The BF and I have been talking recently about visiting Cambodia when we take a long-awaited trip to Asia next year. I’ve long wanted to see the ruins of Angkor Wat, and the BF (who’s seen them before) wants to go back and explore other parts of Cambodia, such as its beaches. So this is my explanation for why, on a recent Saturday night, I decided to attempt a Cambodian curry.
Fortunately, my Curry Cuisine bible has a recipe for “Saraman,” or cardamom and ginger beer curry with peanuts. I’ve never actually eaten a Cambodian curry, much less attempted to make one, but after finding the recipe, and watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations Cambodia episode, I felt ready.
One advantage of my years of Thai and Indian curry-making is a well-stocked cabinet…which is good, because, damn there were a LOT of ingredients in this recipe. I liked that it called for star anise (pictured left), a star-shaped spice which — to sound incredibly girly — is the cutest spice ever. Other hard-to-find ingredients, which I fortunately had on hand: green cardamom pods, mace, cilantro root, galangal…and the list goes on.
The recipe wasn’t as complicated as it was labor-intensive and time-consuming…and there were times when I was skeptical as to whether the hours in the kitchen were worth it. But lo and behold, the finished product was terrific! We decided to eat it the authentic way, using baguettes to scoop up its deliciousness, rather than serving it over rice like most curries. The baguettes are leftover from the French colonization era.
The curry was thick, creamy, complex, layered — all the things a proper curry should be. Here’s my version of the Curry Cuisine recipe.
3-inch piece ginger, pureed in food processor
1 lb beef (I got tender pieces, already cubed, used for making beef stew)
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 dried large red chiles, soaked, seeded and sliced
1 tsp galangal
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
7 green cardamon pods
1/2 tsp ground mace
1 tsp nutmeg
2-3 cilantro roots, chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp shrimp paste
1/2 can coconut cream
1 can (or 1 16-oz frozen bag) of coconut milk
4 tbsp palm sugar
1/4 cup tamarind water (water mixed with 1/4 tsp tamarind)
2 tbsp fish sauce
big handful roasted peanut halves
2-4 Thai chiles, sliced lengthwise
1 French baguette (sliced)
Puree the ginger and then squeeze it in your hand to release the juice into a mixing bowl. Discard the dry fiber. Add the beef cubes to the bowl, and marinate in the ginger juice for a half-hour so. Meanwhile, pound the cinnamon stick, star anise, cardamons and mace in mortar & pestle; set aside. Heat the coconut oil and stir-fry the chiles, galangal, garlic, shallot and lemongrass until fragrant. Add the cinnamon/anise/cardamon/mace mixture along with the nutmeg until all are toasted. Transfer all to a food processor. Blend. Add cilantro root, turmeric and a small amount of water; blend until paste. Set aside.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan (like a Le Creuset) over medium-high heat and stir-fry the shrimp paste, breaking apart with spoon until it’s dark. Add half the coconut cream and coconut milk, and all of the curry paste. Stir all. Add the beef and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining coconut cream and coconut milk, the palm sugar, the tamarind water, the fish sauce and the peanuts, then reduce heat. Simmer for about 1.5 hours of so. Add Thai chiles for heat. Serve with slices of French baguette, which you can use to scoop up the sauce. Delicious!