Monday, November 30, 2015

I'm Thankful that Cambodia is Awesome

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, which is one of my favorite holidays. It also reminds me that I have a hell of a lot to be thankful for. I've got really great people in my life, a supportive and loving family, and I have had and have taken advantage of a number of great opportunities in my life. I can very honesty say that I wouldn't trade my life with anyone in the world.  Most recently contributing to this is the latest thing I am very Thankful for which is how awesome Cambodia is.

I really love East Asian Markets
As already stated in the previous post, the food here is excellent. Fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, live seafood, excellent cuts of pork, duck that is cheaper than chicken, tons of fresh herbs and spices- simply put if you really love working with food these markets are like paradise. Central Market is especially awesome, but even the smaller markets around town surpass the experience of all but the best stocked grocery stores back home and lack the pretension of a place like Whole Foods.

Hermione in appropriately themed American  top
 with Thanksgiving Dinner
 For thanksgiving I bought my first whole duck- like not even gutted and beak still on it's head (well the butcher removed this as I ordered it). Fresh vegetables easily found for roasting and the imported items that you can't find at the local markets can usually be found in the more expensive super markets. Things like cream to go in the pumpkin pie (made with fresh roasted pumpkin) or decent Parmesan cheese to go on the salad, or even horseradish to pair with the fresh oysters- all of it was found in a store just a 15 minute walk from the house. While I love Nepal, one can't help but compare experiences with other places they have lived and after struggling there for years to find and secure decent ingredients, Cambodia feels like I've died and gone to heaven. It all doesn't just end with food either, it's just the beginning.

Tamarind Vodka, Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass Tequila &
Fresh Pepper Gin
There's the absurdly low cost of liquor here. Apparently Cambodia just doesn't bother tax it. This means that setting up a fully functional home bar that can produce most classic cocktails is a rather simple endeavor. Currently the only thing I'm really missing at the bar is Chambord- so no French Martinis or Chat Noirs served here at the moment, but I'm sure with a little digging I can find it. Combined with the excellent markets you are also given the opportunity to put together some really cool infusions- as seen in the adjacent photo. The other night we had Mezcal margaritas shaken with fresh local chilies, they were excellent. Even things like using the local chili/salt mixtures to rim glasses are really promising.
Riverside during the  recent Water Festival
Cambodia is also a very fun place. Like many places in Asia, holidays go on for almost a week as opposed to a day. Out and about during the recent water festival was a good time. While the service at restaurants and bars can be a bit sulky, it can also be really interactive and fun. $1.50 margaritas also help (see above points). Even on quiet nights out though it's been great getting wood fired pizza out of a modified food cart  tuk-tuk or watching the people pass by on riverside sipping drinks from atop the Foreign Correspondents Club. Even the girls at the well named Mr. Butterfly Bar have been quite charming and were fun to have a couple of drinks with. Then we can always just sit out on our balcony on a tropical evening and relax for an evening, and that isn't bad either.

Just up the road from me is Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium, which is an excellently designed area, that becomes quite lively before sunset. It has a great community like feeling where groups of people participate in exercise dance classes to horrible pop music, grill chicken and make fresh sugarcane drinks, while others run down on the track or play volleyball in the adjacent sand pits. In a city that isn't very good for walking or running, it's really nice to have a space like this that can be utilized by the public. And honestly I love running on good rubberized tracks, so I'm very excited about running here regularly.

Then there is just the relative ease with which everything seems to happen. Furniture supposed to be delivered at 9am? It actually shows up and is delivered up your absurdly steep stairs at 9am. Need a visa for a year? Showed up to a travel agent, forked over some cash and they said please pick it up on Friday. Even the local currency is in my native currency, meaning when transferring funds from the US I don't get murdered slowly over exchange rates. Even dealing with internet and buying electronics for work was a piece of cake. Because of past experiences trying to do anything in Asia I enter most situations expecting the worse (Nepal had an uncanny way of exceeding my worst expectations) but Cambodia so far has just been one pleasant surprise after another.

