This Cambodian long bean salad with smoked fish recipe makes bok sondek trey cha-er and for me it’s the Cambodian equivalent of a European green salad. As delicious as it is, you might not eat it on its own, just as you probably wouldn’t eat a lettuce, tomato and onion salad by itself. But it’s the best accompaniment to barbecued or grilled meats or fish, a soup and steamed rice.
I love this Cambodian long bean salad with smoked fish recipe for bok sondek trey cha-er. But unlike some of the other Cambodian salads we’ve shared, such as the pork and jicama salad or banana flower chicken salad, which I’d happily tuck into on their own for a filling lunch or light dinner, this salad is best shared as part of a family meal, with steamed rice and perhaps a soup, a grilled fish or barbecue meats – which is, of course, how it’s eaten here in Cambodia.
This delicious Cambodian long bean salad with smoked fish is another one of Cambodia’s best salads and it’s next in my series of Cambodian salads that we have been recipe testing for our Cambodian cookbook projects. Unlike, say, the pork larb or green papaya salad, which you’d spot on restaurant menus on your travels in Cambodia, this salad is eaten more in the home. I’ve seen it on very few menus during our years here.
So far in our classic Cambodian salad recipes series we’ve posted recipes for everything from a gorgeous green mango and smoked fish salad (which tastes as good as it looks) to a fragrant grilled beef salad and in the weeks ahead I’ll be sharing more recipes for Cambodian salads and other dishes that we’ve been testing here in Siem Reap.
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Cambodian Long Bean Salad with Smoked Fish Recipe for Bok Sondek Trey Cha-er
Cambodian salads are typically shared as part of a family meal and this Cambodian long bean and smoked fish salad recipe is no exception. Rice is at the centre of the table and the plate and everyone helps themselves to a little bit of everything else – perhaps a hearty soup, a chicken curry, a braised dish or a stew. Or maybe some fresh spring rolls, a rich prahok k’tis (coconut milk, pork mince and fermented fish dip) with crudités, a barbecue fish or some grilled meats and stir-fried Asian greens.
Of course, not all Cambodian families can afford a generous spread of dishes for every meal. Sometimes it’s not a case of money but time. After a hard day in the rice fields, a big pot of rice and a hearty vegetable soup or stir-fried greens is easy to make and will fill empty stomachs, and this Cambodian long bean salad with smoked fish recipe makes a dish that many Cambodians are happy to eat with a heap of steamed rice.
While my friends here in Cambodia probably wouldn’t make the comparison, for me this Cambodian long bean salad is a bit like a European-style salad with lettuce, tomato and onion. Drizzle on a virgin olive oil and vinegar dressing, and that lettuce and tomato salad is fantastic with a steak, a roast chicken or grilled fish.
But unless you’re going to add a big slab of salty feta cheese and juicy Kalamata olives and turn it into a Greek-style salad or go Italian with a creamy burrata or buffalo mozzarella and fresh Italian basil, I probably wouldn’t eat it by itself. Or course, nor would Cambodians eat this long bean and smoked fish salad, as salads are made to be shared.
I can happily eat any number of Cambodian salads as a meal on their own and it’s not necessarily because of the variety of vegetables. The greens in this salad are long beans (although you can use any type of green beans) and fresh aromatic herbs (‘chi’ in Khmer). Rather, it’s the combination of flavours thanks to the dressing, and the textures thanks to the combination of the beans, smoked dried fish and dried shrimp – which you could replace with plump fresh prawns or a fillet of salmon. Now that’s a salad I could eat on its own!
Tips to making this Long Bean and Smoked Fish Salad for Cambodia’s Bok Sondek Trey Cha-er
With just a few key ingredients – long beans (or any green beans), fresh aromatic herbs, smoked dried fish, and dried shrimp – plus a classic Cambodian teuk trey (fish sauce) dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, garlic clove, chillies, salt, and sugar – this Cambodian long bean salad with smoked fish recipe makes a fairly straightforward Southeast Asian style salad.
Until you add the liquid of prahok (fermented fish paste) to the dressing and that’s what gives you a distinctively Cambodian salad. If you can’t get hold of prahok (outside Cambodia look for it at your nearest Asian market or Asian supermarket) or you’re not a fan of the funky flavours of prahok, you can leave it out. The fish sauce provides enough umami for most non Cambodians.
If you are using prahok in this, note that you only want a little prahok liquid, so you’ll need to soak a teaspoon of prahok in water, stirring rigorously until most of it is dissolved, and then let it sit for a bit. When the dressing is ready, strain it, discarding the solids, and retain the prahok liquid.
When making the classic Cambodian teuk trey (fish sauce) dressing – which consists of fish sauce, lime juice, finely chopped garlic cloves and birds-eye chillies, salt, and white sugar, don’t immediately add the prahok liquid, especially if you haven’t made it with prahok before.
Although you’ll need to soak the dried shrimp first for this Cambodian long bean salad, when making Cambodian salads more generally – or Lao, Vietnamese or Thai salads for that matter – always make the dressing first to let the flavours meld together. The longer you let the dressing sit, the more rounded and deeper the flavours become. If there’s leftover dressing, pop some cling-wrap over the bowl or put it in a container and pop it in the fridge. It will keep for a few days.
