And if you think I’m talking about Van Camps, think again.
I pulled out Hot Sour Salty Sweet again last week and went nuts with several different southeast-Asian inspired dishes, from Chaing Mai noodle soup to Thai home fries. I really love this cookbook, but it’s not the easiest to cook from. While the photos are gorgeous, not all the recipes have photos and some of the photos don’t have recipes. I’m fine cooking without photos, but some of the recipes are a bit hard to follow and it would be kind of nice to have a photo to show what they should look like. The tapioca covered pork dumplings, for example, would really benefit with some step-by-step illustration.
This time, I kept it fairly simple making dishes that I understood. Everything turned out quite well (with the exception of me adding a bit too much lime to the soup), but my favorite of the dishes was the Quick Khmer Pork with Green Beans (cha sangdek khoua), a super simple Cambodian stir-fry. I usually like my Asian food super spicy; this dish isn’t. But, it created a great “rest stop” for the overall spicy meal, and the subtle flavors are simply delicious. Plus, the crisp crunch of the green beans is a great balance for the tenderness of the seared pork.
I only made small variations to the original recipe… instead of peanut oil or lard, I used coconut oil. I’ve started hearing good things about coconut oil… most recently from the Nina Planck book Real Food. Assuming that you are using non-hydrogenated coconut oil, it doesn’t have any trans fats, has the good saturated fats (like lauric acid) and it holds up to heat like lard. The only real drawback is that it does impart a bit of coconut flavor (you can smell it when you open the jar), so it needs to be used in recipes where that won’t be a problem. Southeast Asian food, for example, works really well. This was my first time using it, and so far so good. Like peanut oil, it gets really hot before it starts to smoke, so it’s not easily scorched. It does mean, however, if you are trying to brown your garlic, you don’t want it on high heat or it will be blackened too quickly.
I also used regular green beans (gorgeous organic ones from my CSA basket) instead of the traditional long beans. The recipe calls for either, but long beans are a bit tougher and tend to hold up better in stir frying. With western style green beans, you want to stir fry them a bit less to maintain their crispness.
Cambodian Pork and Beans
(adapted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid, page 238)
1/2 lb pork loin, thinly sliced for stir frying
1 T coconut oil (or peanut oil or lard)
4 cloves garlic
1 t cane sugar
1 T fish sauce
2 cups green beans
1/4 cup water
cilantro leaves, for garnish
scallions, for garnish
After slicing the pork, lightly sprinkle with salt, cover, and set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok or high sided heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic has lightly browned. Add the pork to the pan, spreading out the pieces so that they are all touching the bottom of the pan. Add the sugar and a bit more salt. Let the pork sit on the first side for about a minute, and then flip the pieces, and sear on the other side. Splash in the fish sauce, and loosen the pork from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the green beans and the water. Bring the water to a boil, and cook for about 3 minutes. Add a bit more salt, if needed.
Serve on rice or noodles, topped with chopped cilantro and scallions.