Cooking Ingredients for Authentic Southeast Asian Cuisine Recipes: Use Cambodian Spices Roots and Herbs for Health

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One of the first things that you will notice about Cambodian food is how aesthetically pleasing it is! Many of these great traditional dishes are very colorful!

Cambodian recipes are usually not written down, but rather passed from generation to generation by showing children how to prepare these dishes in their own kitchens. It is a great cultural significance and bonding ritual within many Asian communities. Traditionally, cooking is done outdoors but as Southeast Asia is modernizing, many houses have replaced the hut-like dwellings and major cities like Phnom Penh are thriving with markets, tourist attractions and restaurants.

This article attempts to dispel the secrets of these centuries-old dishes! We will begin by exploring the Basic Ingredients that are found in Cambodian Food, as well as the neighboring countries of Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. You will find at least one of these ingredients in nearly every dish!

Basic Ingredients Found In Cambodian and Southeast Asian Food

Ingredient
Characteristics and Uses
Also Known As...
Alternative/Similar Ingredients
Asian Shallots
Small, round and pinkish in color. Sweet oniony flavor, wit a hint of garlic.
 
 
Banana Flowers
Un-opened male flowers from the banana plant. A purple-redish color, with a yellow skirt. The heart of the flower is used in salads, and can be canned or dried for longer life. The outer petals must be removed to reveal a white and creamy heart. They are very sticky!
 
Cabbage Leaves
Banana Leaves
Used as a wrap while steaming and grilling. Similar to the Greek method of using Grape leaves.Adds sweet flavor and maintains moisture while cooking. To soften the leaves to be rolled, soak in warm water for 5-10 minutes.
 
 
Holy Basil
Several feet in hight and has a unique smell. Sweet like Italian Basil with a hint of geranium. Often added at the end of cooking in stir-fry dishes.
merap prey (Cambodia), kaprow (Thai)
 
Thai Basil
A dark green leaf that is similar in smell to Italian basil. Often used in salads and soups to add flavor. Also added to the end of cooking or it will lose it's flavor.
chie nieng vong (Cambodian), hung que (Vietnamese), horapa (Thai)
Fresh Coriander Leaves (Cilantro)
Bitter Khmer Leaves
A bitter leaf, often blanched before using to reduce bitterness.
Sdao (Cambodian)
Sorrel Leaves, Fresh Spinach
Chili Peppers
Variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.
 
 
Fresh Green and Red Asian Finger-Length Chilies
Moderately hot.
 
 
Tiny Red, Green, or Orange Bird's-Eye Chilies
Very Hot!
chili padi (Cambodian)
 
Dried Chili Peppers
Mild and Finger-length. Seeds have to be removed and salted. They must soak before grinding/crushing them. Has an indefinate shelf life.
mate phlao krim (Cambodian)
 
Coriander Leaves
Roots and stems are used in cooking. Used sparingly as they have a very strong flavor!
Cilantro (Western Countries), Chines Parsley (Asia General)
Regular Parsley with Fresh Basil Leaves added
Daikon Radish
A large, white-fleshed and crisp radish. Has a sweet, clean flavore and is used in Japanese and Korean cousine as well. Can be eaten raw or cooked. Peel skin before using, or scrub really well.
 
 
Dried Cambodian Fish
Cured in salt and sugar, then dried. Delicate flavor and must be lightly fried before using.
trey niet
Salt Cod, Any Fresh Cooked Fish
Eggplant
Slender and Purple-skinned (15-20 cm/6-8 in long) Mild flavor and does not require salt.
 
 
Fish Paste
One of the most common ingredients in Khmer cooking. Fish are preserved in salt until they break down into a paste. Very "Fishy" smell to most westerners
prahok (Cambodia), nam prik pha (Thai), and padek, or belachan {uses shrimp instead} (Laotian)
 
Fish Sauce
Thin, salty sauce from the leftover juices of Fish Paste. Very strong "Fishy" smell. Very common (like soy sauce) in most supermarkets.
teuk trey (Cambodia), nuoc mam (Vietnam), and nam pla (Thai)
 
Galangal (Thai Ginger in English)
Cream-colored, white root used to flavor Curry Pastes and Soups. Must be sliced very fine as it is very fibrous.
rumdeng (Cambodia)
 
Green (Unripened) Mangoes
Used in salads or as a treat with light salt and chili pepper sprinkles. These fruits can also be used to tenderize meat!
 
