Going Amok in Cambodia

Paddling up the Mekong for an Adventurous Culinary Journey

By Zel Allen

The lure of Cambodia is its gentle caress on the hearts and memories of those who come to visit. With its lush tropical jungles, bright sunshine, and gleaming Buddhist temples whose spires reach for the sky, this Southeast Asian locale is also the land of warm-hearted people, sprawling rice paddies, and an unhurried pace of rural life along the meandering Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake. These forested lands and essential waterways are the indispensable lifelines contributing to a rich culture of food traditions that revolve around abundant rice, exotic fruits and vegetables, and everything coconut.

Cambodian or Khmer cuisine encompasses many cultures reflecting colorful and delectable influences, from China and Laos to the north, Thailand on the west, Vietnam bordering the east, and from French colonialism and Indian culture from the past. Each of these countries has contributed a visible legacy of appealing food traditions.

Stir-fry, steam cookery, and rice noodles came from China. Spices that flavor the multitude of tongue-tingling curries are derived from India, while the French introduced freshly baked baguettes, coffee, beer, and chocolate. Chilies, tomatoes, potatoes, and peanuts are not native to Southeast Asia but journeyed there via the Spanish and Portuguese explorers during the 16th century.

While many non-native foods reached Cambodia from other lands, a wealth of sugar palms, coconut trees, papayas, mangoes, and bananas are indigenous and thrive happily in the warm region. Vegetables are colorful, plentiful, and often grow wild. Bright displays of lufa gourd, eggplant, water spinach, yard-long beans, mushrooms, cabbage, bamboo shoots, Chinese broccoli, carrots, garlic, and snow peas are readily available at open-air farmers' markets.

Adding zesty flavors to Khmer cuisine are local aromatic herbs and spices like lemongrass, ginger, mint, and kaffir lime leaves. Seasoning with lots of black pepper, salt, and lime juice is a longstanding tradition that existed before chili peppers arrived and is sometimes preferred over chilies. Exotic flavors and brilliant colors come from cardamom, saffron, tamarind, star anise, and turmeric. Galangal is an important flavoring ingredient often confused with ginger because it is also a rhizome and similar in appearance. Because it may not be available in local markets in the U.S., ginger takes its place in the following recipes.

Definitively sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors blossom in everyday dishes. Some foods are clearly sweet, others taste sour, and sometimes each of the flavors is combined into one delectable dish. Few family recipes are written down; rather, they are a centuries-old oral tradition handed down from mother to daughter. Each family prizes its own unique, and sometimes very secret, blend of seasonings, especially for favored dishes like Amok, an enchanting, thick curry of coconut milk, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and kaffir lime leaves. Highly treasured, Amok is given special status as the national dish of Cambodia.

Most Cambodians live in rural areas surrounded by jungle, rather than stores, along either the Mekong River or the Tonle Sap Lake that supply them with water for growing their most important crop — rice. Those meandering rivers that run through the central part of the country are also an important center of commerce where people can shop at the floating market by paddling from boat to boat to buy the day's fresh fruits, vegetables, and other essential household goods. Some villages have a daily farmers' market on land where produce vendors hawk their wares displayed on bamboo mats or banana leaves laid on the ground.

Family meals in rural areas are as rustic as one might imagine and usually served on woven mats of palm leaves or bamboo placed on the floor. A typical lunch or dinner includes soup, salad, and two or three dishes in the form of stir-fries, curries, grilled foods, or stews. Fermented fish pastes and shrimp pastes are major flavoring agents in all Southeast Asian cuisine and are used to season literally everything but dessert. Vegans can use substitutes for the fish flavor.

Because of its proximity to the equator, Cambodia is predictably hot and often quite humid. Baking is a rarity because few homes have ovens. Cooking is done mostly outdoors where women tend a raised or ground-level fire pit for grilling foods, or squat on the ground to stir a curry simmering over an open flame. Perhaps one can spot a grandmother sitting on the ground cradling a sleeping baby or leisurely pounding herbs and spices with a mortar and pestle.

