This Cambodian sour beef soup with morning glory recipe makes a wonderful green vegetable-driven broth called samlor machou kroeung sach ko in Khmer. It’s super-easy to make and if you’re not a fan of tang you can easily adjust the seasonings to suit your taste.
Soups are comforting and we all need comfort right now. So while Terence continues his Cambodian barbecue recipe series, after we unpack the towers of boxes crammed into the snug apartment we’ve moved to just out of the centre of Cambodia’s Siem Reap, I’ll be sharing a series of samlor (soup and stew) recipes. I’m starting with this sour beef soup with morning glory recipe or samlor machou kroeung sach ko in Khmer*. Next up is a pork, pineapple and coconut milk soup-cum-stew and the ‘outside the pot’ soup.
I have to confess that while I am what I’d call a ‘soup person’ – I’m happiest breakfasting on a noodle soup and when I’m sick few things comfort me more than emptying a can of Campbell’s chicken soup into a pot and polishing the lot off, wrapped in a blanket watching old movies – I don’t slurp bowls of broth anywhere near as much as I’d like, and I make them even less.
Terence has long been the soup cook in our kitchen. When we’re in Australia or Europe in winter Terence is making pots of leek and potato soup; when we lived in Dubai he was cooking Moroccan harira, a chick pea and lentil soup; in Mexico, it was sopa de tortilla; and on the Mediterranean in summer, it would be a cold watermelon or tomato gazpacho.
Well, that’s about to change. While Terence is turning skewers and grilling eggplants over the clay brazier on the balcony, I’ll be stirring simmering pots of Cambodian soups on the stove as I sip the cooking wine and watch the local boys play volleyball on the sandy lot out back. So here’s the first broth in my new soup series, a Cambodian sour beef soup with morning glory recipe for samlor machou kroeung sach ko.
Cambodian Sour Beef Soup with Morning Glory Recipe – How to Make Samlor Machou Kroeung Sach Ko
It was wonderful to get back into the kitchen to make this Cambodian sour beef soup with morning glory recipe and I’m really looking forward to making and sharing these Cambodian soup recipes with you.
I was fortunate in that my family raised me as a cosmopolitan eater and much of that eating involved soup, whether it was my baboushka’s piping hot bowls of Russian borscht, the French onion soup Mum made during her Escoffier phase (my 11 year-old-self bought her Ma Cuisine for her birthday in 1978), or Dad’s filling Scottish pearl barley soup, which bubbled in the Crock-Pot.
When I moved from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast where my family settled in the early Eighties (after five years travelling around Australia in a caravan) back to my hometown Sydney to go to university, my soup adventures continued. My intrepid traveller of an uncle, who I lived with in Glebe, introduced us to Asian food.
On weeknights after work and before university lectures, Terence and I met in Chinatown for creamy curry laksa and on Saturday mornings we’d sometimes take the train to Cabramatta, home to Sydney’s Vietnamese and Cambodian communities, for steaming bowls of pho.
Yet I’ve never been a maker of soups until recently. But during these anxiety-inducing times, like many of you I am seeking comfort in food and in cooking and few dishes are more comforting than soup.
Cambodians love their soups, too, whether it’s breakfast noodle soups, such as kuy teav, Cambodia’s pho, or nom banh chok, the fresh rice noodles that for me is Cambodia in a bowl, or the much-loved sour soups, such as this samlor machou kroeung sach ko, eaten for lunch or dinner.
Unlike Cambodian breakfast soups, which are eaten individually, soups such as this Cambodian sour beef soup with morning glory are traditionally shared. In the villages and countryside the soup might be eaten alone with rice, whereas in the cities the soup might be one of several or a handful of dishes that might include stir-fried vegetables, perhaps a salad, maybe grilled fish, or perhaps even a curry, and, of course, always loads of rice.
Notes on Making this Sour Beef Soup with Morning Glory Recipe
This is a super easy soup to make, especially if you make the Khmer yellow kroeung. A kroeung is a Cambodian herb and spice paste. The yellow kroeung is the most basic and most versatile of the five main herb and spice pastes or kroeungs used in Cambodian cooking.
As well as this Cambodian sour beef soup with morning glory recipe, the yellow kroeung is used in dishes such as the sumptuous fish amok and these smoky beef skewers. A green kroeung can also be used in this soup.
