This traditional samlor korko recipe makes a Cambodian stirring pot soup – a rustic, unpretentious, nourishing stew-like soup, brimming with vegetables and fruit. Featuring Cambodia’s most quintessential ingredients, prahok and kroeung, it’s believed to be a very old dish, dating to the Khmer Empire. For many locals, this is Cambodia’s national dish.
Our Cambodian samlor korko recipe makes a hearty, healthy, unpretentious, stew-like soup. Packed with vegetables and green fruit, samlor korko is beloved by all Cambodians, but especially the older generation. With a base of pungent prahok (fermented fish) and a yellow-green kroeung, one of a handful of Khmer herb and spice pastes, this is one of the most quintessentially Cambodian dishes.
This hearty samlor korko recipe is next in my Cambodian soup recipe series, which kicked off with one of my favourite Cambodian soups, sour beef soup with morning glory. I followed up with a pork, pineapple and coconut milk stew and a cold ‘outside the pot’ soup recipe, popular at this sultry time of year.
It’s been a while between Cambodian soup recipes. After we moved into a new (smaller, cheaper) apartment just out of the centre of Siem Reap, in a village on the edge of town, almost two months ago, we went into self-isolation. We began quarantine cooking and embarking on cooking projects to keep us calm and busy and focused to help us better cope with this crazy pandemic. But I think we may have taken on too many food projects…
Terence began his Cambodian barbecue recipe series (another post coming soon), while he continued baking sourdough bread. I started on my Cambodian soups series, before becoming a bit obsessed with sourdough starter discard recipes. And then we started baking biscuits. We may not have much of an income right now, but we’ve never cooked so much or eaten so well.
All the while we’ve been working hard on our epic Cambodian culinary history and Cambodian cookbook, which regular readers know I’ve been researching since 2013. It’s undoubtedly the thing that’s kept me most sane. Having lost everything to this pandemic, we’re now desperately seeking patrons for that project on Patreon and you can support it for as little as the price of a bowl of soup.
Now, before I tell you more about this authentic samlor korko recipe for a traditional Cambodian stirring pot soup, I have a favour to ask. Grantourismo is funded by its readers. If you enjoy our recipes, please consider supporting Grantourismo by using links on our site to buy ingredients or cookware, cookbooks or culinary gifts, or to book your foodie getaways and cooking holidays. We may earn a small commission but you won’t pay any extra.
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Samlor Korko Recipe for a Cambodian Stirring Pot Soup
‘Samlor korko’ translates to Cambodian ‘stirring soup’ or ‘stirring pot soup’. Samlor, which you’ll also see written as samlaw, samlar and samla, means both ‘soup’ and ‘stew’, while ‘korko’, which you’ll see written in Cambodian cookbooks as ‘koko’, ‘kako’ or ‘kakor’, refers to the ‘stirring’ of the soup.
There are even more renditions of this samlor korko recipe as there are variations in names of the dish. When made in the home kitchens of Cambodia’s middle and upper classes, samlor korko is a thick hearty soup that verges on being a stew. Out in the poorer villages, samlor korko is considerably lighter and any leftover soup is thinned out further with water, so that there’s more to go around.
While more well-off households will use a good quality homemade stock that’s been simmering for hours for their soups, in the countryside where the cook may have spent the day working in the rice fields, on the farm, or selling produce at a local market, water is often used.
I usually recommend replacing water with stock in most Cambodian recipes I share here on the site – except for this samlor korko recipe. That’s because it includes prahok (fermented fish) and kroeung (a herb and spice paste) so the soup is already packed with flavour. Water is just fine.
This Cambodian samlor korko recipe is very traditional and includes both pork and fish, and catfish specifically. Every traditional samlor korko recipe I’ve come across features either pork or chicken and catfish, and for most older Cambodian cooks, if it doesn’t include catfish it’s not samlor korko.
The samlor korko recipes of the younger generation of Cambodian chefs typically feature just one type of protein and in Siem Reap’s best restaurants you’ll see ocean fish replacing river fish, and considerably lighter versions that are finished table-side.
