There is a lot to celebrate with this post!
- We made it through another letter and on to the Cs!!!
- We passed the 15% completion mark!
- After this post, I will officially be up to date on the blog for the first time in months!
- While fighting off a bit of a cold bug over the long holiday weekend, I had a LOT of time to sit and take it easy, so I now have recipes selected for the next FIVE countries. Yeah. Cameroon through Chad, here we come.
I found a wealth of information and recipe options for Cambodia. A lot of them looked very good. I ended up selecting what seems to be acknowledged as the national dish and what most of the “cook a meal from every country” blogging community picked: Cambodian Fish Amok. This is a fish curry dish that is traditional steamed in banana leaves. With the addition of an egg to the curry, it is supposed to get a mousse-like consistency after steaming. I also made a green mango salad which, according to some sources, is a common accompaniment to the fish amok. Since I had high expectations for this country and was feeling particularly motivated, I also selected an unusual looking dessert called banh januk (AKA glutinous rice balls in sweet ginger syrup and coconut milk).
As it turns out, this was definitely one of our most ambitious meals for a weeknight, which wasn’t such a good thing when Tyler got some kind of a cold or virus that left him pretty low on energy (the same thing that he kindly passed on to me later in the week…). But we had fish in the refrigerator threatening to go bad, so we pressed on. On the plus side, we got to use a plethora of new ingredients! Split mung beans, glutinous rice flour, palm sugar/jaggery, chili paste, chili sauce, shrimp paste, and lemongrass. If they had been available locally, we would have also experienced cooking with kaffir limes/leaves, galangal, dried shrimp, dried fish, and banana leaves.
Fish Amok (recipe)
This recipe sounded simple enough: make a curry, coat the fish and spinach in it, then steam it. Since we couldn’t find banana leaves to use the traditional cooking method, all we had to do is mix it in a skillet and let it cook.
I should know by now that it is never that simple. This meal started innocently enough, with a collection of lemongrass, shallots, garlic, lime zest (substitute for kaffir limes), and ginger (substituted for galangal).
The recipe said to finely chop them before pounding them into a paste in the mortar and pestle. I figured coarsely chopping them would be good enough.
I figured wrong. It was very difficult to get to a paste-like consistency, and the lemongrass was extremely fibrous.
So I resorted to the food processor, which helped some. I then pounded it in the mortar pestle some more, and eventually I transferred it to a cutting board and chopped it with a knife to try to break apart the lemongrass fibers. Eventually I called it good.
After working on the other recipes and coming back to this, I eventually realized that the the turmeric, brown sugar (I used palm sugar/jaggery since that is what most of the fish amok recipes I saw online used), salt, and chili paste were supposed to go in at this point. So it went back to the food processor again, and the liquid in the chili paste definitely helped it get closer to the curry paste consistency I was looking for.
Next this was fried momentarily in some oil, then mixed with the coconut milk, shrimp paste, sugar, and salt. A quick note about shrimp paste: I had heard only bad things about shrimp paste and its potent smell from other bloggers and was not excited about purchasing it. Thus, when I saw a small jar of shrimp paste with some other stuff (garlic, salt, etc.) added, we opted to buy it over the massive package of straight up shrimp paste with no additions that they also sold. I think this was a mistake, but more on that later. After letting this mixture simmer for a few minutes, I added the chopped fish (we used mahi mahi) and spinach. It looked quite colorful and pleasant.
Next I whisked together the egg, fish sauce, and some of the curry sauce from this pan, then mixed it back into the pan. I think the idea of whisking it together first was to make sure the egg got well distributed in the pan. At this point, the mixture should have been placed in banana leaf baskets and steamed. The particular recipe I selected actually claims that they tasted no significant difference when this is cooked in a pan vs. steamed in a banana leaf, so that’s good since we didn’t have banana leaves available. The recipe wasn’t really clear on what to do after adding the egg, so I just turned down the heat to low and let it simmer for a while while we finished the other recipes. It was supposed to get a mousse-like consistency. I would say it solidified a bit, but I wouldn’t call it mousse-like.
