Khmer history is written in our food. Our ingredients. Many of our dishes are similar to our South-east Asian neighbours, adapted to our taste. Curry spices such as turmeric and star anise came from India, stir-frying came from the Chinese culture, and the use of banquette, and fondness for tenderizing meat with lime juice show traces of French cuisine from the time when Cambodia was a part of French Indochina.
Khmer food, and food recipes were varied and abundant. However, during the Khmer Rouge atrocity from 1975 – 1979, Khmer food culture, took a crippling blow. During those brutal years of systematic destruction, prahok along with many other Khmer ingredients and food became scarce.
Simplicity became a necessity to survive.
When I look at sgnor moun (Cambodian chicken soup), or sgnor trey, its simple ingredients is a reminder of this dark history. But more than that, it is also a reminder of our resilience, our endurance, and our strength in the face of insurmountable struggles.
Simple Soup Recipe For The Soul
On a lighter note, when making this dish, it always takes me down memory lane. It takes me to the small town of Regina in Saskatchewan, when we were a new immigrant to Canada. We didn’t have a lot of money, so needless to say, this was a staple in our household. And when I am feeling sick (which happened a lot since I was adjusting from hot tropic to epic coldness and snow that goes up to your thigh), or feeling under the weather, this was my soup for the soul. Instead of using fresh water fish, my mother would run to the local farmer’s market to get fresh free range chicken and ginger.
It is a versatile dish, very simple, and easy to cook at home using less than 10 ingredients. And because this soup is dependent on simple ingredient, I find that the freshness of the ingredient really affects the flavour of the soup. You are not masking the flavour here with a ton of ingredients, you are showcasing it, letting it dance and merge. A light balance of salty, savoury and sour.
This recipe calls for fresh asian herbs, and depending on the type of herbs you use, the flavour slightly changes. I love experiment with different types of herbs, but my favourite that I love to use for this recipe are thai sweet basil, coriander, mint, culantro, and green onion.
Khmer Food Recipe: Cambodian Lime and Fish Soup (Sngor Chou Trey). A light and simple soup recipe served with fresh Asian herbs.
- 1 whole mud fish, cat fish or tilapia
- 7 cups rice water
- 1 stalk of lemongrass crushed, and tied
- 1 brown onion
- 3 garlic cloves crushed
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 4 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 full handful asian herbs cilantro, sweet thai basil, coriander etc.
- 1 bird eye chilli pepper optional
Clean the mud fish, tilapia or whatever fresh water fish you chose to use, and cut it into 3 - 6 pieces.
Bring rice water to a boil with lemongrass stalk, onion and crushed garlic cloves. Add fish sauce, and salt to flavour the soup. Add lime juice, but start with 3 tablespoon and work your way up to the level of sourness you prefer. After adjusting to taste, let it come to a boil, and add in the fish. Turn the temp to low to let it simmer for 6 - 10 minutes or until cooked.
In a large serving bowl, add in the chopped Asian herbs. Scoop the amount of fish you can finish in one sitting and place it into the serving bowl with the herbs. Pour the broth over the fish and herb. Serve with fresh rice. This is optional, but if you like a bit of spiciness to your soup, add 1 chopped bird eye chilli pepper and place it in the soup. Enjoy 🙂
Rice water: If you're making rice ahead of time, do not throw away the water (starting from the 2nd wash). Save 7 cups for this recipe as it gives this soup more depth. If you're not making rice ahead of time, and therefore don't have rice water, add 1 tablespoon of jasmine white rice along with the crushed lemongrass, crushed garlic and onion. Leftovers: This soup is meant to be eaten with fresh herbs. So, I always remove the lemongrass, garlic and onion (toss them in your compost), and reserve the stock and fish in a container. They are good in the fridge for a day or 2. If you can't finish it in a day or two, freeze them, and they will last for awhile. And when you feel like eating it, just thaw it in the fridge, heat it in a pot, and serve it over fresh herbs.