We like to use a good quality cut of Australian beef (Cambodian beef can be too tough), marinate the beef in the kroeung before frying it, and then quickly stir-fry it to medium-rare to medium only, not well-done as some recipes recommend. There are two directions to take at this stage.
Some recipes call for the fish sauce and/or prahok (fermented fish paste), salt, palm sugar, and tamarind juice to be thrown in at this stage and to continue to stir-fry the meat in the seasoning for at least ten minutes. We prefer to start with a good cut of beef and cook it for less time.
Other recipes call for the seasonings to be added to the soup and that’s the way we go for a more intensely flavoured soup. That’s also why we use beef stock, whereas some recipes use only water.
Vegetable stock is also a great option, too, of course, although there are a lot of greens in there already. If you don’t want to make your own stock, you can use a store-bought packaged beef stock or vegetable stock or beef stock cubes (beef bouillon cubes).
If you’re a vegetarian you can leave out the protein entirely and add other vegetables to the soup, such as green beans and round eggplants. Carrots are also possible although I always think of this sour beef soup with morning glory as a green soup.
In addition the funkiness of the fish sauce and prahok (fermented fish paste), a feature of these Cambodian sour soups is naturally their sourness. If you like tang, add the tamarind juice, which is your souring agent.
In Cambodia, locals use the seeds of krasaing or wood apple as an alternative, but you might have a hard time tracking the fruit down if you live outside Southeast Asia. If you don’t love sour, leave the tamarind juice out. That’s might be a good idea the first time you make this. It’s delicious either way.
The same can be said of the fish sauce and prahok. You may wish to use only fish sauce the first time you cook this soup, and not add it all at once. Add a tablespoon, taste it, then add another. Prahok can also be hard to find outside Cambodia. Try a specialised Asian supermarket or Asian market.
Most recipes instruct you to throw all the chopped morning glory into the pot. I like to add all the leaves and half the stems to the pot, and blend the rest for a thicker soup. If you’re also finding it a challenge to locate morning glory (Ipomoea aquatic), note that outside Southeast Asia it’s also called water spinach, river spinach, Chinese spinach, Chinese watercress, and (I know) swamp cabbage.
Although it’s 90% water, morning glory is incredibly nutritious and a good source of vitamins (C and E), minerals (potassium, iron, magnesium), carotene, and polyphenol, an antioxidant. It’s used in Ayurveda and traditional medicine in Southeast Asia to treat everything from high blood pressure and diabetes to anxiety.
One last tip: don’t let this soup simmer forever – 30 minutes is sufficient – otherwise it will lose its green colour. As you can see from the olive-green shade in the image, above, I left this batch on the stove a little longer than I like.
This should give you enough soup for four people if this is your main dish. But if you’re serving this as one of a number of dishes and using small bowls, as Cambodians do when serving an array of dishes, you could stretch this to 6-8 small serves. The garnish of chilli is also optional. I love the bite that it gives to this sour beef soup with morning glory.
*A final note on Khmer-English spelling: there is no standardisation, so if you’re doing further research note that ‘samlor’, which means soup, but can also mean ‘stew’, is also spelt ‘samlaw’, ‘samlar’ and ‘samla’. ‘Machou’ (sour) is also written as ‘m’chou’ and I’ve seen ‘sach ko’ (beef) written as ‘saiko’.
Cambodian Sour Beef Soup with Morning Glory Recipe
- 6 tbsp yellow kroeung
- 300 g beef tenderloin medium-sliced two-bite pieces
- 3 tbsp cooking oil
- 4 cups stock beef or vegetable
- 300 g morning glory also called water spinach or trorkuon in Khmer
- 2 tbsp fish sauce and/or 1 tbsp prahok (fermented fish paste)
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste (optional)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp palm sugar (or substitute with brown sugar)
- 5 small red chillies for garnish
- Make the Khmer yellow herb/spice paste called Kroeung Samlor Machou (see linked recipe above).
- Prepare the morning glory by removing old leaves, giving it a thorough wash in clean water, and draining. Coarsely chop the leaves and stems into 3 cm lengths.
- If using good quality beef, slice into medium-size pieces that you can eat in two bites.
- Combine the beef in the yellow kroeung and marinate for 15 minutes.
- Quickly fry the beef and kroeung in the cooking oil in a pan to your taste then transfer to the soup pot.
