Blog - Curry Twist

Khmer Fish Curry In Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, one of the most remarkable civilizations the world has ever seen, which was at its height from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries. Cambodia was strongly influenced by the culture of India, from which they received Hindu and Buddhist religions, Sanskrit literature, and models for architecture, art, sculpture and music. The name Angkor derives from the Sanskrit word nagara, meaning city. No further description was thought necessary - quite clearly, no one believed that any other city like this could ever exist.

Cambodia  - 138.jpg

The first westerner to see Angkor, a Portuguese priest who visited in the sixteenth century when it was well past its peak, wrote that it “is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen”. The first time you see Angkor you understand what he meant.

Angkor consisted of an inhabited area of approximately 1000 square kilometers, irrigated by a complex system of canals and lakes. Temples, of which almost a thousand have been excavated, formed the focal points of urban settlements. The temples were not just places of worship but also served as centers of education, courts of justice and financial hubs. Temples ranged in size from small shrines to massive complexes such as Angkor Wat and Bayon.

The temple of Angkor Wat was built as a shrine to the Hindu god Vishnu, but as the official religion of the Khmer kings changed to Buddhism, it was transformed into a Buddhist temple. Bayon, which was built later, is famous for the many towering statues, smiling serenely from its terraces and the enigmatic faces that are repeated across its walls, said to represent the Buddha.

Angkor was attacked and sacked by invaders from Thailand in the fifteenth century, after which it was gradually abandoned. The tropical jungle soon took over the city, burying the stones under creepers and vines until it all but vanished.

In the nineteenth French archaeologists rediscovered Angkor and led efforts to clear the dense jungle growth and restore the buildings to their former glory. The painstaking work still goes on, with restoration teams from around the world toiling on the many monuments and temples that are still being unearthed.

Today Angkor is Cambodia’s greatest tourist attraction with millions of visitors arriving each year. It takes several days to visit the many sites across the sprawling grounds, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see what is one of the greatest wonders of the world. The temple of Angkor Wat is the most famous and visitors line up to see it at its best at sunrise or at sunset.

Cambodian or Khmer cuisine is also worth discovering for its complex, delicious flavours. It shares common elements with its Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian neighbours and has French, Chinese and Indian influences as well. You will find everything from noodle soups, stir fries, spring rolls and spicy curries to crusty breads and coffee!
We enjoyed wonderful dishes like Fish Amok (coconut milk based fish curry served in a banana leaf bowl), Beef Lok Lak (beef stir fry with soy and oyster sauce), Bai Cha (fried rice) and Khmer Laksa (spicy noodle soup with coconut milk), and were hooked!

Fish Curry - 1.jpg

Creamy, mildly spiced and delicious, this easy Khmer fish curry is one of my favourites that I often make at home. Cambodia’s famous Kampot pepper is the traditional seasoning here, adding a subtle floral aroma and delicate peppery taste to the dish. Named after the Kampot region where it is grown, this prized pepper is a favourite for flavouring seafood dishes. Since Kampot pepper is hard to find outside of Cambodia, you can use regular ground black pepper instead.
If you’re looking for more ways to make fish curry, try my spicy Kerala Fish Curry!

Khmer Fish Curry With Turmeric, Coconut Milk And Lemongrass

2 shallots or use 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

2 cloves garlic

1/2 inch piece galangal or ginger

1 inch piece fresh turmeric or use 1/2 tsp turmeric powder

2 red chilies, sliced thinly, divided

2 inner, tender stalks of lemongrass (about 2 inches each), ends trimmed, tougher outer leaves removed

2 tbsp oil

Salt to taste

1 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 fresh kaffir lime leaves, slivered or use fresh bay leaves

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp lime juice

1 cup packed fresh baby spinach

1 lb any kind of firm skinless white fleshed fish fillet, cut into 2 inch chunks

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp coconut cream (saved from the top of a can of premium coconut milk), for optional garnish

Using a food processor or a mortar and pestle, mince/pound together the shallots or red onion, garlic, galangal or ginger, fresh turmeric, 1 sliced red chili and the lemongrass, until a fine paste is achieved. If using turmeric powder, add it later in the recipe.
Note: If lemongrass is too fibrous and will affect the texture of the curry sauce, do not mince it with the above ingredients. Simply smash it in several places with the back of your knife to release flavours and use it whole or halved lengthwise.

Warm oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Add the paste (and whole lemongrass, if using) and sauté for about 8 min until it is aromatic and lightly browned.

Add salt, sugar, pepper, turmeric powder (if using) and half of the slivered lime or bay leaves (reserve remainder for garnishing later), stir for a few seconds.

Add coconut milk, water and lime juice, bring to a gentle simmer.

Add the baby spinach and cook 2 min until spinach starts to wilt into the sauce.