Catfish isn’t as popular outside Cambodia as it is here. Many foreign visitors to Cambodia, even self-professed foodies, comment on how muddy it tastes. If you’re also not a fan of catfish replace it with your favourite fish. Cambodians are the most easy-going people in the world and will not get upset if you get creative with this dish.
I’m sharing a samlor korko recipe that features the most typical ingredients you’ll find in traditional samlor korko recipes in Cambodia, but it’s worthwhile noting that samlor korko is an ‘anything goes’ kind of dish, and from my research I’ve learnt that this is how it’s always been.
Seasonal local vegetables are always used, so the mix of vegetables varies from season to season, so don’t stress if you can’t get something on the ingredients list below.
Tips to Making this Samlor Korko Recipe
Just a few tips to how to make this traditional samlor korko recipe for a hearty healthy Cambodian stirring pot soup, starting from the very beginning, the kroeung.
What is a Cambodian Kroeung?
A Cambodian kroeung is a Cambodian herb and spice paste that’s pound from scratch using fresh ingredients in a mortar and pestle. There are five Cambodian kroeungs and the Khmer yellow kroeung is the basic kroeung or foundational kroeung.
The other four kroeungs are the green kroeung (also called kroeung prâhoeur), the red kroeung (called kroeung samlor kari and used mostly in Cambodian red curries, as you can guess by the name), ‘k’tis kroeung’ (kroeung samlor k’tis; ‘k’tis’ being ‘coconut milk’), and the saraman kroeung (kroeung samlor saraman), used to make Cambodia’s saraman curry.
The Khmer yellow kroeung is used for countless classic Cambodian dishes, including fish amok (amok trei, a steamed fish curry) 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.
As well as soups, stews and curries, kroeungs are used in marinades, such as the marinade for one of the most popular Cambodian street food dishes, these smoky beef skewers, to more refined Cambodian dishes, such as this sumptuous fish amok.
How to Make a Green Cambodian Kroeung
All samlor korko recipes require that you first make a green Cambodian kroeung, a Cambodian herb and spice paste, which you’ll need to pound from scratch using a mortar and pestle. Don’t use a blender, as it won’t taste the same.
You could leave out the galangal if you can’t source fresh galangal. Some Cambodian green kroeung recipes include galangal and some don’t so don’t get too hung up on this.
What is Prahok and What if You Can’t Source Prahok
Prahok is Cambodia’s famous fermented fish paste and it’s another key ingredient of this samlor korko recipe. Prahok is tricky to find outside Cambodia. Many Cambodian chefs in other countries will make their own.
Look for prahok at a specialist Southeast Asian grocers an Asian supermarket in your nearest Chinatown or Cambodian community. Or call your nearest Cambodian restaurant and see if they have some that the owner’s grandmother makes that they might want to sell! Seriously.
If you can’t get hold of prahok, use fish sauce. Don’t use the Thai fermented fish paste called pla ra, as it’s really quite different in flavour.
How to Prepare the Prahok
If you’re in Cambodia – or you’re not and you do manage to find some prahok (well done!) – you’ll need to add the prahok to water, and vigorously stir it, mashing any solids, then set it aside until you’re ready to use it.
Then before you add the watered-down prahok to the pot, remove any bones and stringy bits that may be left. What you’re really after is the funky fermented flavour rather than the fermented fish itself.
Cambodian Roasted Ground Rice
Lastly, Cambodian roasted ground rice is another essential ingredient in this samlor korko recipe. It has a couple of purposes: firstly, to thicken the soup, and secondly, to add texture. Cambodians sprinkle roasted ground rice on salads and add it to soups to create a heartier broth.
Again, try to source Cambodian roasted ground rice from a good Southeast Asian grocer or Asian supermarket. We’re lucky in that we can buy it from the market and supermarket.
