Artillery Cafe (Cambodia)

Of course, with a thirteen-hour time change comes inconsistent sleeping patterns. Dad and I found ourselves awake at 5:30 a.m. the first morning, eager to explore the neighborhood and find our “regular” spots.  It did not take long to find our favorite lunch establishmenet, Artillery Café, which we visited three different times.
Unlike traditional Cambodian cuisine, this modern café thrives on its healthy, raw, vegetarian menu that attracts eaters from all over the world.  Many sit in the open entrance with a newspaper and cup of French-pressed coffee, while others grab a quick bite or pressed juice.
Feast with your eyes: every dish from the nori roll of seaweed, avocado, carrot, bean sprout and ginger dressing, to the garlic hummus with veggie sticks and sunshine avocado sandwich on olive bread was impressive. I’m a big fan of eating food that makes you feel good about yourself—and this menu clearly does just that!
To drink, the coconut crush and fresh coconut juice (in the shell) were both refreshing in 90-degree weather. If only I could have a glass right now! You can’t go wrong with fresh fruit in Cambodia—every fruit I tried tasted extra sweet.

I miss this little nook dearly.

Cambodia Cooking School, Part II

Last week, I gave the scoop on my authentic Cambodian cooking class during my travels to Phnom Penh in early January. While our crunchy fried spring rolls were a fabulous starter, the four hour class revolved around the Cambodian curry, called amok. Each ingredient is essential, from the lemongrass and chili to shallot and kaffir lime zest.  Attention to detail places Cambodian cuisine in a high level of difficulty in preparation and execution.

The nitty-gritty of this Cambodian delicacy is entitled kroeung, which is combined with chicken and a coconut mixture.  The mix is carefully held in a banana leaf cup, which we clumsily folded and fastened with toothpicks. The result is delightful -- sweet and slightly spicy -- and riddles well with a spoonful of steamed white rice.
chicken amok

Makes 1 serving
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon galangal
2 teaspoon lemongrass, thinly sliced
1 large piece of kaffir lime zet
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon peanuts
1 chicken breast sliced into thin strips
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon palm sugar (or honey)
1/2 egg yolk, beaten
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 pieces of banana leaf
2 toothpicks, halved
1. Combine all kroeung ingredients into a food processor and blend to a thick paste. A mortal and pestle may be used, if desired. Stir into a small bowl of coconut milk. Add egg, fish sauce and sliced chicken.
2. Make a banana leaf cup by placing two 25-cm diameter circle pieces together and tucking a fold, secured by half of a toothpick. Repeat until all four sides of the cup are symmetrical and held together.
3. Fill banana cup with amok mixture. Steam for 25 minutes, until mixture is solid but moist.
adapted by frizz, cambodian cooking school

Cambodian Cooking School, Part I

You could probably imagine the sequence of events when learning about an exclusive Cambodian cooking class. I was signed up within 30 minutes.
The day was wonderful, and the attention to detail in Khmer cooking kept the group enthralled in chopping, grinding and mixing—even to the point where we ignored our aching biceps and glistening foreheads. Our guide, Song, was an adorable Cambodian woman with a huge smile and direct sense of instruction. I left feeling full, proud of my new taste palette, and anxious  to try the recipes soon in my own kitchen.
Song explained the menu of fried spring rolls and chicken amok (pronounced ay-mock) which would collectively take four hours to prepare, cook and eat.
We were whisked to the local Kandal market by Tut Tut (think pedicabs but more…authentic) to learn about and buy the essential Cambodian ingredients. I somehow decided against becoming a vegetarian after viewing more animal parts and flip-flopping live fish than my appetite could handle. But I especially found it fascinating that the Cambodian culture does not use supermarkets or grocery stores at all; just like a bag of produce at Central Market or Whole Foods, sunflower oil, coconut milk and spices are weighed on a scale by the pound for purchase. I was in charge of the bag of eggs (no cartons available), so my balance had to remain spot-on, even during a bumpy Tut Tut ride to our destination.
Song showed us to the rooftop kitchen, complete with long parallel dining tables and work stations lined with cutting boards, knives, and a large mortar and pestle for each person.  Immediately, we grabbed aprons and took turns shredding taro and carrot for the fried spring rolls. Song taught us the tedious, necessary process of removing starch from taro to avoid itchy throats and grainy taste. After pouring a tablespoon of salt over the shredded taro, we were instructed to “massage” the taro until a soapy, liquid consistency formed. Then, after the draining the taro and placing into a clean bowl, the process began again. Three times a charm, and the taro was ready to mix and fill the potato flour wrappers. While the spring rolls cooked in the fryer until extra crispy, our homemade sweet and sour sauce came to fruition without even a Cuisinart! Shocking, I know.

The chicken amokrequired three tasks: making the kroeung (curry paste base from scratch), creating the coconut and palm sugar mixture, and constructing a banana leaf bowl with toothpicks. Once all was mixed, we popped them in the steamer for 25 minutes and enjoyed every bite with a side of steamed rice. A well-made recipe book was gifted to each of us! 
Below is the recipe for fried spring rolls with sweet and sour sauce we cooked in Cambodia. Chicken amok is coming up later this week. Once I get to cooking the other recipes in my new booklet, I will share them as well!
fried spring rolls

Makes 12 rolls
1 cup shredded taro root
1 cup carrot
12 pieces of potato (or rice) paper
1 tablespoon peanuts
1 egg, beaten
2 cups cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Put shredded taro in large mixing bowl and add some salt. Use palms to squeeze out all liquid. Then, mix taro with carrot and add peanuts. Season with sugar and pepper and set aside.
2. La a spring roll sheet flat on a cutting board and fill 1/3 shell with vegetable mix. Wrap spring roll shell tightly and seat end with beaten up egg.
3. Heat oil on high temperature. When oil is hot (test with a piece of rice paper), turn temperature to medium and carefully drop in each spring roll, one at a time. Turn spring rolls frequently until golden brown. Remove (while stove is still on) and drain on a paper towel-covered plate.
sweet and sour sauce

4 cloves garlic
1 shallot
1 fresh red pepper
1 fresh hot chili pepper
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon crushed peanuts
1. Crush garlic in a stone mortar (or Cuisinart). Add sugar, salt, shallot, hot chilis and red pepper. Blend until almost a paste. 
2. Add 1/2 cup water, fish sauce and lime juice. Stir well. Add peanuts on top when plating!