The individual servings were later topped with julienned red bell pepper and lime zest (again, substituted for kaffir lime leaves since I couldn’t get those fresh around here).
Green Mango Salad (recipe)
This recipe was pretty self explanatory: chop and blend the dressing ingredients, chop the salad ingredients, then toss it all together.
The dressing used peppers, shallot, ginger (again substituted for galangal), and garlic that were pounded in the mortar and pestle.
Out of fear from the curry paste making struggles, I chopped these into small pieces first.
I didn’t get too fussy about pounding it into a fine paste, since they recommended using a food processor to add the liquids and other ingredients (chili sauce, palm sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice).
I was quite dismayed to learn that I only need 10 mL of this sauce. We have a LOT left over.
For the salad I finely sliced the mango (by the way, I couldn’t find any green mangoes, so I used a reasonably firm yet decidedly ripe and colorful mango):
…then mixed it together with the sauce, peanuts, tomato, onion, and herbs (I got to use Thai basil and mint out of our garden!). I omitted the dried shrimp and fish since I didn’t have much luck in finding them and wasn’t particular thrilled about eating them anyway.
The recipe didn’t really specify a serving temperature, so we left it on the counter and ate it around room temperature with dinner.
Banh Januk (recipe)
I left my poor, sick husband mostly in charge of this recipe, so I don’t have great notes or pictures. He started with split mung beans.
These were soaked for an hour, cooked until soft, then mashed.
Then we got to work with the big chunk of palm sugar (AKA jaggery). We used part of the block for the other two recipes and then scaled this recipe to 1/4 sized so that we could work with the amount of palm sugar we had left from the single block we purchased.
This was melted and cooked with water, ginger, and salt.
The coconut milk was cooked in a pan with the cornstarch and salt. It didn’t look very exciting, so I didn’t take pictures.
Then the glutinous rice flour was mixed and kneaded with water. It was pretty gloppy stuff for a while.
Eventually it firmed up, and we worked on forming balls of the rice flour mixture that were stuffed with a small scoop of the mashed mung beans. I ended up taking over responsibility for this task from Tyler. As usual when making stuffed foods, we had a lot of the filling leftover. I had to add extra flour to keep the dough workable.
These balls were boiled in water until the floated:
Then they were topped with the ginger sauce, coconut milk, and toasted sesame seeds. It definitely didn’t look as pretty as the pictures in the recipe.
The final meal (sans dessert):
Whew, this was a lot of work, unfortunately not for a lot of results. 😦
The fish curry seemed like it had a lot of potential, but it tasted VERY salty. As in… all I could taste was salt. I found it to be slightly less salty the next day for leftovers and could kind of pick out the lemongrass and ginger flavors, but it was still predominantly salty. My theory is that the alternate shrimp paste we purchased had more salt than your run of the mill shrimp paste, and that is what threw it off. I’m not likely to remake this soon, so I guess we’ll never know. Bummer.
The green mango salad was pretty good, although it was overshadowed by the extreme saltiness of the curry. Sadly I think my opinion of the salad was tainted by the rest of the meal. I think this salad could be very good with the right meal, though.
My opinion of the dessert was probably also tainted by my disappointment over the salt curry, but I wasn’t wildly impressed with it either. It was okay, just not great. I’m not sure the rice balls were cooked long enough (or maybe there was just too much dough?), since they were a little too chewy/doughy for me. I liked the mung bean filling, though. I think our ginger syrup was too thin, but it had a good flavor. Overall, I can see where this had potential to be good, and like several of other other meals, we probably didn’t do it justice. Again, bummer.
The world seems upside down with our last African meal (Burundi) being so successful and an Asian meal being less than stellar (I have generally really enjoyed the Asian meals so far)! We’re back to Africa next time, then Canada, then three more African meals, so here’s hoping Burundi was a good omen of tasty African food to come!