We had to get up early this morning because John had telephoned last night to say that we could join in the cookery class today. The three of us took a tuk-tuk to the Frizz where we were joined by some of John’s students from the NataRaj yoga centre (they are former sex traffic workers and are being helped by the Global Transitions organisation to become reintegrated and independent). Not all the girls could read and some of them had no experience in cooking, they also lack experience in interacting with “normal” people. John is also teaching them their own history (this was going to include a visit to the killing fields the next day), as well as their own language and Sanskrit. Yoga, until recently, was completely unknown in Cambodia and it is now being used as one aspect of trauma therapy and bodily awareness. John is a visiting teacher to the Nata Raj centre.
John and some of the girls
We started by taking a tuk-tuk to the market where we had a guided tour and were introduced to some of the different fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Early morning traffic chaos
in South East Asia the wearing of pyjamas is not restricted to the bedroom, they can be worn any place and any time and indeed appear to be the preferred item of clothing for women and children
curries bubble away at this food stand – there is no need for a shopper to go hungry at any time of day
a vendor of flowers for temple offerings
a bread stall
baby pumpkins with Chinese new year decorations on them
a fruit and vegetable stall
edible waterlily stems and morning glory
the small round green things in the basket with okra are apple aubergines , the purple things are banana flowers and the yellow things are ready-skinned pineapples
a sugar cane vendor
edible flowers (purple water hyacinth and yellow zucchini), other herbs and vegetables
the pale green fruit in the foreground of this photo are milk fruit – no idea what they taste like
a seafood stall selling bags of mussels, crabs, dried fish and some unidentifiable brown things – sea cucumbers (aka sea slugs) perhaps?
barbecued fish kebabs – the “sticks” are stalks of lemongrass which imparts a very subtle flavour to the fish during cooking
a freshly-peeled pineapple vendor
rice sacks. In Siem Reap we saw these re-cycled into really neat shoulder and handbags
rice noodles – the baskets are lined with banana leaves and each layer is separated with a lotus leaf – this helps to keep the noodles cool
dried fish stall. The fish in the bottom right hand corner are called snakeshead fish (the fish have been slit open and flattened)
crammed into a booth opposite this dried fish stall you could even have your fortune told
Back at the centre, we climbed the spiral staircase to the roof top cookery class area. Fortunately the weather was a bit overcast with a slight breeze. We started off by learning how to grate carrots and taro root and make deep fried spring rolls the proper way. You don’t use the central core of the carrot in the spring rolls, as it is too hard. This Cambodian carrot grater was far better than anything else I have seen but alas we didn’t manage to find one before we left.
Next item was banana flower salad with chicken. You have to remove the dark reddish purple outer petals from the banana flower until you just have the white ones left. You also need to remove the white finger-like things (future bananas if the flower had been left to mature on the plant)
As you slice the flower put the pieces into water to which you have added the juice of a lime – this stops the banana flower from going brown. The correct way to slice a lime so that you don’t get seeds in the juice (basically you cut three slices off the outside of the lime leaving a triangular core containing the seeds. The slices look really nice when cut like this).
the finished salad
Pounding the paste for the Amok – we were exhausted long before it had reached the right consistency so our Cambodian friends gave us a helping hand
The most difficult part of making the fish Amok was the construction of the banana leaf container.
This was followed by mango with sticky rice and caramel sauce made from palm sugar. Peel one half of a mango, make diagonal cuts across the flesh and then pass a knife under the cuts as close to the stone as you can. Turn over and repeat on the other side. This will give you the beautiful slices of mango as seen on the dish.
We all sat down together to eat each dish as we prepared it. It would have been much too much food to have eaten all at one sitting. Some of the girls took most of their fish amoks home with them, they were particularly rich and filling.
The class lasted most of the day and we had a really good time. Some of the girls were more friendly than others but this was due more to their knowledge of English (or lack of it) than anything else and they seemed to be a happy group. I hope that with John’s help and the help they receive from Transitions they will be able to make something of themselves.
Banana blossom salad with chicken
1 banana flower
2 tbsp mixed herbs (mint, basil, fishwort, coriander (cilantro)
150g chicken breast cut into pieces
1 chilli pepper, finely sliced
juice of 1 lime
1 chilli pepper
1 bird chilli (optional as these are very fiery)
juice of 2 limes
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup mineral water
Cook the pieces of chicken breast until cooked wll and set aside to cool down.
Remove the leaves of sweet basil, coriander, fishwort and mint from the stems. Large leaves can be cut into smaller pieces.
For this salad you only use the young (inner) parts of the banana flower, so first take off the pink-purple outer layers.
Cut the young flowers into thin slices. To prevent them turning black, immediately rinse the slices in diluted lime juice for 5 minutes, then take out and set aside.
For the dressing, cut chilli pepper, bird chilli and garlic into pieces, put them in a mortar and grind a little (not to a paste!). Put ground peppers and garlic in the mineral watr add shallots, fish sauce, lime juice, salt and palm sugar to taste. Mix well.
Put the banana flowers into a bow, together with the chicken, the mixed herbs, chili and dressing and mix well. Arrange nicely on a plate.
Amok, the kroeung (curry paste)
Amok is a Cambodian curry which is steamed instead of boiled and is solid, but moist. One of the two traditional types of amok is cooked with fish and steamed in banana leaf cups.
5 dried chillies (soaked, drained and chopped into a paste) or fresh
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp galangal cut small
1 tesp lemon grass, thinly sliced
zest of 1/4 kaffir (or ordinary) lime
1 tsp salt
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to a thick paste. Alternatively (and more traditionally and more time consumingly) this can be done in a mortar and pestle.
Refrigerate any paste not needed for the amok; it can be used to add a little kick to soups and stir fries.
30g young nhor leaves (no real substitute)*
3 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp kaffir lime leaves
3 chilli peppers
500g any meaty fish
3/4 cup coconut cream
2 cups coconut milk
1 egg, beaten
slice the fish thinly and set aside. Remove the nhor leaves from the stem, slice the kaffir limes leaves and chillip peppers thinly. 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. Make the banana leaf cups, then put in the nhor leaves first and top with the fish mixture. Carefully place the banana leaf bowl into a steamer and steam for 15-20 minutes, then put the coconut cream on top and the thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves and chillies. Steam further until the mixture is solid, but still moist.
(this is a very rich dish!)
Amok, the banana cup
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 circles 25cm in diameter and place two together. This is important as one leaf is not strong enough to hold the mixture.
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 2 sides, tucking the fold, and pinning together with a half a cocktail stick. Move the next right and repeat. Continute until all 4 sides of the cup are held together.
*Nohr is morindia citrifolia sometimes known as “noni”. I have seen this tree growing in Thailand. I nicknamed it the Startrek tree because the fruit look so weird and they squish underfoot (they look really disgusting). Opinion is divided as to what to use for a substitute, some people favour lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves but I reckon Thai basil or Thai holy basil would be just as good