The wet season creates some challenges for families in rural areas, when they are more confined to the upper portion of the house. Some homes include a wooden or bamboo deck on the upper level, making it possible to grow vegetables in pots and cook food outdoors. Cambodians have learned to adjust their lives to the dramatic climate rigors that return each year as the monsoon arrives. The most important focus for Cambodians is family life and the simple food they gather from the land or purchase at the floating market.

Though I have sincerely tried to offer vegan versions of the traditional Cambodian dishes I experienced, I couldn't be completely true to the cuisine. The first challenge was recreating easy substitutes for several varieties of fish sauce. Often, one typical recipe will contain three different fish sauces or fish pastes. Another struggle was the need to substitute exotic ingredients with those that are readily available here in the U.S. while still introducing the cuisine at its best. I believe the enticing aromas and tantalizing flavors emerging from the following recipes will take you on an adventurous culinary journey and a rewarding glimpse into everyday cooking in the outdoor kitchens of Cambodia.

Lemongrass & Kaffir Lime Leaves

Υσινγ Αεμονγρασσ

Lemongrass is a tough stalk about two feet long and is used to infuse foods with a lemony flavor. Trim off and discard ½-inch off the bottom of each stalk. Peel the very tough outer layer or two and discard. Using only the bottom third of the stalk, slice or mince the lemongrass as directed in the recipe. The tough, inedible upper portions can be sliced into 1/2 -inch lengths and added to soups for extra flavor. Discard before serving. If fresh lemongrass is unavailable, season the dish with fresh lemon juice.

Υσινγ Καφφιρ Αιμε Αεαϖεσ

Endowed with a uniquely delicious flavor, these aromatic leaves add a desirable touch to Southeast Asian soups, curries, and sauces. Look for fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves in Asian markets. If the leaves are fresh and pliable, use them whole or slice them into 1/8-inch slivers and add to stir-fries or soups as directed. If the leaves are dried, use them whole in recipes with plenty of liquid, such as soups or saucy dishes. Discard before serving.

Ωηερε το Βυψ

Fresh lemongrass is often available in chain grocery stores across the country and readily available in Asian markets. If you are unable to locate fresh lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves locally, you can order them fresh or dried from Thai Supermarket Online. Both are also available in dried form at Savory Spice Shop.


(Serves 4)

Amok, traditionally a hallowed fish and coconut milk stew, is the national dish of Cambodia. This vegan version flaunts the richness of coconut milk while still retaining the characteristic kaffir lime infusion and delicious complexity of typical Southeast Asian flavors. The traditional stew is steamed in banana leaf bowls on top of the stove, but oven baking is the easiest option for us Westerners. Serve Amok with brown rice or quinoa.

  • ½ pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 Tablespoons low-salt soy sauce or tamari
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and angle sliced
  • 6 shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thickly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 8 fresh kaffir lime leaves, thinly slivered with scissors (If dried, leave whole.)
  • 2 Tablespoons red miso
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vegan sugar* (see below)
  • 1 Tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 Thai chilies or ¼-1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 Tablespoons tapioca flour
  • One 14-ounce can coconut cream
  • 12 ounces low-sodium vegetable broth

In a large deep skillet, combine the tofu, soy sauce, and lemon juice. Using a wooden spoon, cook and stir over high heat for about 2 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated. Continue cooking for another minute or two until the tofu is golden brown. Put the tofu into a 2-quart casserole dish.

Add the sweet potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and bell pepper to the dish and toss well to distribute the ingredients evenly. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, kaffir lime leaves, miso, sugar, lime juice, salt, chilies, and turmeric. Add the tapioca flour and ½ cup of the coconut cream. Use a whisk to incorporate the miso and thoroughly combine the ingredients. Add the remaining coconut cream and vegetable broth and mix well.

Pour the coconut cream mixture into the casserole and cover with aluminum foil. Put the casserole on a baking sheet and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the potatoes and carrots are fork tender.