Note that Cambodians do their roasted ground rice a little differently to their Thai and Lao neighbours. For starters, in Cambodia cooks typically use their home-grown long-grain jasmine rice, whereas in Thailand and Laos they generally use sticky rice to make roasted ground rice.
How to Prepare Cambodian Roasted Ground Rice
To make the Cambodian roasted ground rice, you first need to soak the rice in room-temperature water for at least one hour, drain the water, and rinse the rice thoroughly.
How much you soak and drain depends on what you’re making, but a few tablespoons of rice is probably enough for most recipes. By all means do more if you cook Cambodian food regularly as you can always store it in an air-tight container.
After you’ve drained the rice, dry-roast it in a flat round-bottomed wok over medium-heat. If you’re not familiar with the term dry-roasting, all it means is that you’re stir-frying the ingredient dry in the wok without any oils or anything wet, and continually stirring it, just as you might dried spices.
Stir it using a wooden spoon until the rice is golden coloured, then pour the rice onto a cold oven tray and leave it on a bench to allow it to cool. Once the rice has cooled down, grind it in either a mortar and pestle, a coffee grinder or a food processor to a coarse powder. You can store it in an air-tight container for at least a month.
Samlor Korko Recipe for Cambodian Stirring Pot Soup
- 4 tbsp green kroeung - making using our recipe; link in notes
- 1 tsp prahok - or 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp dry roasted long grain rice - see notes to prepare your own
- 1 piece small Asian pumpkin - or Japanese kabocha or winter squash
- 1 piece long Asian eggplant
- 8 pieces small round eggplants
- 12 pieces pea eggplants
- 1 piece carrot - large
- 12 pieces long beans or green beans
- 12 pieces winged beans
- 1 piece small green papaya
- 4 pieces green jackfruit
- 1 piece green banana
- 4 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- 300 g boneless pork neck or chicken thighs - chopped into bite-size pieces
- 150 g catfish steaks - optional - or firm fish of your choice
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp palm sugar or brown sugar
- 2 litres water - or vegetable stock
- Use our recipe to make a green kroeung Khmer herb and spice paste.
- Put 1 teaspoon of prahok (fermented fish paste) in 50 mls of water, stir vigorously and mash any chunks until they’re almost dissolved. Discard any bones and stringy pieces.
- Dry roast the long grain rice in a wok (see notes above).
- Prepare the vegetables and fruit, chopping everything into bite sized pieces: chop your Asian pumpkin and long Asian eggplant into bite sized pieces; cut the small round eggplants into quarters; slice the carrot into ½ cm slices to give colour to the dish; chop the beans into pieces of approx. 4cm length; chop the papaya into bite-size pieces; slice the green banana into ½ cm slices; and cut the green jackfruit into strips lengthways. Set everything aside.
- Stir-fry the pea eggplants in 1 tablespoons neutral cooking oil in a wok on medium-high heat, constantly stir-frying the eggplants until they are soft, brown and a little charred. This removes the bitterness and sweetens. Set them aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in a large soup pot. Add two tablespoons of green kroeung and quickly fry for a minute or less to release the aromas, before adding the chopped pork or chicken, the prahok in its liquid or fish sauce, salt, and sugar, and fry until cooked.
- Add two cups of water (or vegetable stock), then the firmest vegetables first, such as the pumpkin, carrots and green fruits, along with half the dry-roasted rice, stir, and bring to a boil, before turning down the heat to simmer gently.
- Add another two cups of water to the pot, along with the catfish if you choose to use it (or fish of your choice), the remaining vegetables that take less time to cook, and the other 2 tablespoons of green kroeung, and stir.
- Continue to simmer gently, add the remaining roasted ground rice, and the remaining water, stir, and continue to simmer until you have a dense, hearty, almost stew-like soup.
- Taste, and add more salt or sugar if needed so that the flavour is balanced. If necessary, add more water, stir, simmer, then ladle into individual bowls. If this is a main meal, Cambodians would eat this with steamed white jasmine rice.
Do let us know in the comments below f you make this samlor korko recipe for Cambodian stirring pot soup as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.