Creative Cambodian canapés for easy summer entertaining was what was on my mind when I started to experiment with different ways of presenting petite versions of traditional Cambodian dishes. These are the results. Recipes to follow.
Last year was a challenging year for Lara and I in some ways, so we decided that even though we still had work to do over Christmas and New Year we were going to take some time off to relax and do some cooking together.
As it’s summer back in Australia, and our gorgeous winter here in Siem Reap feels very much like early summer in Sydney, I wanted to keep things light, particularly as Lara seemed to be channelling her baboushka and was cooking Russian food almost every day.
With the end of yet another year living in Cambodia, we also wanted to celebrate Cambodian cuisine and cook some local food in a more contemporary style that is only just starting to be recognised in Cambodia. I decided to develop some creative Cambodian canapés.
Cambodian cuisine, it must be stated, is not one that easily translates to making finger food. However, it is common among local families and friends — if you have the resources here — to cook up a Khmer feast of an array of dishes that are shared family style over a low table.
With that in mind, we thought about the different types of dishes that comprise a traditional Khmer meal and how we could turn them into a series of creative Cambodian canapés. A traditional Cambodian feast might include a salad, a dip and vegetables (such as prahok k’tis), a soup, a stir-fry, a curry or braised dish, and rice.
So I decided that we should represent most of these in our series of creative Cambodian canapés. As with a traditional Khmer meal, where all the dishes are laid out on the table at once to be shared, we wanted to construct a series of creative Cambodian canapés that reflects how locals eat on special occasions — or every day if they are affluent.
These are our creative Cambodian canapés. Recipes for the traditional dishes that inspired them to follow.
Creative Cambodian Canapés
Fresh Spring Rolls
Fresh spring rolls have become street food, typically found at roadside stalls and markets, but they’re also offered in restaurants as a classic starter. Light and fragrant, they are a perfect amuse-bouche when cut into finger-food sizes, perfectly pairing with some bubbles.
Cambodians have for centuries made their versions of fish ceviche (a raw fish salad or plea trei in Khmer) and beef carpaccio (raw beef salad or plea sach ko). While we only sample them at restaurants we really trust, we decided to make a salmon ceviche using a local ceviche marinade because many people don’t like the ‘muddy’ and ‘earthy’ taste of some of the local freshwater fish from the rivers and lake. We made a mini version served in individual glasses to be eaten with a small fork or spoon.
Pomelo Salad with Prawns
We love pomelo salad, particularly the one that chef Kethana makes at The Sugar Palm restaurant and teaches participants in her cooking class. Every spread of Cambodian food that we’ve shared with locals has had at least one salad. And because we’re Aussies we have to have prawns over the holidays! I presented these as bite-size portions that could be eaten as finger food.
Prahok ktis (also written as prahok k’tis) is a delicious pork and prahok dip that’s a Cambodian classic and a dish we always serve or order to (gently) introduce the flavour of fermented fish to our overseas guests. Because it’s served with a variety of fresh vegetables for dipping, and these vegetables often include cucumbers, I decided to make small cucumber ‘cups’ to serve the rich dip in using this prahok k’tis recipe.
Sweet Pork Belly with Quail Eggs
One of my favourite Khmer dishes is sweet pork belly with eggs, often described as a braised caramelised pork with eggs. A square of sweet, rich pork belly makes for great finger food. While I usually use chicken eggs in the traditional dish, half of a hard-boiled quail egg was the perfect size to top the pork belly with.
A big Cambodian spread is not complete without amok trei (fish amok), particularly if it’s a special occasion. We love this steamed fish curry that has a soufflé- or mousse-like texture and while it wasn’t really possible to make really tiny versions, these cupcake sized versions were perfect for canapés. I steamed them in small coconut shell bowls with spoons so they could be eaten individually. This is our traditional Cambodian fish amok recipe.
Beef Lok Lak ‘Sandwiches’
The dish might have disputed origins but Cambodian beef lok lak (also written as beef loc lac, and usually compared to bò lúc lắc in Vietnamese) is undeniably a favourite. This dish of stir-fried beef with pepper is served with fresh sliced green tomatoes and a fried egg on top. I did just that. As green tomatoes are quite firm, a slice was strong enough to support a piece of beef topped with a fried quail egg.
We”ll be posting recipes for the traditional dishes that inspired our creative Cambodian canapés over coming days and as we do will add the links, above.
If you’re keen to learn more about Cambodian cuisine, consider our Cambodia Culinary Tours and Travel and Food Writing and Photography Retreats (discounts currently available to fill last remaining 2017 spots), or Lara’s bespoke ‘Savour Siem Reap’ itineraries.