Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cambodian Curry - and Green Mango Cafe Cookbook

Within the last year or so, I began following the blog A Couple Cooks. Not only do I want to eat nearly every recipe that Sonja and Alex share, but I also appreciate their focus on global issues--particularly women in poverty or abusive situations.

They're invovled with an organization called Center for Global Impact, which founded a culinary training program and restaurant/bakery in Cambodia, which trains at-risk women in the culinary industry, equipping them to earn a living without having to sell their bodies or compromise their well-being. Cool, huh?

So Alex and Sonja visited the Green Mango Cafe and Bakery and have created a cookbook with many recipes from the cafe. My parents gave me the cookbook for Christmas, and I am loving it! Not only does it include a variety of cuisines (Cambodian, French, Italian, American, and Mexican), but they also do a great job of introducing unfamiliar ingredients--like galangal, lemongrass, and rice paper--in an approachable, non-scary way. And all the proceeds go to CGI's programs for at-risk women.

I think it's cool that, even though Sonja and Alex aren't necessarily gifted at founding programs like the Green Mango Cafe--or even moving across the world to work at one--they are gifted in photography and food, and they do have a voice and an audience through their blog. I appreciate that they're using the gifts and resources they have to support these women in Cambodia.

I must sheepishly confess that, though my parents gave me the Green Mango Cafe cookbook for Christmas (as in almost six months ago!), and though I instantly wanted to make the vast majority of the recipes inside, I only just recently made my first recipe from the cookbook, a delicious Cambodian curry.

This curry involved some new ingredients for me--canned bamboo shoots, yellow curry paste, and fish sauce--as well as some I wasn't able to find--kaffir lime leaves and fresh lemongrass. The recipe felt a little time-consuming, mostly because of all the different ingredients that need to be prepped and ready to go before you start cooking. But the end results was this amazing dish with layer upon layer of flavor. Absolutely worth the effort! Mine didn't come out as soupy/saucy-looking as the picture in the cookbook, so I'll probably add a bit more broth and coconut milk next time.

Cambodian Curry
Adapted slightly from Green Mango Cafe and Bakery: Cooking for a Better Tomorrow
Yield: 6-8 servings

1 lb. chopped chicken, shrimp, beef, or tofu
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil (divided)
3 cloves garlic, minced
15-oz. can bamboo shoots, drained, rinsed, and finely chopped
1 sweet potato or cassava, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 small white onion, diced
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 lemongrass stalks
1/2 bird's eye chili, thinly sliced (more or less to taste)
1 tablespoon curry powder or Thai red curry paste (see note below)
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
2-1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 Tbsp. fish sauce (or soy sauce)
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup fresh Thai basil, chopped
Cooked rice or coconut rice (for serving)

If using tofu, drain it, then place on a plate covered with a paper towel. Cover it with another towel, then squeeze gently to drain excess liquid.

Prep all the vegetables and meat. Get all your ingredients ready to go. Heat oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat.

  • Saute the meat (or tofu) until browned; remove from the skillet and set aside.
  • Add the garlic to the wok or skillet and saute for about 30 seconds, just until fragrant. 
  • Add the bamboo shoots and sweet potato; saute for 5 minutes. 
  • Add the carrot, onion, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chili, curry powder/paste, and peanuts. Saute for 3 minutes. 
  • Add broth and bring to a boil. 
  • Add the fish sauce, sugar, and coconut milk and return to a boil. Boil about 5-8 minutes, until vegetables are softened and liquid has reduced slightly. 
  • Taste, add kosher salt
  • Add the meat. Note: If using chicken or beef, add the meat when you add the fish sauce, sugar, and coconut milk--the flavors will permeate the meat better. 
Serve over rice, and garnish with green onions, cilantro, and Thai basil.


  • Sonja and Alex offer this tip: "Curry powder used in Cambodia is most similar to Vietnamese curry powder, which cannot be substituted by an Indian-style or Madras curry powder. If you cannot locate Vietnamese curry powder, substitute Thai red curry paste, or try mixing half red and half yellow curry powder." I used equal parts Thai red curry paste and yellow curry paste.
  • I couldn't find fresh lemongrass (though one of my friends has since educated me on where to get it) so I used a bottled lemongrass paste. I'm sure the real deal would have been better, as there were all sorts of preservatives and extra ingredients in the bottled paste.
  • For the kaffir lime leaves, I substituted a little extra lemongrass plus the juice from 1/4 to 1/2 of a lime.
  • I forgot to look for Thai basil, so I just left it out.
  • This is great over coconut rice: Cook jasmine or basmati rice according to package directions, but use (light) coconut milk for about half the liquid measurement, and omit salt and butter.
  • I found it helpful to line up all my ingredients on the counter, in the order that I'd need them. That way, once the skillet was going, I didn't have to think about what was supposed to be added at each step.
  • Alex gave me permission to share this recipe, but they aren't giving me any sort of reward or incentive to promote their cookbook. I'm sharing it purely because I think it's a delicious recipe, a great cookbook, and an even better cause!

This is not at all what I expected to find when I opened the container of yellow curry paste:

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