Here is the third post in the 3 part series of our recent Cambodian Cooking class that we signed up for while visiting Siem Reap last month. In case you missed out the previous 2 posts, they were on a fresh green papaya salad and a fresh vegetable spring roll and dipping sauce both very simple to put together, delicious, healthy and vegetarian.
Amok in south-east Asia typically refers “to the process of steam cooking a curry in banana leaves” as Wikipedia puts it across. In Cambodia Fish Amok made its appearance in all the restaurants serving Cambodian food strongly suggesting it is a staple curry of the place. The good news is this curry below is the vegan and vegetarian friendly version of the ever famous Fish Amok, so now everyone can enjoy the flavors of it.
In fact I feel Amok is to Cambodia what Thai green curry and red curry are to Thailand – A curry you want to try out and order in a restaurant, sort of a national dish of the country. Further it is very close to the Thai curries since the base is coconut milk as the case usually is for most of these curries found in the coastal regions of the tropics.
One stark difference is the use of “Amok leaves” that will perhaps be the most difficult ingredient to source for this curry unless you live in Cambodia or you have access to a specialty Asian store selling them. I believe the substitute is normally collard greens – perhaps owing to their bitter tastes but really Amok leaves are the best if you can get them though.
We were 4 amateur cooks who put together this curry huddled in a bamboo hut being taught by a demure woman. She would smile and in broken English try to explain the ingredients. She would hand out few vegetables to each of us to chop, and give my husband the least among 4 of us. My guess for this inequality is her mindset that he may not be able to chop when in fact he was the best among all of us for for chopping up the vegetables using the sharp Chef’s knife provided. 🙂
She didn’t trust any of us for pounding the spices for the curry paste in the 1 foot high wooden mortar and pestle and asked us to only observe her do so. Also explained that at home an electric grinder or food processor could be the option we could go for. Then finally mixed in the paste in the curry pan, boiled it and served us the food.
We emerged from the hut victorious with trays of the finished green papaya salad, spring rolls and Vegetarian Amok curry to seat ourselves in a quiet garden with bamboo chairs and tables. Then feasted on the spread we laid out in front of us. What fun 🙂
Cambodian Vegetarian Amok Curry
2 amok leaves (Noni leaves) shredded *
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 red chili
1/2 block of firm tofu cubed and pan fried
Sauce for the curry
2 sticks lemongrass
1/4 inch galangal root**
1/4 inch turmeric root***
1 kaffir lime leaf
1/2 Tbspn chili paste
1 Tbspn roasted peanuts
1 Tbspn low sodium soy sauce
1 organic mushroom stock cube
1/2 cup coconut milk****
1/2 cup water
Salt as per taste
1. Pound lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, kaffir lime leaves, chili paste and peanuts in a mortar and pestle. Or use a food processor/blender grinder.
2. Boil water with the pounded spice mix and then put the vegetables in it after boiling for 5-6 minutes
3. Add salt, mushroom stock, soy sauce and palm sugar
4. Add coconut milk, boil the curry and stir well.
5. Serve with steamed white or brown rice based on your preference.
*Substitute with a bunch of greens like Collards, spinach if you are unable to source actual Amok leaves
**Galanghal is closest to ginger and used extensively in Asian coastal curries. Use ginger if unable to source galanghal
***Turmeric root gives an intense flavor once smashed and pounded. Turmeric powder may be a substitute if you are unable to get the root.
****Canned coconut milk is the quick short cut method for this curry. However if you have the time, inclination and availability of fresh coconuts then make your own milk. It is all about grating fresh coconut, mixing water and straining via a thin muslin cloth. Here is a quick guide on making your own homemade coconut milk.
The chef who taught us how to cook these lovely foods