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Khmer Fish Stew With Lemon Grass - (Samla' Metchou Peng Pa)

4 cups water
4 stalks lemon grass
3 tablespoons tamarind pulp -- see * Note
3/4 pound fish steaks,such as catfish, tilapia, or other freshwater fish
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons Cambodian or Thai fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound green or half-ripe tomatoes -- seeded, and cut into 1/2" pieces
2 small green onions -- trimmed, and cut into 1/2" lengths
4 fresh culantro or sawtooth herbs leaves -- coarsely chopped
12 Asian basil or sweet basil leaves -- coarsely chopped
4 to 6 rice paddy herb sprigs (ngo om) or
Vietnamese coriander -- coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar -- or to taste


* Note: Tamarind pulp, fish sauce, fresh culantro or sawtooth herbs, Asian basil and rice paddy herbs or Vietnamese coriander can be found at Asian markets.


Trim lemongrass stalks and smash flat with side of cleaver. Bring water and lemon grass to vigorous boil in large pot. Boil 5 minutes, half-covered, then reduce heat and simmer over medium heat a few minutes.


Once broth is simmering, scoop about 1 cup liquid into small bowl. Add tamarind pulp to bowl, stir well to dissolve thoroughly and set aside.


Rinse off fish. If using large steaks, cut into roughly 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces. If using small steaks, cut in half. Add to broth along with garlic, bring to a boil, and simmer until fish is opaque, 3 minutes. Add fish sauce and salt.


Place sieve or fine strainer over soup and pour tamarind liquid through it. Use back of wooden spoon to press tamarind pulp against strainer, then discard remaining seeds and pith. Stir stew well and simmer several minutes.


Add tomatoes, green onions, culantro, Asian basil, rice paddy herb and sugar to stew and simmer 5 minutes. Serve hot.


Serve this from a large bowl at the table, ladling it into individual small bowls, accompanied by rice, and perhaps a simple vegetable stir-fry, to make an easy meal.


This recipe yields 4 servings.


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