Total calories per serving: 447 Fat: 22 grams
Carbohydrates: 56 grams Protein: 13 grams
Sodium: 1397 milligrams Fiber: 9 grams

Pomelo (or Grapefruit) Salad

(Serves 4-5)

The lively blend of seasonings in this salad encompasses the definitively sweet, salty, sour, and spicy flavors so typical of Cambodian cuisine. Harvested in the USA from November through June, pomelo is the thick-skinned, giant yellow ancestor of grapefruit. While the recipe calls for pink flesh pomelo, yellow flesh pomelo is fine, though a little less visible in the salad. Pomelo flesh is drier and sweeter than grapefruit and makes a delicious focal point in this exotic salad. If pomelo is unavailable, use ruby red grapefruit in its place and add a touch more sugar to taste.

  • 1 pink flesh pomelo or 2 ruby red grapefruits, peeled and sectioned, membranes discarded
  • 3-4 romaine lettuce leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1 large cucumber, halved lengthwise, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced or 2 Persian cucumbers, unpeeled
  • ½ large red bell pepper, julienned 11/2 inches long
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped mint leaves
  • ½ cup chopped basil leaves
  • 4 heaping Tablespoons roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons organic brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 2 Tablespoons)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch cayenne


  • 1 Tablespoon dried, unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3 sprigs mint, basil, or cilantro
  • 1 fresh lime wedge

In a large bowl, combine the pomelo, lettuce, cucumber, bell pepper, shallot, mint leaves, basil leaves, and peanuts. Toss well.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, vinegar, lime juice, salt, and cayenne. Mix well and add to the pomelo salad just before serving. Toss well and transfer to an attractive serving bowl.

Sprinkle the coconut into the center and garnish with the herbs and lime wedge.

Total calories per serving: 175 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 30 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 303 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Lotus Stem Salad

(Serves 4-5)

While lotus stems may be abundant in Southeast Asia, they are quite uncommon in the U.S. When in season, asparagus makes a tasty substitute. String beans may be more available and work equally well. This is an easy and flavorful salad that can be made ahead.

  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into 1 ½-inch lengths
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 ½-inch lengths
  • 3 shallots or ½ purple onion, cut into half-moon slivers
  • 1 or 2 red chilies, seeded and cut into thin slivers


  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 Tablespoons red miso
  • 1 Tablespoon vegan sugar* (see below)
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed


  • Few sprigs cilantro
  • 1 small red chili, very finely minced

Cut each cucumber section in half lengthwise. Then, cut each half into 4 stalks. Combine the water and salt, add the cucumber stalks, and marinate them for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a 4-quart saucepan 2/3 full with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Plunge the asparagus into the boiling water in batches and blanch for 1 ½ minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop them into a large bowl.

Drain asparagus well and add the shallots and chilies. Drain the cucumbers thoroughly and add them to the asparagus mixture.

Put the dressing ingredients into a small bowl and use a small whisk or fork to incorporate the miso into the liquid. Add the dressing to the asparagus and toss well. Set aside to marinate about 30 minutes.

To serve, garnish with the cilantro and chili.

Total calories per serving: 85 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 17 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 623 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Cambodian Noodle Salad

(Serves 6-8)

This flavorful salad, with some grand liberties, is reminiscent of the many dishes we ate for lunches and dinners while traveling on a recent tour to Southeast Asia. Vegetables were plentiful and were frequently served raw in salads or in stir-fried combinations with or without tofu. If you don't have all the ingredients on hand or there are some you don't care for, just substitute with favorites you do have. Because dressed salads generally lose their crispness and flavor the next day, it's best to eat the salad the same day you prepare it.

