Babah – Cambodian Rice Stew

Kyle is away for an extended period of time again. This time it’s for training for a new job! He’s very excited about this great new opportunity, but unfortunately he begins employment with a 2.5 week trip away from home. I tend to get a bit grumpy as the time goes on while Kyle is gone, but in the beginning of these long trip I take advantage of cooking up some stuff he is not big on and catching up on reading and TV shows. So it’s basically been a Criminal Minds marathon here at our apartment the last few days. I’ve finally busted into this current season…3 episodes down.

Okay, back to eating. One dish I typically make whenever Kyle is away is Babah – a Cambodian Rice Soup. It’s not that Kyle doesn’t like it, but I recall him saying he’d prefer other dishes (like this or this) over this one. The recipe I have for it is from Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet. They discuss Babah’s similarities to Cantonese juk or Thai khao tom soups, and how the whole dish can come together in little over 1/2 hour. While this is intended to be a soup, I prefer mine to be on the thicker side, resembling a stew or porridge. This way, the stiffer texture holds onto the condiments I sprinkle on top; plus I can serve up some sauteed greens right along side the stew without them getting bogged down by broth.

The taste of the soup is good on it’s own, but I’m pretty sure the reason I enjoy this so much is that it can be used as a vessel to eat prik nam pla. I douse this stew in it – so much so that my mouth is ablaze from the intense heat of the chilis…but it’s so good. As with most South East Asian dishes (and as the name of the book suggests), this dish starts out salty and sweet (from the addition of the pork cooked with fish sauce and sugar) and then you add hot and sour condiments to balance the dish. I prefer to only add green onions, a sprinkle of lime juice, and some prik nam pla; however Naomi & Jeffrey make a few other suggestions in their book. I also enjoy the addition of a teeny bit of mushroom soy sauce – totally non-traditional (and unneccessary, since the dish is salty enough), but it tastes really good with the spicy rice and tender greens.

Babah (Cambodian Rice Stew)

Adapated from Hot Sour Salty Sweet, by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid

1/4 lb ground pork
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
6 cups water
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and smashed flat
1 Tbsp dried shrimp
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and smashed flat
3/4 cup long grain rice (I use scented rice – use jasmine or basmati if you have it)
1 Tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced

Condiments
prik nam pla
4 green onions, sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges
1-2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed in very hot water (optional)
12 leaves Thai basil, roughly torn (optional)
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, roughly chopped (optional)

In a small bowl, mix together the pork, fish sauce and sugar. Set aside.

Bring the water, lemongrass, dried shrimp, and ginger to a boil in a large heavy pot. Boil vigorously for 5-10 minutes, then stir in the rice with a wooden spoon. Bring the water back to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-high and boil gently for an additional 15-25 minutes – until the rice is tender and the soup is at your desired degree of thickness. Remove the pot from the heat and discard the lemongrass and ginger.

Meanwhile, heat the peanut oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute for 30-60 seconds, until beginning to turn golden (be careful not to let it burn). Add the pork mixture and saute for another 2-4 minutes, until cooked through. Add the pork mixture to the rice stew, and stir to combine.

Divide the stew into 4 bowls and top with whatever condiments you prefer.

Serves 4.

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