Mee Kola Recipe for Vegetarian Noodles of Cambodia’s Kola People. Quick weeknight dinner ideas from our Southeast Asian kitchen. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Quick Weeknight Dinner Ideas from Our Southeast Asian Kitchen

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These quick weeknight dinner ideas from our Southeast Asian kitchen include a handful of Southeast Asian street food recipes that we’ll put on repeat now that the weather is warming up. They include effortless recipes for fragrant filling salads and light noodle dishes from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar that come together in 30 minutes or less.

My quick weeknight dinner ideas for you come directly from our Siem Reap kitchen where we’re making the lightest and easiest of Southeast Asian street food dishes at home now the weather is starting to heat up here in Cambodia.

We don’t segue into seasons here. We seem to leap from ‘winter’ – more like a warm spring – into midsummer. That means that unless there’s a cool change ahead – and there often is after the mango rains, which began today – I won’t be making any more stews.

What I will be making later this week after mango recipes, as my dear friend Son dropped over a massive bag of the most delicious mangoes I’ve ever tested and an enormous jackfruit, which I’m going to use to test a couple of Khmer recipes for our Cambodian cookbook and culinary history. Yes!!! That’s still going!!!

Now before I share these quick weeknight dinner ideas from our Southeast Asian kitchen, I have a favour to ask. Grantourismo is reader-funded. If you’ve enjoyed our recipes, please consider supporting Grantourismo by supporting our work, even in a small way.

There’s that Cambodian cuisine history and cookbook on Patreon, which you could donate to for as little as the price of a coffee. If you need a mortar and pestle, consider buying a handcrafted KROK, the best mortar and pestle ever; or buy something from our Grantourismo store such as these gifts for food lovers designed with Terence’s images.

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Now let me share these quick weeknight dinner ideas from our Southeast Asian kitchen.

Quick Weeknight Dinner Ideas from Our Southeast Asian Kitchen

Our quick weeknight dinner ideas from our Southeast Asian kitchen include everything from a classic Vietnamese shredded chicken salad to a mee Kola vegetarian noodles recipe from Cambodia’s Kola people.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe with Crunchy Cabbage and Crispy Fried Shallots

Topping my list of quick weeknight dinner ideas is this easy recipe for a classic Vietnamese chicken salad – sometimes called a Vietnamese shredded chicken salad or a Vietnamese chicken and cabbage salad, as shredded cabbage is a key ingredient alongside the pulled poached chicken – makes goi ga bap cai or, more correctly, gỏi gà bắp cải, which literally means salad (gỏi) of chicken (gà) and cabbage (bắp cải).

The healthy Vietnamese salad has heaps of texture thanks to shredded cabbage and carrot, crunchy peanuts and crispy fried onions. The salad is also loaded with umami with a lively dressing of Vietnamese fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, and chilli.

It’s one of the best Southeast Asian salads and one of the things I love most about Southeast Asian cuisines is the salads. There’s an infinite array of Southeast Asian salads eaten both as single bowl meals – som tam is the best example – and as one of a number of dishes making up a spread of dishes accompanying rice for a family meal.

The cuisines of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam all feature deliciously addictive salads and we’ve got loads of Southeast Asian salad recipes in our archives, but if you’re new to Southeast Asian salads, some of my other favourites that I’m not sharing below are this Thai grilled eggplant salad, the Cambodian pork and yam bean salad and banana flower salad, and this Vietnamese bitter melon salad.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe with Crunchy Cabbage and Crispy Fried Shallots

 

Cambodian Green Papaya Salad Recipe for Bok Lahong

Next on my list of quick weeknight dinner ideas is this green papaya salad recipe, which makes Cambodia’s bok lahong or nhoam lahong, a fragrant, crunchy salad that’s a little funky, spicy, sour, salty, and a tad sweet.

This Cambodian green papaya salad recipe makes a salad that’s known as both a ‘nhoam’ and a ‘bok’ in Cambodia’s Khmer language. A nhoam, also spelt gnoam, is a salad made with ingredients that are cooked, such as poached chicken, wok-fried prawns, barbecued pork, etc.

The other kind of salad found in Cambodian cuisine is a p’lear, which is made with raw ingredients, such as raw beef or raw fish that are ‘cooked’ in a lime juice-based dressing in much the same way as a ceviche or eaten raw like an Italian carpaccio.

‘Bok’ refers to something that is made by being pounded or partly-pounded in a mortar and pestle – ‘bok’ being the sound that’s made by the pestle hitting the mortar, as in ‘bok, bok, bok, bok’ – and it usually applies to papaya salads, of which there are countless, as well as dips and relishes.

