Cambodian cuisine shares the strong flavors of lemongrass, tumeric, kaffir limes and galangal like its Thai and Vietnamese neighbors without the overpowering spice which admittedly erases the taste for me at times. We took a full-day Cambodian cooking class in a small village outside of Siem Reap. After meeting a local family who had lost this year’s rice crop during the summer floods, we gifted them a bag of the grains as thanks for letting us peek into their world. In an intimate group of six, we spread out in our open-air kitchen under a thatched roof to learn how to whip up six Khmer classics. They say silence is the best complement at a dinner table, and although the company was lovely (a warm and funny New Zealand lady invited me for Christmas), I think everyone was satisfyingly surprised at what they had each created and silently proud that conversation was light.

Here is how to prepare two 3-course Cambodian meals*

* ingredients read for 2 although photos show for 1 due to class setting

Lunch of Khmer Mango Salad, Fish Amok & Sticky Rice Dough Flower Balls Filled with Palm Sugar Candy

Dinner of Fresh Spring Rolls, Cambodian Chicken Curry & Nom Tong Noun

Khmer Mango Salad – This refreshing and crunchy slaw-like salad if filled with sour, green mangos, carrots, tomatoes and grilled chicken accompanied by a sweet and salty peanut vinaigrette


chicken (grilled and sliced) 250g

green mango 400g

grated carrot 100g

basil 100g

roasted peanuts 100g

palm sugar (can substitute brown) 2 tbsp

fish sauce 2 tbsp

salt 1 tsp

garlic 2-3 cloves

shallots 2

lime juice 1 tbsp

1. Peel and grate the green mango

2. Slice shallots and garlic

3. Julienne tomatoes without the seeds

4. Mix palm sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, shallots and salt in a bowl. Flavor to taste.

5. Toss in chicken and remaining ingredients.

Fish Amok – Known as the national dish, this curried fish swimming in strips of coconut-drenched banana leaves will have your taste buds running amok


bar fish (or any thick, sturdy white fish) 500g

a bunch of ngor leaves (or fresh spinach leaves) 200g

coconut cream 1/2 to 1 cup

vegetable oil 1-2 tbsp

chili paste 1 tbsp or your heat preference

tumeric 1 tsp

galangal (or ginger) 1 small piece

lemongrass 2 sticks

kaffir lime leaves 2

garlic 2 cloves

fish sauce 1 tbsp

shrimp paste 1/2 tsp

salt and pepper to taste

sugar 1 tbsp

egg 1

bouillon cube 1

1. Slice and chop lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, garlic and shallots individually and very fine before adding to mortar.

2. Pound with pestle for several minutes before adding tumeric, shrimp paste and chili sauce. Continue to pound until consistent paste forms.

3. Slice ngor leaves and slice fish against the grain.

4. Heat oil and add paste until smell starts to unlock. Add half of the coconut cream and bring to a boil. Add fish and the rest of the cream and bring to a simmer. Stir in ngor leaves, fish sauce, bouillon cube, sugar and salt and pepper and let simmer. Taste test and adjust with ingredients as desired.

5. Add egg to thicken and cover to steam for 20 minutes. Garnish with coconut milk and julienned chilies if desired.

Sticky Rice Flour Balls Filled with Palm Sugar Candy – The ladies told us how this simple dessert plays a role in the old wives tale adage of “caking your husband” where a fed up wife of a philandering, gambling or imbibing husband would serve her unknowing spouse these deceptive treats that are cool to the touch but steaming inside, giving him a burning reprimand for leaving her at home.


Sticky rice flour 300g

Palm sugar candy (could substitute caramels or toffee) 5-10 small pieces

Grated coconut 100g

Water 1/3 cup or more if needed for dough

1. Bring a pot of water to boil

2. Kneed rice flour with water until dough forms. Palm dough into small balls and push candy inside. Roll to seal tightly.

3. Drop dough balls into boiling water. When they float, scoop with a strainer into a bowl of cool water. If they float for a second before they sink in the cool water, they are done.

4. Serve with grated coconut on top.

Fresh Spring Rolls – This dish was the one I anticipated the most as I order it often. The simplicity of the fresh ingredients with the complexity of the flavors did not disappoint.