Stay awesome Cambodia, and thanks for a great introduction.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pineapple & Tamarind BBQ Ribs with Prawn & Avocado Salad

 After about 30 hours of travel I finally arrived in Cambodia. As Hermione arrived a month ahead of me she already had many of the logistics taken care of, all that was left for me to do was unpack and adjust to the heat and time zone difference.
Welcome to the Kingdom of Wonder

One of the first things I got to do was check out the great Central market here and check out what kind of food was available. To say I'm impressed with the selection and quality of the produce, meat and seafood here would be an understatement. The butchers seem skilled and the pork cuts especially looked great. Seeing a really nice rack of ribs I couldn't help but grab them and then run around and find some stuff to go with them. I love to take something I know well and then put a local twist on it with some of the nicer ingredients found locally.

Pineapple & Tamarind BBQ Ribs

Marinading the Ribs

One of the other great things about Cambodia is that liquor is absurdly cheap. Bourbon costs the same as a bottle of wine. What this means is that it's cheap to cook with plenty of liquor which can add some really nice flavor to food. so once home i rubbed the ribs down in salt, pepper and oil and then marinaded it in a mixture of oil, vinegar and bourbon.

1 Part Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Parts Sunflower/Olive Oil
4 Parts Bourbon

Rough chopped 

Added a bit more salt, pepper and some sweet chili powder.

Mixed it all together and set the ribs aside in the refrigerator for a while

BBQ Sauce

I love fresh tamarind and you just don't find too much of it outside of Southeast Asia. Instead of using tons of brown sugar I instead used pineapple as a natural sweetener and supplemented it with some palm sugar which has a really nice almost caramel like flavor.

First thing to do was to make a paste out of the tamarind. I softened it up by simmering it in a 50/50 solution of bourbon/water and then once cooled a bit took the pits out and mashed it up in one of the worlds best traveled mortar and pestles (it's now traveled from Nepal to the UK to the US back to the UK and then back to the US before getting to Cambodia). With the pulp made it was time to get the rest of the ingredients together.

Shallots, diced
Garlic, diced
Fresh Chili, thinly sliced
Ginger, julienne cuts
Sunflower Oil

Fresh Pineapple, sliced and rough chopped
Tomatoes, Diced  
Tamarind Paste
Palm Sugar

Dijon Mustard
Worcestershire Sauce
Apple Cider Vinegar

In one pan saute the shallots, garlic chili and ginger in a bit of oil until it browns. In another pan mix the pineapple, tomatoes, tamarind paste in some bourbon and toss in a healthy amount of palm sugar. Cook until the tomatoes dissolve and then mix in the sauteed mixture as well as a spoonful of mustard, a good couple glugs of Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and  a bit of vinegar. Cook until the sauce thickens a bit. Let it cool a bit and then toss it in the blender.

Cooking the Ribs

I would have used a grill, but I only had my newly picked up large toaster oven. In any case preheat something to a lower heat, around 285-300F. Heat some oil and sear the ribs briefly on either side. Coat them in sauce and place in oven or grill. I cooked them for 2 hours and applied more sauce about every 30 minutes. 

Prawn & Avocado Salad

The seafood at the market was excellent; squid, scallops, prawn, skates, plenty of fish and so much more. Not able to resist some good looking prawn I decided to mix them in with a light mix of thinly sliced cucumber, avocado, diced tomato and a light citrusy Honey-lime and chili dressing.

1 part lime juice
1 part honey
a glug or two of fish sauce
thinly sliced red chili
Salt & Pepper

Mix the dressing ingredients and let it sit as long as you can as it lets the chili diffuse. The prawn can just be boiled in a bit of water, I usually add some lime and salt to the water as well. Prawn just need to cook for about 8 minutes or so. Once removed from the water, just let them chill in the refrigerator. 

I find that for salads like this a really thin cut on the cucumber is nice and, depending on the consistency, for the avocado as well. Add the diced tomato and then toss it all in the dressing. Some of the avocado will dissolve a bit making a bit of a nice creamy dressing. Throw prawn in around the side, they were quite tasty with that dressing.