in a small city called Dschang, in the West province. We ended up at a relative’s house during the rainy season for about a week. As with many households in Cameroon, we had household help, in the form of two young women who were meant to cook, clean and basically dote on us. At that time, being western-raised kids, having people answer our every beck and call for a week was pretty awkward (since then I have gotten used to it!), so if we wanted a snack, we’d go into the kitchen and make one.

The most readily-available thing to eat in the house were avocados… so we made some a-mazing guacamole. Every. Single. Day. We ate it on and with everything – with omelettes, on bread, on crepes, on plantains, on rice, you name it. I think we may have even eaten it with fufu and okra. Most of the time my sis and I were alone in the house with the house help, and our little cousin who eventually started to take a liking to the guacamole. One day toward the end of the week, our relatives came home, and checking on the state of the house, asked the house help about us. I overheard the conversation they were having in the kitchen:

Relative: “How are they doing? Are you feeding them well?”

House help: “Yes, they are eating.”

Relative: “What are you feeding them?”

House help: “Well, uncle, they’re a little strange… all they want to eat is mashed pear.”

My sister and I rofl-coptered after hearing that response. I guess we succeeded in making our mark as the eccentric foreigners in the small town of Dschang. Those avocados were well worth being called weird over.

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Anyway, fast forward to today. My cousin arrived from Dschang and came bearing fruit, in the form of avocados!  A few of them were picked before they were mature enough, so even though they were ripe, they tasted a bit watery and bland. The few that were good produced some amazing guacamole, of course.

The recipe I used is from… it’s been a family favourite for a few years now. These days, I don’t really stick to the recipe quantities, I just dump things in (yes, it’s as unceremonious as it sounds) until it tastes right, and substitute ingredients when I don’t have them. If you’re looking for an upgrade above the original recipe, use red onion instead of white onion. My sister likes to add a bit of mayo to make it creamier. I kind of think it’s unnecessary, since avocado is full of (healthy) fat anyway, and these ones are very buttery, but try the mayo for something different.