Although I tend to be an equal-opportunity eater, I will admit to being partial to the food of Southeast Asia, and have taken cooking classes in both Vietnam and Thailand. So when I learned that Song Saa offered a class in Cambodian cuisine, I signed up right away. While there is no dearth of restaurants specializing in the food of Thailand and Vietnam, or cookbooks that bring them to the home kitchen, there is very little on the culinary traditions of Cambodia (and indeed, the restaurant scene there is just starting to come to life).
The Song Saa class is held in a small shed that is part of the fenced chef’s garden that provides herbs and produce for the kitchen. Le Cordon Bleu it was not, but that mattered little once we started. Chef Sophat Hing proved an informative, amiable instructor, open to questions and insistent that everyone participate in the preparation of the food.
During the well-organized hour or so we spent together, we went through three key Khmer dishes: a refreshing green mango salad with a zingy dressing; a delicious beef dish, lok lak, with accompanying vegetable sides in a black peppercorn dressing; and a Khmer classic, Kampot pepper prawns (Kampot pepper being a noted Cambodian product, the cultivation of which was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge and is just now recovering).
We sampled each dish as we went through the class, and while all were terrific, we all thought the beef lok lak was one of the tastiest things we have ever eaten. I was delighted that the chef provided us with full, clear recipes to take home.
Not long after we returned from our trip, I made the beef lok lak for a dinner party, and the results — and commentary by our guests — were gratifying, to say the least. It has earned a starred place in the Harper culinary repertoire.
Knowing from correspondence that there are cooking enthusiasts in the Harper family, I am delighted to share Song Saa’s recipe for beef lok lak by special arrangement with the resort. I have made some minor changes for clarity.
Beef Lok Lak
Dressing for Garnish
Mix together in a bowl.
To serve: With the lettuce leaves around the edge, arrange the slices of tomato and onion on a plate. Serve the dressing on the side. For the beef, white rice makes an ideal accompaniment.