  • ½-1 pound mung bean noodles (also called bean threads or glass noodles)
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, cut crosswise into ½-inch wide slices
  • 5 Napa cabbage leaves, cut in half lengthwise and cut cross-wise into ¼-inch-wide slices
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 2 large carrots, coarsely shredded
  • 2 Persian or Japanese cucumbers, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
  • ¼ pound snow peas, trimmed and cut in half crosswise


  • ½ cup plus 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • ½ cup plus 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 6 Tablespoons red miso
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegan sugar* (see below)
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pinches cayenne


  • ¼ cup coarsely ground roasted unsalted peanuts
  • Small cluster of cilantro

Put the bean threads in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them. Set aside to soak for 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in an extra-large bowl, combine the romaine, cabbage, tomatoes, green onions, carrots, cucumbers, bell pepper, mint leaves, cilantro, peanuts, and snow peas. Set aside and prepare the dressing.

To prepare the dressing, combine all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and use the back of a spoon to mash the miso, stirring it into the dressing. Mix well to distribute the flavors evenly. Add the dressing to the vegetables and use wooden spoons to toss all the ingredients gently.

When the noodles are softened, drain them thoroughly in a colander and use a kitchen scissor to snip them into convenient lengths. Add them to the vegetable bowl and toss well. Adjust seasonings if needed.

Garnish with a sprinkle of the ground peanuts in the center and artfully arrange the cilantro on top.

Notes: You can also choose yam noodles made from sweet potatoes, or pasta (like fettuccine or linguine) in place of the mung bean noodles. Because yam noodles and pasta are thicker, you only need ½ pound for the recipe. Cook them according to the directions. Yam noodles and bean threads are available in Asian markets.

Total calories per serving: 477 Fat: 20 grams
Carbohydrates: 67 grams Protein: 15 grams
Sodium: 682 milligrams Fiber: 10 grams

Tofu, Peanut, and Tamarind Paté

(Serves 6)

I took on the challenge of adapting this dish from a recipe for traditional fish paté and turned it into an irresistible vegan paté you'll feel proud to serve. It makes a delectable starter with all the zesty flavors of the original dish and incorporates the typical sweet, sour, salty seasonings so typical of the cuisine. Because Chinese extra-firm tofu has all the water pressed out, it's drier and firmer than regular extra-firm tofu. Eliminate the 1 Tablespoon of water if you use the regular extra-firm tofu.

  • 8 ounces Chinese extra-firm tofu, crumbled
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon red miso
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon tamarind paste dissolved in 2 ounces of water
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 4 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon organic brown sugar
  • 1 cup lightly packed basil leaves, very finely minced
  • 3 green onions, finely minced
  • ¼ cup coarsely ground unsalted peanuts


  • 2 Tablespoons ground unsalted peanuts
  • 1 Tablespoon sliced green onions
  • 1 teaspoon diced red bell pepper
  • 2 basil leaves

Vegetable Platter

  • Lettuce leaves
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Sliced jicama
  • Red bell pepper strips, cut 1-inch wide
  • Sliced yellow or green zucchini

Put the tofu in a deep, medium-size bowl and pound it with a pestle to create a coarse meal.

Add the miso, tamarind paste, water, garlic, and sugar; mix well to distribute all the ingredients evenly.

Add the basil leaves, green onions, and ¼ cup of the peanuts and mix well. The paté should be moist and hold together well enough to sit on a cucumber slice. Add 1 teaspoon of water if needed to moisten and bind the mixture.

Spoon the paté into a serving bowl, sprinkle the top with the remaining peanuts and other garnishes. Place paté in the center of a platter of vegetables.

Total calories per serving: 114 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 7 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 254 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Eggplant Salad with Green Onions and Jalapeños

(Serves 6)

A tasty little side dish, this features one of many vegetables Cambodians like to include in their meals. It's an ideal make-ahead dish that tastes great chilled or served at room temperature.

