Creative Cambodian canapés for easy summer entertaining was what was on my mind when I started to experiment with different ways of presenting traditional Cambodian dishes. I wanted to create Cambodian hors d’oeuvres or finger food that could be eaten in a bite or three.
Last year was a challenging year for us in some ways, so we decided that even though we still had a lot of work to do over Christmas and New Year we were still going to take some time off to relax and get in the kitchen and do some cooking together.
As it’s summer back in Australia, and it’s our gorgeous winter here in Siem Reap, which 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 some kind of Russian food almost every day.
With the end of yet another year living in Cambodia, we also wanted to celebrate Cambodian food, about which so many myths exist. We have really come to love Khmer food, so I decided to cook some local dishes that could be presented in a more contemporary style, and create an array of creative Cambodian canapés — or Cambodian hors d’oeuvres if you prefer — which would be fabulous for summer entertaining.
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 on 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 for Easy Summer Entertaining and All Year Snacking
Pomelo Salad with Prawns
We love Cambodian pomelo salad with prawns, particularly the shrimp and pomelo salad that chef Kethana makes at The Sugar Palm restaurant and teaches participants in her cooking classes. 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 so I presented the pomelo and prawn salad as bite-size portions that could easily be eaten as finger food.
Prahok ktis (also written as prahok k’tis) is a delicious traditional pork and prahok dip that’s a Cambodian classic and a dish we always serve or order to (gently) introduce the funky flavours of Cambodia’s beloved prahok (fermented fish) to our overseas guests. Because it’s served with a variety of fresh or blanched 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.
This minced pork, coconut and peanut dip generally served with crispy rice cakes is more foreigner friendly than prahok ktis as it contains no prahok. It also uses medium-sized chillis making it have a little heat but not enough to overpower chilli-sensitive palates. It sometimes contains prawns, making it a little sweeter as well, but our recipe for natang just uses pork as protein.
Sweet Pork Belly with Quail Eggs
One of my favourite Cambodian 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 Cambodian dish, half a hard-boiled quail egg was perfect for placing on top of the pork belly, making for another fantastic Cambodian canapé.
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.
Fresh Spring Rolls
Fresh spring rolls are street food here in Southeast Asia, 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. Click through to our round-up of Southeast Asian street food recipes for a selection of fresh spring roll recipes.
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.
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 spots), or Lara’s bespoke ‘Savour Siem Reap’ itineraries.