Raffles loves a good obsession and his latest is with Cambodia, a country that Mr Eats World and I explored pre-parenthood when we were still spry and wrinkle-free. Interestingly, and until now unbeknownst to my adventurous boy, I’m still more than a little obsessed myself.
My own fascination harks all the way back to my childhood (no, not to when they were still building Angkor Wat – though there are days when I do feel a few millennia old). During the 1970’s, Cambodia was in the news for all the wrong reasons, with civil war, poverty and the unspeakable brutality of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime ravaging the country.
Fascinated by Cambodia and its resilience, I began reading book after book on its history, and as the country slowly recovered from its horrendous past, sponsored a couple of children (who I was lucky enough to later visit) through a small and now defunct NGO. I was worried that I’d built it up so much in my mind that I would be disappointed if I ever made it there, but instead I fell head over heels in love with the country. Indeed, it is one of the few countries I’ve explored that has exceeded my expectations in every single way and my affection and connection to it’s culture and its people still runs very deep.
So you could say I’m kinda happy with my son’s new found interest. We’ve been chatting at length about this incredibly beautiful and special place and how its warm and resilient people stole my heart.
Raffles curiosity has seen him ask many questions, read some of my old books (at least the ones not focusing on its more brutal history), and pore over my photo albums again and again. Though that may have as much to do with the fact that he’s fascinated by the unwrinkled young thing masquerading as his mother in the pics.
We’ve discussed its history – both recent and ancient. We’ve talked tuktuks, Tomb Raider and temples. And now, he’s desperate to see them all for himself.
As is inevitable when it comes to my wee walking, talking stomach, conversation also turned to food which led to Mama Eats World being sent to the kitchen to whip up something Cambodian-ish!
I’m a little short on Cambodian recipes. The country had only recently opened up to travellers when we were there and there was very little in print in English. Given my grasp of Khmer is right up there with my understanding of Hieroglyphics and the Enigma Code, recipe books were off the souvenir list. So on this occasion I decided to wing it by simply using the ingredients and flavours I remember most from our travels.
Along with market treats and the amazing amok (coconutty curry steam-cooked in banana leaves) one of my favourite dishes in steamy Cambodia was the fresh and fragrant salad known as larb – variations of which are also popular in neighbouring Thailand and Laos.
Given that we’ve also been hankering for a little seafood, I decided to toss some fragrant herbs, citrus and nuts together with a little steamed fish to come up with this Lemongrass and Lime Fish Larb, inspired by the tastes of our Cambodian travels.
Whether my Lemongrass and Lime Fish Larb recipe is even remotely authentic or not, I can assure you that it reminds me of a special time and place and makes for a perfect summer dinner.
- 400 g skinless snapper fillets
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 sticks lemongrass, bruised and finely sliced
- 6 kaffir lime leaves, cut into fine slivers
- 5 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- 4 tbsp. lime juice
- 2 tbsp. fish sauce
- 1 ½ tbsp. palm sugar
- 2 Birdseye chillis, deseeded and finely sliced
- 1 cup of Coriander leaves
- 1 cup of Thai Basil leaves
- 1/2 cup mint leaves (torn)
- Crispy shallots (you can buy these at Asian grocery stores or make your own)
- 1/4 cup of roasted crushed peanuts
- Lettuce leaves (to serve)
- Steam fish in a bamboo steamer for about 8 minutes, then sit aside to cool.
- Heat oil in a wok and fry lemongrass and lime until fragrant, then set aside on kitchen paper to drain.
- Fry the garlic in the same oil until just golden then set aside.
- Mix the lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar in a bowl to make a dressing
- Flake cooled fish.
- Mix all ingredients carefully in a bowl.
- Top with dressing and extra crushed peanuts.
- Serve with rice and/or scooped up in lettuce leaves.