This samlor korko recipe for Cambodian stirring pot soup makes a rustic, unpretentious, nourishing stew-like soup brimming with vegetables and fruit and featuring Cambodia’s most quintessential ingredients, prahok and kroeung. Believed to be a very old dish, dating to the Khmer Empire, for many 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, that’s beloved by all Cambodians, particularly the older generation. With a base of prahok (fermented fish) and green kroeung, one of four Khmer herb and spice pastes, this is one of the most quintessentially Cambodian dishes.
This 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, which I followed up with a pork, pineapple and coconut milk soup-cum-stew and a cold ‘outside the pot’ soup recipe, popular at this time of year.
It’s been a while between Cambodian soup recipes, I know. After we moved into a new (smaller, cheaper) apartment just out of the centre of Siem Reap in northern Cambodia almost seven weeks ago, we went into self-isolation, began quarantine cooking, and embarked on cooking projects to keep us busy, focused and calm, and help us deal with the coronavirus pandemic. But I think we may have taken too many food projects on…
Terence began his Cambodian barbecue recipe series (another post coming soon), while he continued baking sourdough bread. I started on my Cambodian soups, before becoming a bit obsessed with sourdough starter discard recipes. And then we started baking biscuits. We may not have much of an income, but we’ve never cooked so much or eaten so well!
And all the while we’ve been working hard on our epic Cambodian culinary history and cookbook, which I’ve been researching for over six years, and it’s probably the one thing that’s kept me most sane. We’re still seeking patrons for that project on Patreon and you can support it for as little as the price of a bowl of soup. Now let me tell you about this samlor korko recipe.
Samlor Korko Recipe – How to Make Cambodian Stirring Pot Soup
Samlor korko translates to ‘Cambodian stirring 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 different renditions of this samlor korko recipe as there are variations in names of the dish. When made in the kitchens of the middle and upper classes, this is typically a thick hearty soup that verges on being a stew, however, out in the villages it’s considerably lighter soup and the leftovers are often thinned out further with water so that there’s more to go around.
While more well-off households will use a good quality stock that’s been simmering overnight for their soups, in the countryside where the cook may have spent a day working in the rice fields, on the farm, or selling produce at a local market, water is often used. I typically recommend replacing water with stock in all of the recipes I publish here except this one and that’s because it includes prahok (fermented fish) and kroeung (herb and spice paste) so it’s already packed with flavour. Water is just fine.
This Cambodian samlor korko recipe is very traditional and includes both pork and fish, catfish specifically. Every traditional samlor korko recipe I’ve come across features either pork or chicken and catfish, and for most older Cambodians if it doesn’t include catfish it’s not samlor korko. However, samlor korko recipes made by a 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.
When it comes to the fish, 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. Feel free to replace the catfish 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.
Samlor korko appears to have become an ‘anything goes’ kind of dish, and from my research I’ve discovered that this is how it’s always been. While I’m sharing a samlor korko recipe that features the most typical ingredients you’ll find in traditional recipes for this dish, it’s important to note that seasonal vegetables are used, so the type of vegetables use vary from season to season, so don’t stress if you can’t get something on the ingredients list below.
Notes on Making this Samlor Korko Recipe
This samlor korko recipe requires a green Cambodian kroeung. A kroeung is a Cambodian herb and spice paste that is pretty much like a Thai curry paste without the heat and there are four kroeungs. The yellow kroeung is the foundation and then ingredients are added or subtracted to create the green kroeung, brown kroeung (for Saraman curry) and red kroeung. As well as soups, kroeungs are used in everything from Cambodian street food dishes (such as these smoky beef skewers) to more refined Cambodian dishes (such as this opulent fish amok).
To make the green kroeung, follow the yellow kroeung recipe but also use the lemongrass leaves, not only the stalks. You could also leave out the galangal if you can’t get hold of it. Some Cambodian green kroeung recipes include galangal and some don’t so don’t get too hung up on this.
Prahok, Cambodia’s famous fermented fish paste, is 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 it at an Asian supermarket or grocery store or call your nearest Cambodian restaurant and see if they have some that the owner’s grandmother makes that they might want to sell! If you can’t get hold of any, use fish sauce.
If you’re in Cambodia – or you’re not and you do manage to find some prahok – you’ll need to add the prahok to water, vigorously combine it, mash any solids, and then before you add it to the pot remove any stringy bits that may be left. What you’re really after is the funky fermented flavour rather than the fermented fish itself.
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.
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 rice, whereas in Thailand and Laos they generally use sticky 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 ensure you rinse the rice thoroughly. How much you soak and drain depends on what you’re making, but a few tablespoons is probably enough for most recipes, but by all means do more if you cook Cambodian food regularly as you can always store it.
After you’ve drained the roast, dry-roast it in a 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 then store it in an air-tight container for at least a month.
Samlor Korko Recipe for Cambodian Stirring Pot Soup
- 4 tbsp green kroeung
- 1 tsp prahok or 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp dry roasted long grain rice
- 1 piece small Asian pumpkin Japanese kabocha or winter squash
- 1 piece long Asian eggplant
- 8 pieces small round eggplants
- 2 pieces dozen pea eggplants
- 1 piece carrot large
- 12 pieces long beans or green beans
- 1 dozen winged beans
- 1 piece small green papaya
- 4 pieces of green jackfruit
- 1 piece green banana
- 4 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- 300 g boneless pork neck or chicken thighs sliced into bite-size pieces
- 150 g catfish steaks thinly sliced (optional)
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp palm sugar or brown sugar
- 2 litres water
- Make the green kroeung Khmer herb/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 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.
- Fry the pea eggplants in 1 tablespoons neutral cooking oil in a wok on medium-high heat, constantly moving the eggplants around the wok until they are soft, brown and a little charred. This removes the bitterness and sweetens them a little. 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, 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 (catfish is an essential ingredient for Cambodians, but many people don’t like its muddy taste), 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, simmer, stir, and serve into individual bowls. If this is a main meal, Cambodians would eat this with white rice on the side.
Do let us know if you make this samlor korko recipe for Cambodian stirring pot soup. We’d love to know how it turns out for you. Feel free to leave a comment below, email us, share a pic of your dish on Instagram or DM us there or on one of our other social media channels. Links at the bottom of the page.