 
Green Peppercorns
Easily perishiable so usually packed in Brine or water, or can be frozen. A soft, unripe berry and not very pungent like ripe black and white peppercorns.
 
 
Jicama
Milky, white-fleshed root. Often used in salads, or as a treat with sugar/salt/chili pepper spices. Also used to make stock or soups.
pek koa (Cambodia), and bengkuang in most of Southeast Asia
Mild Apple Varieties such as "Golden Delicious"
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Glossy, dark green leaves used similar to Bay Leaves in Western cooking. Can be added to curries, salads, and stir-fries. Adds a wonderful fragrance and color to dishes if used as a garnish. Can be fresh, frozen, or dried.
kroy saoch
Lemongrass
Krachai
Looks like a bunch of yellow-brown fingers as it is a rhizome. Fragrance similar to Lavender. Used in Curry Pastes and in the Classic Khmer dish "Amok"
kchiey (Cambodia), In Western culture, known as "Lesser Ginger", or "Chinese Keys".
 
Lemongrass
A fibrous stalk with a white bulb base. The inside tender white stalk is often chpped or sliced and used in Curry Pastes, Marinades and Soups. The leaves can be used to make lemon flavored tea.
slok krey
 
Oyster Mushrooms
White or grey fan-shaped mushrooms that grow in clusters.
Sometimes referred to as "Abalone" mushrooms
 
Palm Sugar
Has a rich caramel flavor and more complex than sugar cane. Made from the sap of the Sugar Palm Tree (Arenga Pinnata). Sap is reduced to a syrup and then dehydrated.
skoa tnaot (Cambodia)
Dark Brown Maple Sugar (half of what the recipe calls for), or Maple Syrup (double the amount)
Pomelo
A cytrus fruit similar to Grape-fruit. Greenish-yellow skin with pink flesh. Sweeter, toucher, thicker and drier than the grapefruit, pomelos are often used in salads or eaten alone.
 
Grape-fruit
Pork Belly
Fresh cut of meat from the pig's underside. This is the same cut used to make American Bacon.
 
 
Rice Flour
Made from ground grains of long grain rice and is used to make dough or batter for deserts.
 
 
Rice Paddy Herb
Pungent aroma. Used in soups, particularly "Sour Soup"-a Cambodian favorite.
mo am (Cambodia), rau om (Vietnam)
Coriander
Sawtooth Herb
Has long leaves and is similar to coriander, but stronger. Fresh leaves are added to soups after cooking as a garnish, and can also be added to salads.
Also as "Mexican Coriander", chi ana (Cambodia), ngo gai (Vietnam)
Fresh Coriander Leaves
Star Anise
A dried spice thatlokks like a brown star with eight points. Each point holds a shiny seed responsible for the very specific aroma. Used in soups and when making Khmer Curry
pka tian (Cambodia)
 
Tamarind
The pod is light brown and can grow up to 8 in/20 cm. There is a sour pulp and hard seeds. Often eaten unripe (green) with salt and chilies. The seeds can be grounded and used in sauces.
ampeul (Cambodia)
 
Turmeric
A rhizome that looks like Ginger Root but is more orange and smaller. Used in Curries and Stews. The juice will stain clothing!
romiet (Cambodia)
Dried Turmeric (usually a grounded powder)
Vietnamese Mint
Not actually part of the mint family, this herb is green and has a very distinct aroma; acid and peppery. Used in Soups and Salads
Laksa Leaves, Vietnamese Coriander, Hot Mint, or Cambodian Mint, chi pong chia kon (Cambodia, rou ram (Vietnam)
Equal parts Fresh Mint and Coriander (Cilantro)
Water Lily Stems
White stems with a pinkish hue, used mostly in Soups. Remove thin film on outside of stem.
prolet
Celery
Water Spinach
One of the most basic ingredients in Khmer cuisine. A water plant with hollow stems and arrow-like leaves. Leaves are often eaten raw in salad, while the stems can be added to stir-fries and soups.
trokun (Cambodia), rau muong (Vietnam)
Watercress, Bok Choy
Winter Mellon
A member of the Squash family, is mild flavored, and used in soups and stir-fries
Ash Gourd, Ash Pumpkin, Winter Gourd
 

