This Cambodian cucumber salad recipe for nhoam trasak makes a fantastic filling salad that you can eat year-round. Traditionally shared in Cambodia, where, like most salads, it’s eaten family-style with rice and an array of other dishes, you can easily serve this as a satisfying single-bowl meal for lunch or dinner.
This Cambodian cucumber salad recipe for nhoam trasak – also spelt gnoam trasak or gnoam tra-sakk – makes a fantastic year-round salad if you’re lucky to live in a sultry tropical climate, such as that of Cambodia, or a colossal country like Australia where you can source cucumbers from one state or another throughout the year.
I was recently chatting to a Khmer-American friend on social media who said it was a shame there weren’t more Cambodian salads. My immediate response was something to the effect that “there might not be many, but Cambodian salads are the best”, which explains why we’ve got so many Cambodian salad recipes here – everything from a classic banana flower chicken salad to the pork and jicama salad, one of our favourites.
Then I went and looked at the recipe list for our epic Cambodian cookbook and Cambodian culinary history and realised how many Cambodian salads I’d actually identified – some of which we’ve already shared here, from a Cambodian pork larb to a green papaya salad – and how many more we still have to document and recipe-test.
If you’re a fan of Cambodian salads and you’d like to support our ongoing documentation of those and other Cambodian recipes, please do consider becoming a supporter of our first-of-its-kind Cambodian cookbook project on Patreon, which documents dozens of recipes and stories from cooks across Cambodia for the first time.
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Or just browse our recipes from Asia and beyond and share a link to Grantourismo with your family and friends. Now let me tell you a little about this Cambodian cucumber salad recipe.
Cambodian Cucumber Salad Recipe for Nhoam Trasak, a Fantastic Filling Year-Round Salad
Our Cambodian cucumber salad recipe for nhoam trasak – also spelt gnoam trasak or gnoam tra-sakk – makes a fantastic year-round salad if you’re lucky to live in warmer climates, such as Southeast Asia, or a colossal country like Australia where you can source cucumbers from one state or another throughout the year.
There’s no denying cucumbers are fantastic in summer salads. Keep them refrigerated until you’re ready to use them and thanks to their high water content, they remain crunchy and cold for a while. Hence the expression “cool as a cucumber”.
Spend a scorching summer on the Greek Islands and you’ll get why the Greek Salad, comprised of little more than cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, feta cheese, and Kalamata olives, is so popular.
The addition of fried bacon, smoked dried fish and dried shrimp are what make this salad more filling and a great year-round salad for me, in the same way that I can tuck into a salade Niçoise or Caesar salad mid-winter, especially if Terence adds a salmon fillet to the form and fried chicken to the latter!
While this is a classic Cambodian cucumber salad, you’ll find countless variations in Cambodia, so do feel free to tweak this – just as Cambodians do.
And don’t feel obligated to serve it as the locals do, as part of share family meal, with rice and maybe a barbecued fish or grilled meats.
This Cambodian cucumber salad is so filling that it makes a fantastic single-bowl salad for lunch or a light dinner. I can easily eat a bowl of this on my own. It’s that good!
Tips to Making this Cambodian Cucumber Salad Recipe
When you’re using dried shrimp, always soak it a little first, then when you’re ready to combine your salad, dry it off thoroughly, and pound it in your mortar and pestle. If you’ve not used a mortar and pestle before, we have a few tips.
Next, we recommend making your Cambodian teuk trey (fish sauce) dressing –which consists of lime juice, fish sauce, finely chopped birds-eye chillies and garlic cloves, salt, and sugar, as the flavours are always more rounded if they’re allowed to sit and meld together. The longer you leave it, the better it will taste.
As I’ve mentioned with other recipes, Cambodians don’t always treat these ingredients as a separate dressing, they’ll just throw them in with the rest of the salad ingredients and depending on what they’re making, pound them together or combine them.