  • 5 Japanese eggplants
  • 6 green onions, sliced
  • ½ red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch long matchsticks
  • ½-2 jalapeños, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon low-salt soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped mint or cilantro
  • 2 Tablespoons crushed roasted unsalted peanuts

Poke the eggplants with a fork in a few places to prevent them from exploding. Put them on a foil-lined baking sheet and place it under the broiler about 3 inches from the heat source. Broil the eggplants for 12 minutes, then turn them over with tongs. Broil 10-12 minutes longer. If they are fork tender, set them aside for 5 minutes to cool. Broil another 4-5 minutes longer if needed to soften.

Holding the stems of the eggplants over the sink, use a paring knife to peel off the skins. Still holding the stems, use your hands or the knife to pull the eggplant apart in strings and put them into a bowl. Set aside.

Combine the green onions, bell pepper, jalapeños, soy sauce, and canola oil in a skillet and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the basil leaves and cook another minute, or just until the basil leaves are wilted.

Pour the mixture over the eggplant and mix well. Adjust seasoning, if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the mint and roasted peanuts.

Total calories per serving: 92 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 138 milligrams Fiber: 7 grams

"Scallops" and Butternut Curry

(Serves 6)

In this aromatic curry I use king oyster mushrooms to stand in for the scallops because they provide that perfect hearty base and offer a satisfying similar chewiness to that of scallops. This dish provides plenty of sauce to spoon over steamed brown rice or noodles. If you can locate galangal, experiment with it in place of the ginger and you'll discover a delightful new richness of flavor. When cooked, galangal also becomes pleasantly soft and can be eaten like a vegetable.

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced into half moons
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 red chilies, seeded and slivered
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons dried curry leaves
  • ¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 ¼ cups lite coconut milk
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 Tablespoons low-salt soy sauce
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 pound king oyster mushrooms, sliced crosswise into ½-inch-thick pieces
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 Tablespoons roasted unsalted peanuts
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

In a large, deep skillet combine the onion, water, chilies, ginger, canola oil, curry leaves, and turmeric. Cook and stir over high heat for about 2-3 minutes, or until the onions begin to color. Add 1 or more Tablespoons of water as needed to prevent drying.

Add the coconut milk, squash, tomatoes, soy sauce, and kaffir lime leaves and cook about 5 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and continue cooking for about 4 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender. Season dish with salt and cayenne.

Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the peanuts and cilantro.

Total calories per serving: 92 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 138 milligrams Fiber: 7 grams

Khmer Tofu and Aubergine Curry

(Serves 4-5)

I've adapted this typically spicy Cambodian curry to be far milder than its original fiery version but every bit as delicious. In addition to their frequent use of chilies and black pepper, Southeast Asian cooks turn to fresh herbs, which they use liberally to infuse their foods with enticing flavors. Because fresh herbs love Cambodia's hot, humid climate, they grow with enthusiasm. Serve this tasty curry over brown rice or rice noodles.

  • ½ pound extra-firm tofu
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 red chili, sliced into thin slivers
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 2 ½ cups lite coconut milk
  • 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 Japanese eggplants, cut lengthwise into eighths, then into 1 ½-inch pieces
  • 1 medium broccoli crown, cut into bite-size florets
  • ½ red bell pepper, cut into 11/2-inch-long matchsticks
  • 4 Tablespoons low-salt soy sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons vegan sugar*
  • 8 kaffir lime leaves
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • Pepper
  • 4 sprigs basil leaves

In a large, deep skillet, combine the tofu, garlic, shallots, chili, and oil and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture begins to brown. Add 1 or more Tablespoons of water if needed to keep the mixture moist.

Add the coconut milk, vegetable broth, eggplants, broccoli, bell pepper, soy sauce, sugar, lime leaves, and cayenne, and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the eggplants are tender.

Combine the cornstarch and water in a small cup and stir to form a thin paste. Add the paste to the gently bubbling mixture, stirring constantly for about 1 minute, or until the mixture is thickened.

Season with pepper. Stir in the basil leaves and cook only until the basil has wilted.

Total calories per serving: 312 Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 34 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 674 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Zesty Gingered Pineapple

(Serves 4-5)

Cambodians often enjoy fruits as side dishes and serve them at mealtimes. They also have a distinct fondness for ginger and use it liberally and often. This dish is so easy to assemble and even tastes great the next day.

