When we have never travelled to or know much about a region, we often make the mistake of generalizing the cuisine of that land. I made the same mistake too of generalizing Cambodian cuisine with its Thai and Malaysian counterparts. But as I am learning (more frequently these days), that is not true. Just like the cuisine of India or for that matter, any other large country or continent, the cuisine of a region can vary widely from its neighbouring lands inspite of using similar ingredients.
Cambodia – Chicken Samlá Curry.
Cambodian (Khmer) Chicken Samla Curry – deliciously creamy, highly aromatic and fragrant chicken curry
Some of the ingredients that are central to Khmer cooking are lemongrass, wild lime/kaffir lime, pepper, shallots, coconut, galangal, thai red chillies etc…. Like I mentioned before, all of these are central to many other Asian cuisines also but it is the way these ingredients are bought together that makes the cuisine of Cambodia unique.
The Chicken Samlá curry is basically a soupy kind of curry and one that is found quite commonly in Cambodia. It is either served as a soup or as a stew poured over rice. The thick, soupy coconut milk broth is what makes a Samlá stand out. It strongly reminds you of the Thai yellow curry but the flavours are different.
Lemongrass is the key ingredient in this curry and the primary flavour and aroma that greets you. I have made a few modifications to the recipe in terms of ingredients and measurements to suit my preferences which I think is important to make any dish a pleasurable experience for you. Instead of dry Thai chillies, I have used fresh ones and also more than what the traditional recipe calls for. It does not make the dish hot or spicy but adds more depth and flavour to match the sweet richness of the coconut milk.
Shrimp paste is another key ingredient of this dish and I know your whole neighbourhood will smell it too. You could omit it but then you won’t be getting the real deal. But yes…the smell!!!
It is the unique blend of spices and aromatics (traditionally called the kroueng) that forms the base of this dish. The flavours are created here; you could choose to pound away in a mortar and pestle if you have the time and patience (a great stress busting exercise too) or a grinder will do the job in a fraction of the time. And since you will be spending a certain amount of time making this, I strongly recommend making a large batch and freezing in portions for quick weekday meals. I mean making everytime from scratch is great, but who really has the time anymore.