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Let's Make A Delicious, Quick and Easy Lime Chili Dip!

Now that we are familiar with the basic ingredients in Cambodian cooking, why don't we start off with a very simple recipe for Lime Chili Dip! This dip can be used for dunking just about anything including bread, vegetables, crackers, or even fruit! Apples are my favorite to dip!

Here's what we will need:

  • 1 small carrot, peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped fine
  • 2 bird's-eye chili peppers, chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons of coarsely chopped roasted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) lime juice
  • 1/2 cup (250 ml) fish sauce (*optional)
  • 4 tablespoons of palm or dark brown sugar (*see chart above for replacing palm with brown sugar)
  • 1 cup (250 ml) warm water


Mix all the ingredients into a small bowl for easy dipping. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved and allow to sit for 30 minutes.

That's it!

Start dipping!


Have You Ever Tried Authentic Cambodian or Southeast Asian Food?

  • Yes, it's delicious!
  • No, but I want to!
  • I don't think I would like this!
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© 2011 JS Matthew

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Comments 29 comments

chanroth profile image

chanroth 5 years ago from California, USA

hmmm these are my favorite!Every time I cook it, I have people tell me I should open a restaurant. Have you eat the salad dressing with lime dipping? It is delicious. And porridge...okay..you really got me hungry after reading this.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Hello Chanroth! Maybe a restaurant is in your future! I say, go for it! I have had the dressing that you speak of. It is delicious! Porridge-are you talking about baw-baw? It's not my favorite, but it's great when its cold out! Sorry for making you hungry! Keep your eyes open-I am going to continue adding more recipes to the series! Thanks for the comment, as usual!

JSMatthew~


chanroth profile image

chanroth 5 years ago from California, USA

Yes baw baw...but not the regular one...baw baw chicken or pork. it is good. Have you try it? I like baw baw chicken. it is delicious. serve hot with sprouts and black pepper.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

I like both Chanroth! I had it with fish too, but didn't like it too much. Sprouts and black pepper-sounds great!

JSMatthew~


Fennelseed profile image

Fennelseed 5 years ago from Australia

This is awesome, was in Siem Reap 10 months ago and loved the food. The list of Ingredients is very useful, particularly with the substitutes, as not all are available here in Oz. Thank you for this very informative hub.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Thanks so much Fennelseed! I envy you being able to visit Siem Reap! Someday I will go. My wife cooks with most of these ingredients and I researched the most commonly used herbs and spices and came up with this chart. I am trying to add more substitutes...more research! I am glad that you found this Hub article informative! Thanks for your comment!

JSMatthew~


Fennelseed profile image

Fennelseed 5 years ago from Australia

Will check with my daughter, who has just returned home after living near Siem Reap for last 15 months, will let you know if she can add to the list.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

I really appreciate that! Thank you and let me know!

JSMatthew~


BukowskiBabe profile image

BukowskiBabe 5 years ago from Somewhere in the middle of it all.

Hi JS, I'll be looking forward to more recipes. I'm hoping I can find fish sauce in my area.


SJmorningsun25 5 years ago

That dip sounds great! Thanks for sharing! And such an informative chart, too.


LuxmiH profile image

LuxmiH 5 years ago from Fort Pierce, Florida

You are a wonderful connector of cultures Mathew. I have a lovely daughter-in-law of Laotian ancestry and I am told that Laotian food is similar in many ways to Cambodian cuisine. I will be sending my son and his wife this wonderful hub, I feel sure they will be delighted!


