Sunset in Kep, Cambodia
Happy New Year everyone. As you’ve probably gathered from my lack of posts I have been off the grid for a few weeks, which has been bliss – although I was still posting on instagram so do check out my feed if you are interested. My family decided to cheat winter for a few weeks and headed off to Cambodia to see the ancient ruins, visit the capital and then head south to laidback Kep – which was once where the Cambodian royals and wealthy would head to relax and enjoy themselves; before the Khmer Rouge destroyed much of the town.
Angkor Wat Temple complex
Back in London and it has all been a bit of a shock with the cold, blistery weather and getting dark so early in the day. I reluctantly packed away my flip flops and got out my winter boots. January is a funny old month. We all start with such good intentions.
Most friends seem to be attempting a “dry January” and “veganuary” has now been thrown into the mix. Read more about it here if the term is new to you.
Sacred prays in Angkor Wat complex
I can get my head around being more vegetarian, or at least a diet which has a heavy vegetable focus, but vegan……now that involves a lot of thought and planning. Whilst I was pondering veganuary, I read about a rather interesting “diet” or let’s just say “way of life” which, in my view, seemed more attainable and realistic. There is a lot of chat about it in the media at the moment. It is called the VB6 diet. Now don’t get me wrong I do not follow diets and have never been on one, but this VB6 caught my attention.
Lotus flower arrangement in Siem Reap
The diet was given life by New York Times’ lead food writer Mark Bittman and literally means “Vegan Before 6pm”. I am increasingly convinced we all need to eat more vegetables and fruit and less meat and fish. Like Mark however, I am not going to become vegan anytime soon, but a swing of the pendulum towards more of a plant based diet is definitely attractive on many levels. I would prefer to eat meat and fish less often but the quality of what I eat to be high and ultimately know exactly where the produce has come from. By eating it less frequently does allow us to buy better quality meat and fish when we do actually buy it.
Drying out fish on the shores of Tonle Sap – the 4th largest freshwater source of fish in the world
The VB6 diet came about when Mark was told by his doctor that he was overweight, his cholesterol and blood sugar were too high and that intervention by surgery was one possible option. He discussed these findings with another doctor who suggested that becoming vegan was another way that could help him. Knowing that becoming a true vegan was out of the question he decided to adapt and become vegan throughout the day but in the evening from 6pm he could eat what he wanted. It made a lot of sense as he could be sociable in the evening with friends and eat how he always has done. He is also really realistic that sometimes he may deviates from the plan and he readily admits he has milk in his coffee in the morning, but for the most part he continues to be vegan in the day time.
A shrine in Phnom Penh
So has it worked?
Absolutely. He has lost a good amount of weight – 36 pounds then gained a little to plateau to around losing 26 pounds. The diet seems sensible and also not really very restrictive in the grand scheme of things. He talks to the Huffington Post here about the diet. Have a read, it’s really interesting. I definitely plan to pick up a copy of his book and see what he has to say in more detail. You can order it here if you are interested.
Buddhist shrine in Angkor Wat
Which brings me to a rather lovely book that was recently sent to me, called “My Vegan Travels – Comfort Food Inspired by Adventure” by Jackie Kearney. I don’t own a vegan cookery book so was not too sure on what to expect. What I discovered is a hugely informative book with recipes that actually sound and look (if the five photos below are anything to go by) delicious.
Photography credit above: Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small
At first glance there did seem to be quite a number of ingredients in each recipe but that has never phased me. If you are someone who likes 5 ingredients, then this book is probably not for you. For anyone who has a keen interest in cooking and a willingness to try something new then you will love it. The chapters are slit into “No Place Like Home”, “European Summers”, “Asian Comfort” and “Americana”. I obviously gravitated to the “Asian Comfort”.
I think that to become full-time vegan does involve a commitment to actually stock your pantry/cupboard/fridge very differently. Leafing though the pages I found a couple of Cambodian recipes. Again I never come across Cambodian recipes so both of them really appealed to me. I opted on one though which I think is a real January mood-pick-me-up. It’s called “Num Banh Chok” – a Cambodian yellow curry with rice noodles and I cannot tell you how AWESOME this recipe is. I gave it to my father-in-law who has been recovering from a bout of flue and he couldn’t stop saying how delicious it was. It is now firmly part of my culinary arsenal and I will be cooking it again and again hence forth. I LOVED it.
I thought that the recipe tied in so well with this post and me having just come back from beautiful Cambodia, as well as the VB6 article, which I had been mulling over.
Now a couple of things to note. I made one change – I added fried tofu instead of banana flower. I do love banana flower but it is tricky to find, certainly if you live outside London or not near any Vietnamese grocers. I thought it wasn’t very realistic for others to find if I found it tricky. Secondly, the vegetable with holes in it is called “lotus root”. I admit lotus root is also not that easy to find. My usual Asian grocers did not have it so they sent me off to a Chinese grocers that did. So folks aim for Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese/Japanese grocers near you. It is not stocked in your local supermarket. You can buy it online at places like Amazon and Fresh Oriental – here. You can also buy it frozen, but fresh is best if you can locate it. Galangal is not as hard to find, but again you may need to head to your South East Asian grocer.
Once you have the ingredients the recipe is a piece of cake to make. Do try it and let me know. If this recipe is anything to go by I can’t wait to try making the other Cambodian recipe “Khmer croquettes” (photo below) very soon. Don’t they look temptingly moreish.
Photography credit above: Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small
Cambodian Yellow Curry with Rice Noodles
adapted from “My Vegan Travels” by Jackie Kearney, published by Ryland, Peters & Small
To make the Spice Paste
2 6cm/2 inch thumbs of fresh turmeric (or 1 1/2 tsp powdered)
1/2 tsp paprika
4 garlic cloves
5cm/2 inch thumb of ginger
5cm/2 inch thumb of galangal
4-6 dried red chillies, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes
1 small red onion
2 lemongrass stalks, ends trimmed and outer layer removed
10 kaffir lime leaves
To make the curry
2 tbs coconut/vegetable oil
900ml/4 cups vegetable stock or water, plus extra if needed
2-3 tbs vegan fish sauce or light soy sauce
1 tbs agave syrup or brown sugar
200g/7oz lotus root, peeled and cut into thick slices (or use cauliflower florets(
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
150g green or runner beans, trimmed
400ml/14 oz can of coconut milk
1-2 rock salt, to taste
100g/3 1/2oz Chinese leaf, roughly torn ( I used choi sum, but chard, beet leaves also works)
100g fried tofu cubes (I picked this up at Hoo Hing)
1 packet of thin rice thread noodles, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
drizzle of chilli oil/chilli (optional)
50g/1/2 cup of roasted peanuts, roughly chopped (optional)
- First place your rice noodles in a bowl and cover with hot water and leave whilst you get on with making the dish.
- New place all the spice paste ingredients in a blender/food processor and blitz until smooth. Easy hey.
- In a large non stick pan/wok, heat the oil and fry the curry paste.
- Add the stock/water, vegan fish sauce/light soy sauce and agave nectar/brown sugar and bring to the boil then add the lotus root and squash and simmer for around 8 minutes.
- Then add the green/runner beans and simmer for another couple of minutes before adding the coconut milk and more stock if needed; it should be a soupy consistency.
- Salt to taste and bring back to the boil. Make sure the butternut squash is soft. The lotus root will not be as soft!
- Stir in the choi sum and then remove from the heat, allowing it to wilt completely.
- Drain the rice noodles from the water. They should be soft and ready to eat.
- Place in a bowl and ladle the curry broth on top. Sprinkle with peanuts and chilli oil if necessary.
More instalments from Cambodia next week.