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Cambodian (Khmer) Sour Soup Recipe

Updated on March 21, 2012
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First, a little background: I am a Cambodian-American mom. I was born in California but I am of Cambodian descent, my parents having come to the US from Cambodia in the 1970s. I use Cambodian and Khmer interchangeably. "Khmer" is what Cambodians call themselves, and is the official language, pronounced kah-MY (or kah-MAIR in the anglified way). It's like a French person saying they speak Francais. "Khmer" is derived from Kampuchea, which is the Cambodian name for our country of Cambodia. "Cambodia" is derived from "Cambodge" which was the French name for our country, back when all of Southeast Asia was colonized by the French (dubbed "French Indochina" for many years). In more recent history, you may have learned of the "Khmer Rouge" translated as "Red Khmers," who were responsible for the extreme marxist/communist/tyranical rule over Cambodia which resulted in years of suffering and genocide. My parents fled from that to create a life for themselves and our family in America.

Anyway...the recipe here is my attempt at recreating my mom's sour soup, a favorite dish of mine. Cambodian sour soup, or "salaw machu" (sa-LAW ma-CHOO) is characterized by its sour taste and use of tamarind and other sour fruits like lemon, tomato, and pineapple. This soup is a common dish in Khmer cuisine and a variation of it can be found in many Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander cultures. For example, the Thai version is "tom yum gai" and the Filipino version is called "sinigang." I'm sure the ingredients and tastes vary widely between households since it can be made with chicken, fish or many other vegetables. I came up with and enjoy the combination of ingredients below.

Source

THE RECIPE

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 to 1.5 pounds), chopped into small chunks
  • 1 (1.4-ounce) package powdered tamarind seasoning mix or soup base*
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups of mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 large zucchini, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 (20-ounce) can pineapple chunks
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 3-4 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a large stockpot, sauté chicken until just cooked.
  2. In same pot, mix together tamarind powder and water (use amount as directed on package).
  3. Bring to a boil. Add chopped vegetables and pineapple.
  4. Simmer for 5-8 minutes, until zucchini is tender.
  5. Add tomato and lemon juice.
  6. Season to taste (I like to add garlic powder and lemon pepper, but depending on the tamarind powder you find, you may not need any additional seasoning). Simmer 5 minutes. Ready to serve.

Source
Source

Yields: 6-8 servings. Enjoy with a bowl of steamed white rice and round out your meal with stir-fried vegetables like snow peas or green beans.

* The key ingredient of tamarind powder can be found in any Asian market or on Amazon.com. This is the only thing that cannot be substituted. It can be hard (impossible?) to find without any added MSG, and indeed, the kind I got had "hydrolyzed soy protein" which is code for MSG (though keep in mind that MSG is found naturally in many ingredients, like soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. I am sensitive to MSG, but had no bad reactions from eating this soup). Per the tamarind package directions, it needed to dissolve in 8 cups (2 liters) of water. The brand you find may have slightly different directions, so just follow what it says on the package. Also, if you add fish or other seafood, put those quick-cooking ingredients into the pot after the water has boiled. My mom's version also includes a can of quail eggs. These mini flavorful eggs are delightful in this soup and can be found at Asian markets also.

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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I love Khmer food having stayed in Cambodia for several years. I find the addition of pineapple unusual in chicken soup but we'd love to try it. Thanks for posting this.

    • profile image

      Lucky 

      4 years ago

      I am thai people but my mother Cambodian real I like Khmer food and some are similar thai foods too thank you very much for recipes I usually cook on weekend I love cooking.

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 

      6 years ago

      Mmmmm, this sounds so yummy! I will have to try making it sometime soon. Thank you for sharing not only the recipe, but the story and the culture behind its creation.

    • profile image

      theking2020 

      6 years ago

      Nice recipe I will be trying this seems to be yummy. Voted awesome. Would love to hear your feedback on my article .

      http://theking2020.hubpages.com/hub/Start-saving-m...

