This Khmer yellow kroeung recipe makes the Cambodian herb and spice paste called kroeung, which is an irreplaceable ingredient in Khmer cooking. The yellow kroeung is the foundational kroeung. it’s the most basic kroeung and the most versatile of the five main herb and spice pastes used in so many classic Cambodian dishes, especially soups such as samlor machou kroeung sach ko.
The Khmer yellow kroeung paste is the basic kroeung or freshly-pounded herb and spice paste in Cambodian cooking. The other four are the green kroeung (kroeung prâhoeur), the red kroeung (kroeung samlor kari), ‘k’tis kroeung’ (kroeung samlor k’tis), and the saraman kroeung (kroeung samlor saraman), used to make the Cambodian Saraman curry.
The yellow kroeung is used for many classic Khmer and Cambodian dishes, including fish amok (amok trei) and soups such as samlor machou kroeung sach ko, a sour beef soup with morning glory, which is why the paste is commonly called kroeung samlor machou.
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Khmer Yellow Kroeung Recipe for Kroeung Samlor Machou, Cambodia’s Essential Spice Paste
The Khmer yellow kroeung is also used as a marinade for the popular street food snack, charcoal-grilled beef skewers, and in prahok k’tis, the ubiquitous Khmer dip made with prahok (fermented fish), minced pork, coconut milk, and pea eggplants that is eaten with crunchy vegetable crudites.
The yellow kroeung paste gets its colour from the turmeric and lemongrass stems. The lemongrass here in Cambodia is generally tougher than that found in Thailand, which is why in the local markets you’ll find the lemongrass already sliced thinly to make pounding the paste in a mortar and pestle much easier.
Two of the key ingredients for the Khmer yellow kroeung paste can sometimes be difficult to find outside Southeast Asia — kaffir limes (krauch soeuch in Khmer) and fresh turmeric.
Oddly enough you’ll often find fresh kaffir lime leaves in markets here in Siem Reap, but not always the kaffir limes themselves, as they’re quite bitter.
Just a few tips to making this Cambodian yellow kroeung paste.
Tips to Making this Khmer Yellow Kroeung Herb and Spice Paste
I only have a few tips to making this Khmer yellow kroeung paste. If you must, you can substitute the kaffir limes with the kaffir lime leaves, and you can substitute fresh turmeric with ground turmeric or turmeric powder quite successfully.
As usual with a curry paste or, more correctly, a herb and spice paste, when you are starting to grind the ingredients in the mortar and pestle, start with the hardest ingredients and gradually grind in the softer ingredients.
When preparing the fresh turmeric for the yellow kroeung, it will stain your skin like crazy, so it’s best to wear gloves while handling it.
This Khmer yellow kroeung, like a lot of freshly pounded herb and spice pastes is best used on the same day, as it tends to dry out.
Submerging it in oil to preserve it doesn’t really work as quite often it’s used just gently mixed into coconut milk and the oil is an unwanted addition.
A note on our use of ‘kaffir’ lime: there has been some debate in the media in recent years on the use of ‘kaffir’, which is a word of Arabic origin used by Muslims to refer to non-Muslims or atheists.
The word ‘kaffir’ is considered racist in South Africa, where use of the term ‘makrut’, Thai for kaffir limes, is being encouraged.
If you’re an English speaker and are shopping for ingredients for this yellow kroeung and you can’t pronounce the Khmer translation ‘krauch soeuch’ and try to use the term ‘makrut’ in Cambodian markets, most vendors won’t know what you want. Or, as the word ‘makrut’ originates from Thailand, they may just pretend they don’t know.
Best to learn the Khmer krauch soeuch, pronounced ‘crouch search’ or stick to ‘kaffir lime’ here in Cambodia, where you are not going to offend anyone. If you’re shopping for Southeast Asian ingredients in South Africa, that’s a whole different story obviously!
Khmer Yellow Kroeung Spice Paste Recipe for Kroeung Samlor Machou
- 200 g lemongrass stalks - peeled, chopped and outer layers discarded
- 1 tbsp galangal - peeled and chopped finely
- 1 tsp kaffir lime zest
- 1 tsp turmeric - peeled and chopped finely
- 5 cloves of garlic - peeled and chopped finely
- 2 shallots - peeled and chopped finely
- Place the lemongrass in a well-supported mortar and pound with the pestle until you can no longer see the rings of the lemongrass and it's all mashed up.
- Add the galangal, turmeric and kaffir lime zest and pound until they're incorporated into the mashed lemongrass.
- Add the garlic and pound and then add the shallots and pound.
- The finished paste will still have some fibres from the lemongrass but should otherwise be quite smooth.
Do let us know if you make this Khmer yellow kroeung recipe. We’d love to know how it turns out for you.