  • 1 fresh pineapple, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons organic brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons low-salt soy sauce
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced into matchstick slivers
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 red Thai chilies, finely slivered
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped mint leaves
  • 2-3 Tablespoons crushed roasted unsalted peanuts

Combine all the ingredients (except the mint and peanuts) in a large, deep skillet. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, for about 2-3 minutes to tame the ginger and garlic and flavor the pineapple. Spoon the mixture into an attractive serving bowl and garnish with the mint and peanuts.

Total calories per serving: 125 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 26 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 306 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Mushrooms with Cambodian Herbs

(Serves 4)

Adapted from a traditional pork dish, this recipe turns the stage lights on mushrooms in place of meat. Unlike today's typical American diet, Cambodian cuisine places a strong emphasis on vegetables and includes them in every meal. This dish can be a main dish or side dish eaten with a salad or pickled vegetables and rice.

  • 1 pound beech or button mushrooms
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, bottom third, thinly sliced
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 4 cups finely-sliced Napa cabbage or uncut bean sprouts
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into inch-long julienned strips
  • ¾ cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons red miso
  • 2-4 kaffir lime leaves
  • ½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 Tablespoon low-salt soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons vegan sugar*
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 3 sprigs fresh basil leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh mint, chopped, for garnish

If using beech mushrooms, trim the bottoms and separate them. Leave button mushrooms whole. Wash the mushrooms and set aside.

Combine the lemongrass, shallots, garlic, and oil in a large, deep skillet. Cook and stir over high heat for about 2 minutes, adding 1 or more Tablespoons of water as needed to prevent burning.

Add the Napa cabbage, carrot, water, miso, kaffir lime leaves, and ginger, along with the mushrooms. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the cabbage and mushrooms are softened, about 2 minutes.

Add the soy sauce, sugar, cilantro, and basil and cook only until the basil has wilted. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the mint.

Total calories per serving: 127 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 19 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 506 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Caramelized Pineapple and Coconut Rice Pudding

(Serves 6)

Cambodians include rice at dessert time, too. The rich contribution of the coconut milk and the unique topping of ginger-infused, caramelized pineapple turn this simple rice pudding into a real treat. If you make this dessert ahead, chill the caramelized pineapple separately and warm it just before serving — you'll be glad you did!

  • 2 ½ cups lite coconut milk
  • 1 ¼ cups unsweetened soymilk
  • ⅔ cup vegan sugar*, divided
  • ½ cup sweet rice, also called sticky rice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 Tablespoons toasted, dried unsweetened coconut
  • 1 large ripe pineapple
  • 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2-3 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds or toasted shredded coconut for garnish

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and lightly oil an 8 x 8-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl, combine the coconut milk, soymilk, ⅓ cup of the sugar, rice, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and lemon zest. Mix well and pour into prepared baking dish. Mix again to distribute the rice evenly.

Bake the mixture for 30 minutes. Remove and stir in the toasted coconut and bake for another 1 ½ hours.

During the last 30 minutes of baking, trim the pineapple and cut into bite-size pieces. Put the sesame oil in a large, deep, heavy skillet over high heat. Add the ginger and stir for 30 seconds. Add the pineapple and continue cooking over high heat, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

Add the remaining ⅓ cup sugar and cook for 4-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the pineapple begins to caramelize and turn golden brown.

To serve, spoon the rice pudding into dessert bowls and top with the warm caramelized pineapple. Garnish with a sprinkle of toasted coconut or sesame seeds.

Total calories per serving: 332 Fat: 14 grams
Carbohydrates: 49 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 25 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

*Note on vegan sugar: Organic sugars are not whitened through bone char. For further information see: www.vrg.org/journal/vj2007issue4/2007_issue4_sugar.php

Zel Allen is a regular contributor to Vegetarian Journal and the author of vegan cookbooks.