Typically bought from a papaya salad stall at a market or on the street, this bespoke Cambodian salad is made to order, and has cousins in the green papaya salads of Laos (Tum Som), Thailand (Som Tum), and Vietnam (Gỏi Đủ Đủ). Usually bought as a late afternoon snack or early dinner, it’s also eaten in restaurants and made at home.

While a stone or granite mortar and pestle is typically used for making curry pastes and Cambodian kroeungs, the herb and spice pastes that form the basis for so many Cambodian dishes, wooden mortar and pestles are used for pounded salads such as these, as well as dips and relishes, as you want to soften them or bruise them, you don’t want to pound them to a paste.

Cambodian Green Papaya Salad Recipe – How to Make Cambodia’s Bok Lahong

 

Classic Thai Som Tam Recipe for a Thai Green Papaya Salad

This classic Thai som tam recipe makes the popular Thai green papaya salad that you’ll eat on the streets of Thailand and it’s another of our quick weeknight dinner ideas for you. The spicy salad originated in northeastern Thailand’s Isaan region, once part of Cambodia’s Khmer Empire, but now you’ll find this street food favourite all over Thailand, and right across northern Southeast Asia.

To make this Thai som tam recipe, you will need an enormous mortar and pestle. We’ve seen Thai som tam cooks use both wooden mortar and pestles and terracotta or clay mortar and pestles. We use a wooden mortar and pestle as we haven’t found a clay mortar and pestle that is large enough.

Don’t even think about making this in a blender or food processor. It’s just not the same. It seriously doesn’t take long to pound this salad by hand in a mortar. It will take you longer to wash your blender or food processor. And a bonus is that your arms will get a good work out.

We often get asked about fish sauce. As this is a Thai som tam recipe, re suggest using a good quality Thai fish sauce. We recommend Thailand’s Megachef for the quality as much as the consistency, especially when it comes to sodium levels.

Classic Thai Som Tam Recipe for a Thai Green Papaya Salad Plus Tips for Jazzing Up Your Som Tam

Pork Larb Recipe for Cambodian Laab Sach Chrouk

This pork larb recipe for Cambodian laab sach chrouk, a minced pork salad which makes a lightly spiced dish that’s eaten with fragrant herbs, crispy vegetables and steamed rice, is next on my list of quick weeknight dinner ideas.

While it has more famous spicier cousins in Thailand and Laos, Cambodia’s larb is a delicious dish that will appeal to those who prefer more gentle levels of spice. The differences between this pork larb recipe and other larb salads are subtle.

The Thai larbs are more spicy, the Lao larbs are more earthy, and the Cambodian larbs are more fragrant. We love them all. If you’re a fan of fiery chillies you’re going to prefer the Thai larb. If you’re a lover of earthy flavours and offal, you’ll be drawn to the Laotian larbs.

But if you prefer more gently-spiced dishes and more of a balance between spice, herbs and funkiness, then you are going to love this pork larb recipe for Cambodian laab sach chrouk minced pork salad.

Pork Larb Recipe for Cambodian Laab Sach Chrouk – A Fragrant Pork Mince Salad

 

Mee Kola Recipe for Vegetarian Noodles of Cambodia’s Kola People

This mee Kola recipe makes the vegetarian noodles of Cambodia’s Kola people who originally came from Burma and settled in the Pailin area in northwest Cambodia to mine gem stones. Our recipe for Kola noodles is based on a dish made by a Kola family here in Siem Reap and it’s another of our quick weeknight dinner ideas for you.

The recipe is super easy, takes just 25 minutes, and makes a delicious single-bowl dish of Kola noodles made with rice stick noodles stir-fried in soy sauce, served with papaya cucumber pickle, bean sprouts, crunchy vegetables, fragrant herbs, and crushed peanuts, which you combine with a dressing in your bowl. It’s one of my favourite Southeast Asian noodle dishes.

Mee Kola translates to Kola noodles – ‘mee’ are noodles and this is a noodle dish of the Kola people (also known as the Kula and Gula people), a Cambodian ethnic minority people who originally came from Burma (now Myanmar) and settled in the province of Pailin in northwest Cambodia. Their little-known history is fascinating and I’ll be covering it in my Cambodia culinary history and cookbook.

Mee Kola Recipe for the Vegetarian Noodles of Cambodia’s Kola People

 

Please do let us know in the comments below if you make any of our quick and easy weeknight dinner ideas from our Southeast Asian kitchen as we’d love to hear how they turn out for you.

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A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

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