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Your soup recipe sounds like a definite must try. Bookmarking, up, useful and interesting.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 

      6 years ago from Iowa

      This soup sounds and looks delicious! Thanks for sharing your recipe, as well as some background about Cambodia. I look forward to reading more of your articles. Welcome to Hubpages!

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Very cool! Thanks, I'll check it out!

      JSMatthew~

    • sunbun143 profile imageAUTHOR

      sunbun143 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      I just found this great Khmer recipe resource...

      http://khmerkromrecipes.com/

      Some of the recipes are complicated but check it out. My sour soup recipe would be similar to her "salor machu sach moan" which is sour soup with chicken. And also check back with me for my versions of Khmer recipes that I make for my family.

    • sunbun143 profile imageAUTHOR

      sunbun143 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @Audrey...sorry I didn't see your question...Yes, it should work fine without meat. The key flavor is the sour tamarind, so by all means, put any other vegetables you like.

    • sunbun143 profile imageAUTHOR

      sunbun143 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Looking forward to reading it!

      JSMatthew~

    • sunbun143 profile imageAUTHOR

      sunbun143 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @JSMatthew...thank you for following! Yes Khmer weddings can be long, but you'll see that it's worth it if you understand the meaning behind the ceremonies (hub coming soon).

      And to everyone else - thank you for reading! I hope you try to make this soup sometime.

    • theastrology profile image

      theastrology 

      6 years ago from New Delhi

      Seems very yummy.. will definitely try this.

      Thanks for great hub. :)

    • chanroth profile image

      chanroth 

      6 years ago from California, USA

      Ahh...som lor machoo...my favorite! Som lor machoo cat fish is also good too but som lor machoo kreung is even better! Thinking of som lor machoo, my mouth is watery...choo mort nas. Thank you for sharing, I vote you up and useful.

    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 

      6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      I think this soup would be a great hit in my household! I'll add it to my recipe collection right away, thanks for sharing.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      What a great Hub! Welcome to HubPages! I like how you gave a background history of the Khmer Rouge. As you know from reading my Hub, my wife is a survivor and lived on refuge camps for 4 years before coming to the US. I have studied this in detail and I can never understand how Pol Pot could justify this heinous act against humans. It really is disturbing!

      I love Salaw Machu and I get to eat it often. Like Bahock, it is a staple to the Khmer diet! I am looking forward to reading your Khmer wedding Hub because when I go to Cambodia in a few years, I will take part in this long celebration with my wife! The hardest thing for me will be kneeling and sitting for long periods of time! Please let me know when you publish it! I am following you now and I voted this Hub up and SHARED! Nice job!

      JSMatthew~

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Will this works without the meat? Otherwise, looks yummy to me!

    • sunbun143 profile imageAUTHOR

      sunbun143 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Woops....I meant "powerful" in my earlier comment. And @Jill - thank you for your interest! I'm working on a traditional Khmer wedding hub, so check back with me soon :)

    • Jilltravel profile image

      Jilltravel 

      6 years ago from Indiana

      Hi sunbun143! I enjoyed reading about your fascinating background. My sister went to Cambodia on a business trip a few years ago and loved it! Thanks so much for sharing this authentic recipe with us! I've never tried Cambodian (Khmer) Sour Soup before. I'm studying to become a registered dietitian, so I'm constantly looking for unique and nutritious recipes! I LOVE to cook! I will be making this soup soon! I'm new to HubPages as well. I'm glad I found your article! :)

    • sunbun143 profile imageAUTHOR

      sunbun143 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thank you for your interest! Yes, you can use lemongrass and/or kaffir lime leaves for a more pwerful flavor, but I chose the simplest route, which was extra fresh lemon juice.

    • robotmonster profile image

      robotmonster 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      The soup looks really good, do you not use lemon grass like tom yum soup? I heart soups!

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