I’ve lost count of the cookbooks I brought back from Asia this time. I’m fairly certain my weight in books surpassed everything else in my luggage. Among that traveling library was a copy of From Spiders to Water Lilies: Creative Cambodian Cooking with Friends. It’s a beautiful book, which finally presents Khmer cuisine in a sophisticated way. I love it. Published by the Friends NGO, the book won due recognition this summer with honors at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
When I spotted the recipe for num banh chok (or nom pan chok samloh prahal), I had to make it—and so I did, as Rosi Recipe #5. HUGE success. As with so many of my favorite Asian recipes, the abundance of herbs makes all the difference in this dish. Jerry said it was closer to the real thing than any other Asian recipe I have made in the States. The entire kitchen smelled of Cambodia as I cooked. And Rosi’s mom? “This is better than khao soi,” she said.
That’s saying something.
Here’s what you do (my comments in italics, in parentheses):
Green fish curry and coconut with rice noodles
From From Spiders to Water Lilies by Friends-International
300 g fish fillets, poached (I used tilapia)
3 T lemongrass paste
2 T roasted chopped peanuts
500 ml fish stock
250 ml coconut milk
250 ml coconut cream
1 tsp prahok (I used shrimp paste)
2 T fish sauce
salt to taste
1 T palm sugar
Lemongrass Paste Ingredients:
200 g young lemongrass stalks, about 15 pieces, sliced
1 T peeled and chopped galangal
2 T peeled and chopped fresh turmeric (I buy this in bulk and freeze it until I need it—so much more aromatic and lively than dried)
4 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced (my Asian market had sad looking leaves that day so I used lime juice)
4 garlic cloves, halved
Peel of half a kaffir lime, chopped (I used lime zest)
1 T peeled and chopped Cambodian rhizome (I didn’t have)
(I also added a little ginger)
To serve with curry:
800 g thin rice noodles, cooked al dente
2 small cucumbers, cut into matchsticks (I sliced them)
1/2 banana flower, thinly sliced and soaked in cold water with lime juice (I didn’t have)
200 g bean sprouts (didn’t have)
2 m water lily root, thinly sliced (didn’t have)
red chiles and Thai basil for garnish
(I also used shaved cabbage, radish sprouts and mint. Really, any cool, raw vegetables and herbs will do.)
First, prepare the lemongrass paste. With mortar and pestle, pound lemongrass into a paste then add remaining ingredients and pound until well combined. This paste will keep refrigerated for one day only (I froze the leftovers).
Next, cook the fish. (I boiled the tilapia with a little salt and pepper, then used the water as fish stock). Use a mortar and pestle to pound fish with lemongrass paste and peanuts into a lumpy paste (this turned fluffy, with the most unusual texture, like pork floss). Set aside. Put stock, coconut milk, coconut cream and prahok into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the paste, fish sauce, salt and palm sugar, and simmer for 5 to 7 more minutes. Put a large handful of vegetables into each person’s bowl. Add noodles then ladle curry over the top. Garnish with chiles and basil.
This should be eaten squatting, using chopsticks and with as much slurping as possible (we ate at a picnic table, but the rest stands true).