This Cambodian spicy roasted peanuts recipe is a perfect snack for any holiday season, a great accomplice to partner with a cold beer or a potent Negroni. While I’ve been making Vietnamese roasted peanuts for years, the local Khmer peanuts in Cambodia have a few subtle and not-so subtle differences.
When you go out to a good bar in Cambodia, especially in Siem Reap, you’ll probably be served two or three small dishes of nibbles with your drinks – typically, crispy purple taro and orange sweet potato chips, maybe crunchy banana chips, perhaps some mini crispy rice cakes, and, if you’re lucky, a bowl of Cambodian spicy roasted peanuts with chillies, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and garlic. These are aromatic, spicy, salty, and sweet. Cambodia in a nutshell, so to speak.
Lara has been begging me to make some for ages so we recently sampled a few packets of the Cambodian spicy roasted peanuts sold at Siem Reap’s local markets. If you’re looking for them, they’re generally at the stalls where they sell Kampot pepper and salt, dried spices, including the ‘amok spice mix’, dried fruit, dried teas, and Cambodian coffee from Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri.
The peanuts at these stalls are all combined with way too much garlic for our liking, plus they contain incredibly long dry pieces of lemongrass, which are sharp enough to be a choking hazard. In many cases the ratio of peanuts to the dustheap of detritus from the garlic and lemongrass made it almost impossible to selectively eat more than one peanut at a time. To attempt more would be to temp fate.
Nibbling nuts isn’t much fun when you feel like you might either have a cheek impaled by a lemongrass slither or ingest enough undercooked garlic to make you brave enough to attempt impaling a vampire. After the second negroni this could be a thing.
Cambodian Spicy Roasted Peanuts Recipe with Chilli, Kaffir Lime Leaves and Lemongrass
For this recipe for Cambodian spicy roasted peanuts we skip the five-spice mix used in my Vietnamese roasted spicy peanuts recipe and add more dried bird’s eye chillies and roughly torn kaffir lime leaves, as well as a little sliced garlic and finely sliced lemongrass. We add the salt and sugar before we start the cooling off period.
While some similar recipes call for the raw peanuts to be roasted on an oven tray, this version is made in a wok. While shaking the oven tray while making roasted peanuts can work, you have far more nuanced control over the process in a wok.
Many cooks in Cambodian will use a lot of vegetable oil to make these peanuts, with some cooks even putting the oil in with the peanuts when the wok is cold, perhaps to speed up the process of browning the peanuts. This is not a good thing to do for either the peanuts or your health.
The peanuts themselves will release oil as they brown and the modest addition of oil after around five minutes in the wok just helps the salt and sugar adhere to the nuts.
I find stirring the peanuts in a huge wok with a silicone spatula quite soothing. Don’t be tempted to leave the nuts to their own devices for more than 10 seconds. They will scorch.
Put some music on and enjoy a beverage while you watch the peanuts transform. I now compare it to making a great risotto. Sure you can leave the stove for a minute, but never to answer a phone call, just to change the music or top up your glass.
A quick side note: if you think you’ll struggle to find kaffir lime leaves, check here. Dried kaffir lime leaves are fine, and, of course, the bird’s eye chillies used are dried – just make sure they are whole dried chillies, not crushed.
Cambodian Spicy Roasted Peanuts Recipe
- 500 grams shelled raw peanuts pink 'skins' still on
- ½ tbsp of vegetable oil
- 1 tsp sea salt or more to taste
- 1 tsp refined sugar or more for sweet-toothed guests
- 4 dried bird’s eye chillies deseeded and chopped finely
- 6 kaffir lime leaves centre torn out and ripped into small pieces
- 1 clove of garlic sliced very thinly
- 1 5 cm piece of lemongrass tough outer skin removed and sliced very finely
- Heat a large wok over high heat.
- Add the peanuts, stir constantly and reduce the heat to medium-low after a couple of minutes.
- Once the peanuts start to colour (this should be around 5 minutes), turn the heat up a little as you slowly add the oil. Keep stirring to distribute the oil evenly.
- Add salt, chillies, lemongrass and the sugar and stir well.
- Add the garlic.
- The nuts are fully roasted when they are bright red. A little bit of brown is good too. Add the kaffir lime leaves.
- Remove the nuts from the wok and place on an oven tray lined with greaseproof paper and allow to cool before serving.
- If there are any nuts left after serving, store in an airtight container.
Looking for something to wash down these roasted nuts with? Check out our cocktail recipes, including a classic negroni with spices, a michelada from Mexico, an authentic Cuban mojito (based on those we sipped on our first Cuba trip in the mid Nineties), classic pina colada, a classic Champagne cocktail with a tropical (red dragonfruit) twist, and a frappe-style White Peach Bellini recipe, courtesy of Chef Peter Gilmore of Quay restaurant, Sydney.
Do let us know if you make this Cambodian spicy roasted peanuts recipe with chilli, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. We’d love to know what you think.