Cambodian (Khmer) Sour Soup Recipe
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.
- 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)
- In a large stockpot, sauté chicken until just cooked.
- In same pot, mix together tamarind powder and water (use amount as directed on package).
- Bring to a boil. Add chopped vegetables and pineapple.
- Simmer for 5-8 minutes, until zucchini is tender.
- Add tomato and lemon juice.
- 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.
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.
More references and pictures of Khmer cuisine
- A List of Authentic Ingredients for Khmer Cambodian Food With Recipes
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...
- Cambodian cuisine - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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- Diary of a Cambodian-American Mom
This is the blog that I recently started writing. There's more on my background here and stay tuned for more Khmer recipes, stories about me and my family, and my adventures in crafting, cooking, and writing. Thanks for reading!
For more Khmer traditions, check out my other hub
- Traditional Cambodian (Khmer) Wedding Ceremonies
This is the story of my spring 2008 wedding where we combined Khmer traditions with American traditions (and even some Korean ones!). Learn more about our unique customs and see pictures and video of the beautiful traditional outfits we wore.