Add the fish, stirring gently to spoon sauce over the fish. Cook on low heat for 10 min until fish is cooked through and spinach is wilted, shaking skillet gently to cook evenly.

In a small bowl, combine 2 tbsp of the curry sauce from the skillet, the beaten egg and the fish sauce, beating gently to mix. Pour it over fish curry, swirling it in gently without breaking up the fish. Switch off heat and let pan sit covered for 2 min for the egg to set. Remove whole lemongrass if used.

Garnish with remaining lime leaves, remaining sliced red chili and the coconut cream (if using).

Serves four

Cambodia  - 13.jpg

The Glory Of Saffron

Order tandoori chicken in an Indian restaurant anywhere in the world, and you will find it colored a bright orange. Ask the chef, “Why orange?” and he will probably say that it is tradition – it has always been prepared so.

To understand why tandoori chicken is orange you must go back more than a thousand years, to the days when the great Arab alchemists labored to convert base metals into gold. They discarded one formula after another until they found a magical substance that colored anything it touched gold. They called it zafaran; the English modified the name only slightly, to saffron.

Saffron comes from crocus bulbs that flower two weeks in a year, each violet blossom enclosing three orange stigmas. Delicately plucked by hand and dried, a stigma becomes an inch long strand of saffron. A million strands weigh only a little over four pounds, making saffron the most expensive spice known.

saffron - bright.jpg

Arab alchemists also developed theories of dietetics, using scientific principles to develop healing sauces. Saffron was the most important ingredient in their repertoire, believed to possess miraculous powers. It had brought them the closest they ever got to creating gold; surely, they reasoned, it had therapeutic properties as well. Saffron became essential to Arab cuisine and the most highly regarded dishes were those with a golden hue. All shades of yellow were thought auspicious: cookbooks recommended using turmeric or safflower if saffron was too expensive.

Medieval Europeans adopted many Arab theories, including those on alchemy, dietetics and cooking. Saffron grew well in temperate western climates and became the most popular spice for cooking. All chefs learned the technique of endoring, basting meats with saffron and egg yolks to give them a golden glow.

India’s Muslim rulers developed a taste for Arab and Persian cuisine, including their fondness for saffron. The seventeenth century emperor Jahangir personally inspected saffron fields in Kashmir. Saffron became the hallmark of royal kitchens, symbolizing richness and sophistication. Indian restaurants still carry on that tradition, striving to obtain the color of saffron even if they have to resort to food colouring when the spice itself is too expensive to use. And they will never, ever, serve tandoori chicken that is not the right shade of orange.

saffron - 1 (2).jpg

Although saffron is expensive, a little bit goes a long way, especially if it is of good quality. The traditional, and still the best, way to use saffron in cooking is by soaking it in some warm milk to draw out it's colour, aroma and flavour. Keep your saffron in a sealed bag in the freezer and it will remain fresh for a very long time.

Saffron Rosewater Ice Cream With Pistachios

This addictive ice cream is wonderful served with fresh berries too. If you wish to make it egg-less, substitute a can of condensed milk for the egg custard base. For more recipes cooking with saffron, try grilled Saffron Chicken Tikka or this delicious Chicken Biryani or this unusual Roll Cake!

1 can (354ml) evaporated milk

1 cup whipping cream

1/4 tsp saffron threads

1/4 cup + 3 tbsp sugar, divided

3 large egg yolks

3 tbsp rosewater

2 tbsp unsalted, unroasted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Combine evaporated milk, whipping cream, saffron and 1/4 cup sugar in heavy saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to very low and keep warm, stirring occasionally. Don't worry if a skin starts forming over milk, it will be integrated into the ice cream later.

Meanwhile, half fill a large saucepan with water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Combine egg yolks, remaining 3 tbsp sugar and the rosewater in a rounded bowl big enough to fit over the saucepan without touching the water.

Beat with a whisk until thickened, increased in volume and lightened in colour, about 4 min. Remove from heat and continue beating for 1 more min until smooth.

One by one, add 2 ladles of the warm saffron milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture, whisking gently after each addition to bring it up to temperature.

Pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan containing remainder of the warm saffron milk, whisking gently to incorporate. Increase heat to medium low and continue whisking for about 5-7 min until milk thickens slightly. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped pistachios.

Cool ice cream mixture at room temperature for 30 minutes. Transfer to a rounded bowl, cover tightly and freeze overnight.

Remove from freezer, uncover and rest at room temperature for 1 hour or until ice cream is starting to thaw and soften. Break up ice cream into smaller pieces with a knife. Using a hand blender, blend ice cream until it is smooth and no lumps remain. It is OK to have the pistachios remain chunky.

Cover and freeze again for another 2 hours or longer.

Alternatively you can churn ice cream in an ice cream maker, following manufacturer's directions.

Scoop into serving bowls and serve.

Serves Four

saffron - 1 (1).jpg