Salaw machu kroeung is a staple in Cambodian cooking. It literally translates to “sour soup ingredient”. This is my favourite salaw (soup) because of its mixture of salty, sour and spicy with a distinctly Cambodian taste due to the lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric. There are many foods in our culture that is similar to Thai and Vietnamese cooking, but this soup along with our other food that uses kroeung really differentiate our cooking from theirs. The taste is uniquely Cambodian.
Salaw Machu Kroeung: A Cambodian National Stew for the Adventurous Foodie
This version of salaw machu kreung is for the more adventurous foodie. I’ve included beef tripe and lung in the recipe because to me, it is the authentic version. When I went to Cambodia a couple of years ago, this was the version I had at every family house that I went to visit while I was in the countryside. Now, if I only make it with beef, it just wouldn’t taste the same as the one in my memory. Although if you’re not that adventurous with your meat, you can always leave out the tripe and lung. It’ll still be delicious!
The usual main ingredients in Somlar Machu Kreoung is beef, and water spinach with kreoung and tamarind as the main seasoning. Although this recipe calls for beef, many Cambodian households use freshwater fish to make this recipe. Recently, I’ve used salmon in salaw machu kreoung, and found it to be a surprisingly delicious pairing (recipe soon to come).
Tamarind looks a bit like large brown, overly mature and fat green beans. Although my description of its image is insultingly lacking, the fruit itself is deliciously tangy, and extremely sour when eaten unripe. When ripe, most Cambodians eat it fresh, on its own as a snack. I don’t love it as a snack, but it is amazing used in recipes. It brings a sour accent that complements sweet, savoury dishes.
After harvest, tamarinds are sometimes shelled in preparation for export. From there, they’re often pressed into balls and layered with sugary water or syrup, or sometimes, they’re salted. Processed tamarinds can be found in most Asian supermarkets like T & T, pressed into small rectangular blocks, with added additives that alter their nutritional profile. Personally, I prefer to purchase tamarind fresh —when they’re still in their pod.
Tamarind is a very common ingredient in Cambodian and Thailand cooking, as it adds an interesting sourness and depth to dishes. Many people I know use packaged, powdered tamarind, but that is my last choice. The best and most authentic way to make Cambodian food recipes is to use fresh ripe tamarind —peeled from their pods, and pureed with a little bit of hot water. However, if I can’t find any fresh tamarind, I will settle for tamarind blocks —the one where they’re out of their pods, but still attached to their seeds, and completely squished into a rectangular shape, packaged in clear plastic. If you are using a tamarind block, let the required amount (called for in the recipe) sit in a small amount of boiling for about ten to twenty minutes, occasionally mashing and poking them with a fork or a chopstick to make the flesh dissolve in water. After a bit of poking and prodding, the liquid will thicken noticeably. You can then use the liquid in your recipe, discarding the tamarind seed in the process.
To make kreoung for this recipe, follow this kroeung recipe. As usual, I recommend making a large amount ahead of time and portioning them out into 1/2 cup portions —refrigerating the amount you can use in two weeks and freezing the rest for whenever you have Cambodian food cravings. In general, like most Cambodian food, somlar machu kreoung is a very healthy dish, as there are many health benefits of water spinach, tamarind, turmeric, galangal and lemongrass. Water spinach alone has many nutrients such as vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, phosphorus, fibre, iron, and calcium, and is considered great for our immune system —100 gram of water spinach has 91 percent of our required daily intake, according to USDA.
Cambodian Food Recipe: How to Make Salaw Machu Kreoung
- 1/2 lb beef thinly sliced
- 1/4 lb beef tripe soaked in vinegar, scrub with salt and rinsed
- 1/4 lb beef lung
- 1/2 lb water spinach (ta-kuon) separate leave and stalk, cut stalk into 2 inch pieces
- 4 stalks celery cut into small pieces
- 5 cups water
- 5 tablespoon kroeung
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon tamarind juice
- 1 tablespoon chicken stock powder
- 1 tablespoon fermented mud fish (pahok) substitute: fish sauce
- 1/4 cup basil
Make kroeung and set it aside for now.
Place tripe and beef lung in a soup pot, cover with water and cook 15 minutes. Drain and rinse, cut into bite-size pieces. Cut beef into thin slices. Combine the beef lung, tripe and beef into a large mixing bowl. Add kroeung, salt, tamarind juice, and chicken stock powder to the meat mixture. Mix well.
Transfer the meat/kroeung mixture into a large soup pot, and cover it with water. Cover the pot and let it cook to a boil. Once it boils over, lower the heat to a simmer (medium-low). When the meat is tender, add water spinach stalk and celery. Adjust the taste to suit your palate – add sugar if you want a bit of sweetness ( I don't use sugar in mine), more prahok or fish sauce for a saltier taste, more tamarind juice for tartness. Once everything is cooked, add the water spinach leaves and basil leaves. Turn off the heat right away as you don't want to overcook the leaves. Most families don't add the water spinach leaves, but we do, since I like the taste of it, and it's wasteful to not use everything.