Lap khmer is a minced beef salad with herbs and raw vegetables that is typical of Cambodian cuisine. Even though the flavors are different, this salad is reminiscent of the famous Thai recipe called crying tiger (seua rong haï).
Cambodian cuisine is a reflection of its history. Having been somewhat isolated in the recent past, it is distinguished by the use of spices common to Indian cuisine and the omnipresence of aromatic herbs such as cilantro, lemongrass, mint or basil. It is also relatively close to the cuisine of neighboring countries around such as Laos, Vietnam or Thailand. Cooking methods, marinade, utensils and condiments are similarly used in this part of Asia. However, in Cambodia, sour and acidic flavors are particularly represented, and are usually obtained from concentrated tamarind paste or lime juice. Fish sauce and chili are almost inevitable. Thus, this lap khmer recipe brings together a large number of these traditional products and represents a perfect introduction to the flavors of Cambodian cuisine.
This salad is particularly refreshing. It is also very popular with tourists.
Beef (here tenderloin), is marinated and then grilled or served raw with fresh herbs and raw vegetables. The sauce is rich and complex in flavors. The tenderness of the meat that is barely cooked by the lemon juice is remarkable, hence it is important to start with a high quality beef cut.
The other name of this recipe is phlea sach ko, which literally means beef salad in Cambodian. Meat, and more particularly beef tenderloin, remains a piece of choice for Cambodians, making lap khmer the appetizer to many festivities. Since beef is particularly nutritious, you do not need much. The abundance of soy bean sprouts, crisp beans and aromatic herbs perfectly complements the flavors of the dish without masking the taste of the meat.
The originality of this salad is also based on the toasted rice grains that are then reduced to powder. They help bind the liquid elements of the sauce and bring a very subtle crunch as they stick to the meat just like breadcrumbs would.
Prahok, the fish paste used here, is close to Laotian padek. It is a fermented fish paste present in the preparation of many sauces of Cambodian cuisine. Nuôc-mâm (fish sauce) is also used. To make it, fish, usually anchovies are fermented in brine. This condiment strongly resembles the garum of ancient Roman cuisine or pissalat from Nice that is used in traditional pissaladière. This is a great flavor enhancer that is a wonderful substitute for salt.
In the south of France and Italy, it is not uncommon to combine beef and anchovies. The anchovies are pressed with salt for a year, in jars left under the sun. The juice then rises to the surface, it is then filtered and bottled. It is almost invariably used with sugar, lemon and garlic to balance the taste. Nuôc-mâm is a condiment of choice. It almost never expires and is used on meat as well as fish or raw vegetables. Its fermented fish scent is not always to everyone’s taste and even in Cambodia, some areas of the country categorically refuse to use it judging its unpleasant smell too powerful. Used sparingly, it brings a lot of complexity to lap khmer.
Without a doubt, this recipe will delight the amateurs of steak tartare or raw meat in general. For those who are not fans of raw meat, once it is finely chopped and macerated with lemon, it will look as if it was cooked while remaining extremely tender and tasty. If you still cannot fatom eating raw meat, it is possible to grill the meat for a few seconds on a very hot flame. The Maillard reaction develops the flavors of the beef by making the outside very slightly crispy. This grilling must be very short to prevent the meat from deep cooking so that it remains tender and juicy.
- ¾ lb beef tenderloin , sliced very thinly
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic , chopped
- 4 teaspoons chopped fresh lemongrass
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon pahok (fish paste)
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 small red onion , very finely sliced
- ⅓ lb yardlong beans (or green beans), cut very finely
- ½ lb soybean sprouts
- 2 tablespoons rice , toasted and ground
- 1 tablespoon chopped mint
- 1 tablespoon chopped basil
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- 2 small red hot peppers , chopped
- Drain the meat by pressing it to get rid of all its water and its blood. Set aside.
- Heat a small skillet. When it is hot, add the oil, garlic and lemongrass, mix well and add water and pahok (fish paste).
- Leave the pan on medium heat and cook for 2 minutes after reaching the boiling point. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
- Place the raw beef in a large bowl. Pour the fresh lime juice over the beef. Mix well and set aside for 10 minutes.
- Add the fish sauce, sugar, and onion and mix well.
- Add the beans and the soy sprouts and mix well.
- Add the pahok and mix well.
- Add the toasted rice powder and herbs, and mix well.
- Garnish with chopped red hot pepper before serving.