- Add 4 cups of stock to the pot – beef for a meatier taste or vegetable stock for a greener flavour.
- Add all the morning glory leaves and half the morning glory stems. Blitz the remainder of morning glory in a blender with a little stock or water, then add to the pot.
- Season with the fish sauce and/or prahok, optional tamarind paste (depending on how sour you like your soups), salt, and sugar. Taste. You may wish to add more. If this is your first time making this soup, add half the portions above, taste, then add the remainder if you wish.
- Simmer for 30 minutes to retain the green colour and flavour.
- Serve with a dish of finely sliced red chillies on the side for guests to add to their taste. These give the soup a nice bite.
Please do let us know if you make our Cambodian sour beef soup with morning glory recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.
Lina Nou says
This was the best! Took me right back to Cambodia! Awkun!!!
I loved this recipe!
Lara Dunston says
That’s what we love to hear! Thanks, Scarlet!
This was so much better than the ones we had in Cambodia which were very watery. Will definitely be making this again.
Lara Dunston says
Yes, they can be watery in the local restaurants and also in some homes, as they try to stretch the soup out to feed as many people as possible. This is definitely a more luxe version of the dish. Thanks for dropping by!
Dalida Mak says
Most Khmer cooks use feronia fruit (krasaing) with fish in this soup. I think the fruit goes well with fish than pork ribs or beef. Another souring agent for this is sorrel leaves, but only with beef, goat, veal, or rabbit. No need to add any other vegetable as the leaves fill that role as well. Also, when cooking with beef, goat, veal or rabbit, dry-roasted curry leaves (sloek kontroap) are added near the end of cooking.
By the way, bell pepper is another fruit used in this soup.
Lara Dunston says
Hi Dalida, the soup you describe is wonderful and also has morning glory, but it’s different to samlor machou kroeung sach ko, which tends to be a very green morning glory-driven soup and always comes with beef ribs or beef pieces. By the time the soup gets to the table, the beef melts in the mouth and falls off the bone. It’s one of my favourites and I have a few spots here in Siem Reap and on the road to Battambang where I used to eat it pre-pandemic. And, yes, some cooks will add krasaing seeds and dry-roasted sleuk kantrup at the end and remove them before serving. The chefs at my favourite spots did not and their versions are what I’ve based this recipe on.
There are so many sour soups here in Cambodia, as you know, I could almost write a book on soups alone. The soup you’re talking about with fish tends to just get called samlor m’chou trakuon here in Siem Reap, despite the fact it also includes fish and krasaing, as well as bell peppers, prahok, galangal, and garlic. If krasaing is out of season, tamarind tends to get used as the souring agent. We do not see sorrel much here in Siem Reap – nor veal or rabbit, and goat only in the Muslim villages (there’s a wonderful goat Saraman curry in Battambang); I miss all of those things – and lamb! Oh my, I could eat a whole lamb, LOL.
Dry-roasted sleuk kantrup gets used at the end of samlor machou kroeung sleuk th’noeng, another great green soup that tends to come with chicken here in SR. All of those soups are on my list for our cookbook and may appear here at some stage. Thank you so much for visiting :)
Dalida Mak says
Oh I’m not talking about m’chu trakuon, but m’chu kroeung with fish. There’s also another version made with fish roe. M’chu kroeung sleuk th’noeng (sorrel leaves) is only made with red meat (except pork ribs). Also, people in the northeast would boil red tree ants with beef stock and add them to the beef version of the soup.
Lara Dunston says
Hi Dalida, can I ask you where you live or where you grew up? I’m keen to know for my culinary research, as that’s so interesting that you only use sleuk thnoeng with red meat. Because it’s common to see samlor machou kroeung sleuk thnoeng with chicken here in Siem Reap. The French use sorrel with chicken, too, especially a sorrel sauce. Those sharp lemony flavours are a perfect match. But I’ve seen it in markets more in Vietnam than Cambodia. Next time I do see it I’ll test the soup recipe.
Samlor machou Siem Reap is made with snakehead fish, morning glory, tamarind, and prahok, and some of the ingredients of a kreoung – lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves – but they’re not actually pounded into a paste, just added directly to the soup. I’m going to start to look for a machou kroeung with fish now.
Red tree ants are fantastic with beef, especially stir-fries. But I adore the ant eggs in a salad. So good. I’ve got cravings now!