6 rice paper sheets

Grated carrots

Sliced cucumber

Vermicelli noodles cooked

Coriander leaves

Sweet basil leaves


Bean sprouts


Sliced chicken breast (optional – could use shrimp or avocado)

1. Dip the rice paper sheet on a plate of water to coat and transfer to working flat surface. Add a small amount of desired ingredients in a stack on the bottom of the sheet (which will have become malleable) and roll up. Serve with dipping sauce.

Ingredients for dipping sauce:

Fish sauce 3 tbsp

Palm sugar 2 tbsp

Crushed peanuts 2 tbsp

Grated carrots 2 tbsp

Lime juice 2 tbsp

Chopped garlic 1 tsp

Chopped shallots 1 tsp

1. Chop garlic and shallots. Add palm sugar to hot pan until it boils. Do not let it burn. Add fish sauce and remaining ingredients until heated through. Adjust to taste if desired.

Cambodian Chicken Curry – Favorite dish of the day. Curry is one of, if not, my favorite spices, and it is incorporated perfectly alongside lemongrass, tumeric, coconut cream, lime zest and gingery galangal for a heady smell and heavenly taste.


Skinless boneless chicken breast 500g

1 medium onion

1 medium eggplant

1 white sweet potato

Cauliflower 2 stalks

Lemongrass sticks 2

Garlic 2-3 tbsp

Shallots 2-3 tbsp

Galangal 50g

Tumeric powder 1 tbsp

Kaffir lime rind 3 pieces

Curry powder 1 tbsp

Roasted peanuts 2 tbsp

Bouillon cube 1

Coconut cream 1-2 cups

Vegetable oil 1 tbsp

Sugar 2 tbsp

Fish sauce 1 tbsp

Salt and pepper to taste

Water 1/2 – 1 cup

1. Finely slice lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime rinds, shallots and garlic individually and add to mortar. Pound until well mixed. Add tumeric, curry powder and peanuts to mortar and pound for several minutes until paste forms.

2. Cube eggplant, sweet potato and onion and slice cauliflower into small florets. Slice chicken into small cutlets.

3. Heat pot with oil and add curry paste and half of cream. Add chicken and bring to a boil. Add the rest of the coconut cream.

4. Add onions, cauliflower, eggplants, sweet potato and water to pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Add bouillon cube, fish sauce, sugar and salt and pepper and stir. Adjust spices to taste and desired.

5. Simmer 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with rice.

Nom Tong Noun – The not-too-sweet, sesame-filled batter for these fortune cookie-like creations is poured onto a small pancake griddle and then molded into an origami flower before it hardens into papery delight. These would pair well with coffee or tea.


Rice flour 1/2 cup

Eggs 2

Sugar 1 tbsp

Coconut cream 1/2 cup

Black sesame seeds 1 tsp

Vegetable oil 1/4 cup

1. Set aside one egg and the oil. Combine the rest of the ingredients into a batter.

2. Beat the remaining egg and mix with oil in a small dish.

3. Heat griddle and brush egg/oil mixture on one side. Close for a second to let mixture coat both sides.

4. Spoon a small amount of batter into the middle of the griddle and close softly to flatten. Flip the griddle while holding the pans slightly apart so the pancake is not destroyed.

5. Let cook until golden brown. Use a fork to fold in half with the open side facing you. Slide half of a fork into one side and roll into a flower. Press down with the bottom of the fork to set and remove onto plate to let harden.

December 6, 2011 7 Comments Travel


  1. RITA December 6, 2011

    You had me from the beginning to end! Enroll me in your cooking school when you get back. Now I am impressed if you were successful at wrapping those spring rolls up, my favorite. The spices smelled amazing 🙂

  2. Allie December 7, 2011

    This reminds me a lot of our cooking class in Italy… nat.

    • Leigh December 7, 2011

      Haha Dear Diary…

  3. Liz Taylor December 10, 2011

    Your Message

  4. Liz Taylor December 10, 2011

    Can’t wait to have you cook for us when you get home. How amazing to have the opportunity to be able to cook with them. What an experience you are having. Miss u.

  5. Denver Bouthot January 3, 2012

    I like this site it’s a master piece! Glad I noticed this on google.

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