Herbs & Spices
Due to its tropical climate, Cambodia has a large number of native aromatic plants, most of which are preferred fresh in local cuisines. When cooking Cambodian at our class you will learn all about these herbs and spices: origin, flavour and how to use them.
In Cambodia spice usage is less dominant than in neighbouring Thailand.
Many visitors to Cambodia describe the country’s cuisine as more subtle and flavoursome than Thai food.
Here we introduce you to some (but by far not all) herbs and spices used in the Khmer kitchen. Khmer names are in italic.
The green lime fruit is distinguished by its bumpy exterior and its small size. In Cambodian cooking only the rind of the fruit is used.
The juice is used in traditional medicine and women also use it to soften their hair!
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Slirk krote sirk
A small to large oblong leaf, pale green to dark green in color, that are grown on fruit trees producing limes. The lime leaf is often used as a seasoning to provide a fresh citrus overtone in a variety of food dishes especially in Cambodian cooking for soups and curries.
Although it looks like ginger, it varies in flavour from ginger, providing a spicy or peppery taste that may resemble a mild mustard flavor.
Rice Paddy Herb
With a lemony, citrus aroma as well as flavor, this is commonly used in seafood and fish soups such as Samlor Machou Trey, a Cambodian soup. Also added to various other dishes as an uncooked herb seasoning.
In English this is usually referred to as saw leaf herb, or long coriander and belongs to the same plant family as coriander, but the plant’s shape does not bear much resemblance. Yet the long, tough leaves exemanate a fragrance very much similar to coriander’s aroma
A flavorful, starchy tuber that can range in shape from a small and kidney-shaped variety to a larger barrel shaped root, similar to a sweet potato. Taro is typically covered with a brown, hairy skin covering a smooth white flesh marked with small dark specks. Taro has an interesting, nutty flavor.
This leafy plant, also known as swamp cabbage or morning glory, is actually a herb. It grows in marshy areas. In some parts of Asia, the stems are pickled, but in Cambodia, only the leaves and tender shoots are eaten. The flavour is similar to that of spinach.
Also known as kunyit or kurkuma. We use the fresh variant: grated and added to curry dishes.
This is the one that will give you the signature yellow fingertops proving you have taken part in our cookery class!
Jjicama is also called Mexican yam bean or Chinese potato. Like potatoes, jicama grows underground as a tuber. Covered with a thin brown skin, it has a short root attached. Inside, you’ll find white flesh that looks like an apple or raw potato. Raw jicama is sweet, juicy, and crisp, perfect as a snack vegetable. It’s a good substitute for water chestnuts in stir-fries.
A spice that comes from an eight-point star shaped pod, which originates in China and is taken from a small evergreen tree. The pod contains a pea-sized seed in each of its points, which has a strong, sweet anise flavor. Star anise is used to flavor both sweet and savory dishes.
Chee van suy
A favorite herb that grows as the green leaves of the coriander plant that resemble a parsley-like green plant. Cilantro has a sharp distinctive flavor with a peppery taste. It is best to add it to cooked dishes at the very end of the cooking process since the heat from cooking will cause the leaves to rapidly lose their flavor.
A relative of the ginger root and milder in flavour than ginger and galangal. The tubers are yellowish with a brown skin and are shaped like fingers hanging from the main body with a strong, distinctive aroma. To prepare, scrape off the fine brown skin with a sharp knife, then chop finely or slice lengthwise. Fingerroot is one of the main ingredients in Cambodian curry pastes, particularly fish curry dishes like the famous Fish Amok.
The fruit pulp is edible and used as a spice in Khmer cuisine.
The leaves are also distinctly tart in flavor, and are used in soups.
A leafy, green herb that is a member of the mint family of plants. Providing an intense but sweet and subtle flavor. Containing a fragrance similar to cloves, basil can be dried and used during months when it may not be available in some regions, but it provides the most flavor when served fresh.
Lemongrass is widely used as a herb in Cambodian cooking. It has a citrus flavour and can be dried and powdered, or used fresh. The stalk itself is too hard to be eaten except for the soft inner part. However, it can be finely sliced and added to recipes. It’s a main ingredient in the ‘kroeung’ (curry paste).
And last but not least, four herbs that are essential ingredients in the very ancient recipe for a Cambodian Vegetarian Soup, called Samlor Kor Ko (also spelled as Samlor KaKo, the vegetarian variant is called Samlor Kor Ko Sap).
From left to right: angkeadei – leaf of Sesbania Grandiflora, m’rum – leaf of Moringa Oleifera, m’reah – leaf of Momordica Charantia (sopropo), kantraub – leaf of Clausena lansium (Wampi).
These herbs are probably difficult to find in your home country.