In Cambodia, you won’t find chocolate cakes or apple pie on dessert buffets. Instead, you’ll find confections and bowls of sweets made with mung beans, potato, sticky rice, basil seeds and pumpkin. Since most Cambodians are farmers, desserts originated in the fields and many of them are covered with palm syrup, condensed milk or coconut cream (or a combination of all three). Fruit is often eaten alone, or dipped into a mixture of salt and chilies. Here's how to make a few favourites:
This dessert is often used for special events and is best prepared the day before and stored in the refrigerator overnight
Serves: Four to six
1 small pumpkin (about ½ kg)
5 egg yolks
45g palm sugar (or white sugar)
75g coconut cream
Pinch of salt
1. Wash and peel the pumpkin. Cut off the stem with a sharp knife, clean out the inside with a spoon and discard it.
2. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with sugar and salt.
3. Add the coconut cream to the mixture.
4. Pour the egg/coconut cream mixture inside the pumpkin shell until it almost reaches the top.
5. Steam the pumpkin in a steamer for 35–45 minutes until it becomes soft. The custard inside it is set when it doesn’t jiggle when it is shaken and when a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. The custard should not be fluid and should be firm enough to stand on its own (cooking time will vary depending on the size of the pumpkin and the steaming pot).
6. Cool the pumpkin.
7. To serve, slice through the skin and cut the pumpkin into wedges, taking care not to dislodge the custard inside the shell.
8. Serve cold.
Note: Instead of pumpkin, any winter gourd such as butternut squash or acorn squash work just as well.
Cambodians generally make Num Chak Kachan during Buddhist holy days. It is made with layers of various colours
Ingredients:75g rice flour
1. Sieve the rice flour and mix it with the water, coconut cream, palm sugar and salt. Mix well.
2. Pour half the mixture into a separate bowl.
3. Add food colouring to one bowl (green or red is generally used for this dish).
4. Pour the uncoloured mixture into a flat-bottomed dish which can sustain heat and steam for approximately five minutes until it is slightly firm to the touch.
5. Pour a layer of the coloured mixture over the steamed portion. Steam again for approximately five minutes.
6. Repeat the process several times; adding more layers to the steamed portions (you can use various colours for different layers). There are generally four to five layers in a traditional Cambodian Num Chak Kachan.
7. Steam the entire cake for approximately 40 minutes until it is completely set and firm.
8. Cool, garnish with grated coconut and cut into pieces.
This is one of Cambodia’s most well-known desserts and is commonly eaten and served on holidays and feast days, particularly on Pchum Ben (festival of the dead) and Khmer New Year when it is taken to pagodas and shared with monks and participants
Serves: Four to six
Ingredients:250g glutinous (sticky) rice
1. Soak the sticky rice in water for about two hours to soften and prepare it for cooking. Drain well.
2. Add the coconut cream from the fresh coconut to the uncooked rice. Mix well.
3. Take two banana leaves and spread them flat (they should be about 30cm by 20cm and should be doubled up so that they are strong enough to withstand boiling without breaking apart).
4. Place a heaped amount of the rice mixture onto the banana leaf and spread it so it is about 3cm thick.
5. Roll the bananas in sugar and place two of them end to end in the middle of the rice mixture on the banana leaves.
6. Pack a little more rice mixture around the banana and roll it tightly inside the banana leaf so it is in the shape of a large burrito. Seal it at both ends.
7. Tie the banana package tightly with string or twine to make sure it is water-tight.
8. Boil the banana packages in water for approximately 1 ½ hour.
9. Serve cool.
Gabrielle Yetter is author of The Sweet Tastes of Cambodia, a book about traditional Cambodian desserts which was published earlier this year. She has lived and worked in Cambodia since 2010 and recently published The Definitive Guide to Moving to Southeast Asia: Cambodia.
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