However, if you’re new to Cambodian cooking or you’re serving guests who are, it’s best to create a separate dressing so, firstly, you can ensure that it’s balanced and to your taste, and to the taste of your guests, and, secondly, so you have some control.
The fish sauce is the key ingredient with the dressing, so always use a premium quality fish sauce. You probably won’t be able to source a Cambodian fish sauce outside the country so look for a Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce.
You’ll find Southeast Asian fish sauces in an Asian market or the Asian section of your supermarket in Australia, the UK, Europe or USA. We love Thailand’s Megachef, as we find it to be one of the most consistent fish sauces in terms of flavour and quality and it’s fairly widely available.
If you haven’t made a teuk trey dressing or dipping sauce before, I strongly suggest using the minimum suggested measurements (or even half those), then taste and adjust ingredients to suit your own taste.
I always recommend doing this with any Cambodian or northern Southeast Asian dressings, sauces and pastes you might not have made before. One person’s idea of salty can be very different to another’s.
You’ll also need to pound the smoked dried fish (trey cha-er), which you should also find in an Asian market or Asian supermarket. Look for the small dried smoked fish that are in the image above. It’s best to use a wooden mortar and pestle for the fish.
First, remove the heads, fins and tails, and pull out the spines. Pound the remainder of the smoked fish in a mortar with your pestle. Pull out and discard the skin which should rise to the surface.
Then you need to feel around for any fine little bones and other hard bits and pull those out and discard them. The last thing you want is for one of those to get lodged in someone’s throat.
What you’ll be left with in the bottom of the mortar is almost fluffy, ever-so-slightly crunchy dried fish – some of them can be almost like a fish floss in texture – that doesn’t taste like much eaten on its own but is brilliant in the salad.
Make sure to save a little of this, plus your fresh fragrant herbs, to sprinkle on top of the salad after you combine everything. Sounds fiddly? Sure, it is, a little. But don’t let that deter you, as it’s worth it.
Cambodian Cucumber Salad Recipe for Nhoam Trasak
- 20 g dried shrimp - soaked, drained, dried, and coarsely pounded
- 50 g bacon - finely chopped and fried
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 2 garlic cloves - finely chopped
- 1 birds-eye chilli - finely chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 50 g dried smoked fish
- 300 g cucumber
- 50 g red capsicum / bell pepper
- 1 shallot or small white onion
- 2 tsp peanuts - roasted and pounded
- 1 cup fresh fragrant herbs such as coriander - basil and mint
- Soak the dried shrimp in a small bowl in just enough water to cover the shrimp.
- Fry the finely chopped bacon until crisp then set aside to cool down.
- Make your dressing by combining the fish sauce, lime juice, finely chopped garlic cloves, birds-eye chilli, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Adjust ingredients to taste: if it’s too salty, add a little more sugar; if you prefer more bite, add more chilli. Ensure the flavours are balanced, then leave to sit so flavours meld together.
- Remove the heads, tails and spines of the small dried smoked fish. Using a pestle, pound the remainder of the smoked fish in a mortar, pulling out and discarding the skin which will rise to the surface, then feel for any tiny sharp bones and pull those out. Set aside.
- Slice the cucumbers into 1cm thick rounds (note: some Cambodians remove the seeds, others don’t; do as you prefer), roughly slice the red capsicum / bell pepper, finely chop a shallot / small white onion, and pop into a salad bowl.
- Drain and pat dry the dried shrimp, add half to the mortar, pound lightly, and add the pounded dried shrimp, half the pounded dried smoked fish and half the pounded peanuts to the salad bowl and combine.
- Add the dressing to the salad bowl, little by little, combining, and tasting.
- Add half the fresh herbs to the salad bowl, lightly combine, and then serve onto a plate, piling it into a mound loosely, as pictured above.
- Sprinkle the remaining pounded smoked fish, dried shrimp, crushed peanuts, and fresh fragrant herbs on top and served immediately.
Do let us know if you make our Cambodian cucumber salad recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.