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@BukowskiBabe: Fish Sauce is as common as soy sauce! Look for it in the international foods section or the section with vinegar, soy sauce, and similar sauces. There are a variety of brands which includes sauce that is made in the US. You could always order it online as well! Thanks for stopping by! I will be publishing new recipes soon; please stay posted!

JSMatthew~


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@SJmorningsun25: Thanks for the comment! I appreciate you stopping by!

JSMatthew~


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@LuxmiH: Wow, I am honored by your comment! Much of the food in that region of Southeast Asia is similar because of the climate. Each culture has their own spin on each dish, but the ingredients are mostly the same. I appreciate you sharing this with your son and his wife! I will be posting more recipes very soon! Thank you so much for your insightful comment!

JSMatthew~


happypuppy profile image

happypuppy 5 years ago

Yummy! I love soup noodles. I was able to find a very good restaurant where they serve Cambodian dishes (more of a mixture of Chinese, Cambodian, and Vietnamese). Look forward to more recipes from you. Thanks!


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Hello happypuppy! I just posted a new recipe with 3 more dipping sauces! I will be posting a bit more over the next few (weeks?). Thanks for stopping by and watch for more recipes coming soon!

JSMatthew~


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I don't know anything about Cambodian food so this is fascinating. I always enjoy learning about new foods. I will check out your other posts in this series.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Thanks randomcreative! I appreciate your comment! Thanks for stopping by and watch for updates in this series!

JSMatthew~


smallbizideas profile image

smallbizideas 5 years ago from Perth, Western Australia

Hey JS, Wow! I had no idea this food could be so delicious - I can't wait to try out the "Lime Chili Dip".

Thanks for taking time to produce such a comprehensive piece (and obviously get a lot of us quite excited :-))


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Thanks for your comment smallbizideas! They are delicious! Keep your eyes open as I will be continuing this series with more Cambodian recipes!

JSMatthew~


chanroth profile image

chanroth 5 years ago from California, USA

Hi, I like for you to make a hub on Curry. Pretty please uncle Matt...I want to know if your recipe and mines are the same. Maybe I learn something new from you and cook it for myself. ^_^


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

You got it Chanroth! May I call you Chan? Curry will be my next Hub, hopefully publish it by tomorrow. Thanks for coming back!

Boo JSMatthew~ lol


chanroth profile image

chanroth 5 years ago from California, USA

haha...yes...you can call me Chan. Let me know when its publish. Then I'll read it and if different, I'll let you know my recipe so you can try mine and I try yours! :)


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

I'll let you know when it gets published-you'll be the first to know! My wife's mother's name in Chan and my brother in-law in Chanly, my wife's best friend is named Chen. I am surrounded by Chans! lol

JSMatthew~


sunbun143 profile image

sunbun143 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Wow what a comprehensive and useful list of ingredients! And what a great way to embrace your wife's culture and home-cooking. Thank you for sharing your recipes and stories. I linked to this hub from my Cambodian sour soup recipe. It features tamarind. It's called "salaw machu" in Khmer. Hope you like it!


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Hello again sunbun143! Thank you very much. I actually have quite a few Khmer recipes that might not show up on the first page of my profile. I am going to make a Hub that has all the different dishes together with a brief description of each. I've been meaning to do that for some time now, but you have inspired me! I eat salaw machu all the time! I like cha (stirfry) my favorite is Cha Krueng Syko haynung matay plowk! Oh, I have many favorites! I appreciate you linking this to your article and I will go check it out now! Thanks for another great comment!

JSMatthew~


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

After a recent brief visit to Thailand I am very much in love with south East Asian food and I also grew up in south India that shares a lot of these ingredients and cooking styles. Thanks for this and will look out for more!


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Hello again Docmo! Many of the ingredients are similar all over Asia. I find that each culture has their own variation and twist to their own recipes. I am a fan of Southeast Asian food and I would love to try some more Indian food. Thanks for sharing your comment!

JSMatthew~


hi friend profile image

hi friend 4 years ago from India

interesting

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