This Cambodian recipe is taken, with very little adaption, from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s enthralling Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet, a Culinary Journey Through South East Asia, which tracks the culinary character of the Mekong River, from Yunnan, China to the Mekong Delta.
It reminds me of congee, except it’s very fast to cook. And, unlike congee’s uninhibited celebration of blandness, this soup’s layered with texture, saltiness, heat and sourness.
Rice Soup (Babah), Khmer Style
- 1/4 pound organic free range ground pork
- 1 tbsp (15ml) Thai fish sauce plus 1/4 cup Thai fish sauce (Merinda, I still have to do my research on fish sauce, and I promise, I will!)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 6 cups water
- 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed down to the thick, unleafy part and smashed with something blunt and heavy, like a pestle.
- 1 tbsp dried shrimp (I used to include these but now I don’t because of this)
- 1 inch of piece of ginger, peeled and smashed flat, like the lemongrass
- 3/4 cup jasmine rice, rinsed in cold water until water runs clear
- 4 tbsp (30ml) peanut, sunflower or rice bran oil
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced & chopped pretty thinly
- 1 small hot chilli, sliced thinly and then chopped finely
- 2 red or brown shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
- a couple of mixed handfuls of Asian herbs (such as sawtooth, rice paddy, Asian basil, coriander)
- 2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed until slightly wilted under very hot water, or kept fresh, whatever your fancy
- 2 green onions (scallions), trimmed of some green and then very thinly sliced or minced
- lots of freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup skinned, dry roasted peanuts (to see how to dry roast, click here), pounded a little with a mortar and pestle.
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
In a small bowl combine the pork, the first quantity of fish sauce and the sugar. Smash and mix with a fork until all is well blended.
Fill a large, heavy based saucepan with the water and put on high heat. Add the lemongrass, dried prawns and ginger and bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface.
When the water’s boiling rapidly, stirring in the rice, and keep it moving until a slow boil is reached again. Simmer the rice until it’s tender, around 15 minutes.
While the rice simmers, heat the first amount of oil in a wok until hot but not smoking, and stirfry the garlic until it just starts to brown. Add the pork and continue to stir and break up the clumps until it is has all changed colour, but not browned. Pour the mixture into the rice whenever it is ready.
Once the rice is tender, take the soup off the heat and remove the lemongrass (and the ginger, if you like).
Now, gather together the ingredients to serve:
Combine the second quantity of fish sauce and the chilli in a small bowl to serve.
Heat the second quantity of oil in a wok and stirfry the shallots until they are golden. Pour this whole mixture into a small bowl to serve.
Put all remaining ingredients on the table in serving dishes, and slowly reheat the soup, scraping the bottom of the saucepan to stop it sticking. The soup will be thick like congee.
To compile the soup bowls, place some torn herbs in the bottom of the bowl, then a handful of bean sprouts and a sprinkle of green onions.
Pour the soup over the top, tell people the soup isn’t seasoned yet, and invite them to add their own lime, peanuts, shallots, black pepper, fish sauce, chilli, more green onions & herbs, and a scattering of deepfried shallots, if using.