When making the fish sauce dressing, start with a top quality fish sauce. We tend to use Cambodian fish sauces for Cambodian dishes, Thai fish sauces for Thai dishes, Vietnamese fish sauces for Vietnamese dishes, and so on. But you probably won’t find a Kampot or Battambang fish sauce in the Asian section of a supermarket in Australia, the UK, Europe or USA, so we recommend Thailand’s Megachef, which is a premium fish sauce that is one of the most consistent in quality and is widely available.
Follow my measurements first, using the minimum suggested measures, then taste and adjust the ingredients to suit your own taste. I always recommend doing this with any Cambodian or northern Southeast Asian dressings, sauces and pastes if you’re not used to cooking and eating this food. One person’s idea of a mild chilli can be fiery for another.
Start with one finely-chopped birds-eye chilli and if you like more bite add another. If you don’t like hot chillies, use a mild red chilli. If you don’t like chilli at all, use a red bell pepper or capsicum. Add half the salt suggested, taste, then add more if needed. The sugar is there to add balance. If you don’t want to use much sugar, reduce the amount of salt, and lime juice. Make notes and when you find a combination of measurements you’re happy with, stick with these measures every time you make this dressing.
After you’ve made the dressing, add a little bit of prahok liquid and taste. You want to add a little bit of funkiness to it. Don’t add more if it doesn’t suit your taste. If you haven’t used prahok before, take a teaspoon of the dressing and pop it in a small bowl and add a little prahok liquid to it, then taste. If you don’t like it, don’t use it.
Worth noting: when Cambodian cooks make this Cambodian long bean salad, they don’t normally make a separate dressing, they simply throw all the ingredients into a mortar and pestle. That’s because they’ve made the dish so many times they know what measurements work for them and they’ll add ingredients to the mortar to adjust. I recommend you make a separate dressing to give you more control.
The inclusion of ‘bok’ in the title tells you that this Cambodian long bean salad is pounded – ‘bok, bok, bok, bok’ is the sound made from the pestle hitting the mortar – and it should be pounded in a big wooden mortar and pestle. Don’t use a stone or granite mortar and pestle, which are best for making curry pastes and Cambodian kroeungs (herb and spice mixes), as you don’t want to completely crush everything to mush. I like to give the beans a light pound, just enough for them to break, as I still want the salad to have crunch. If you’ve never used a mortar and pestle before, we have some tips.
Before you pound the long beans in the mortar and pestle, however, prepare the smoked dried fish (trey cha-er), as you’ll want to pound this in a dry mortar. You should be able to find this fish in an Asian market or Asian supermarket. You can see the small dried smoked fish in the image above. First, remove the heads, tails, fins, and pull out the spines. Then pop them into the wooden mortar, although a granite mortar is fine for the fish.
Using the pestle, pound the remainder of the smoked fish in a mortar, pulling out and discarding the skin which will rise to the surface. Then, carefully feel for any fine sharp bones and any other hard bits and pull those out. What you’ll be left with in the bottom of the mortar is almost fluffy, slightly crunchy dried fish that doesn’t taste like much on its own but is fantastic in the salad.
You could add your dressing, shrimps and smoked fish to the mortar and pestle and give everything a light pound, or you could pop everything in a salad bowl and combine it all there before serving it. Of course, you could serve this Cambodian long bean salad in the same bowl, but I think it looks prettier piled onto a flat plate and garnished with more smoked fish, dried shrimp, and fresh herbs.
Cambodian Long Bean and Smoked Fish Salad Recipe
- 20 g dried shrimp soaked, drained and pounded coarsely
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 garlic clove finely chopped
- 1-2 birds-eye chillies to taste, finely chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 1-2 tsp white sugar
- 1 tsp prahok liquid optional
- 250 g long beans washed
- 50 g dried smoked fish
- 1 cup fresh fragrant herbs sawtooth coriander, coriander, mint
- Soak the dried shrimp in a small bowl in just enough water to cover the shrimp.
- Make the dressing by combining the fish sauce, lime juice, finely chopped garlic clove and birds-eye chillies, salt, and white sugar in a bowl. Adjust ingredients to taste: start with 1 birds-eye chilli and if not enough add another, if it’s too salty for you, add more sugar.
- If adding prahok (fermented fish paste), soak 1 tsp of prahok in water, stirring rigorously until most is dissolved, then drain, retaining the prahok liquid. Add this, little by little to the dressing, then adjust as necessary to ensure the flavour is balanced, and leave to sit so the 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 them out.
- Cut the long beans into 2cm lengths and place into the mortar and pound lightly.
- Drain and pat dry the dried shrimp, add half to the mortar, and pound lightly.
- Combine the beans, dried shrimp, and half the pounded smoked fish to a salad bowl.
- Add the dressing to the salad bowl, little by little, combining and tasting.
- Add half the fresh herbs to the salad bowl, combine everything, and then serve onto a plate, piling it into a mound loosely, as pictured above.
- Sprinkle the remaining fresh fragrant herbs, pounded smoked fish, and dried shrimp on top and served immediately.
Do let us know if you make this Cambodian long bean salad with smoked fish recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.