No thank you. I figured I'd stick to the basics. The staple of the Cambodian diet? Rice. Check. Next on my list, the favorite of Cambodian curries? Coconut milk. Then I found a description of a traditional Cambodian dish I really liked the sound of: a fragrant sauce with lemongrass, shallots, and garlic - with tofu, plum tomatoes, hot peppers and Asian basil. Could I recreate this dish in my kitchen in Boston, without a recipe? I decided to try.
So I got all the fresh produce, including fresh lemongrass from the Asian market near my house: I've never cooked with lemongrass before, so I researched that, too. I learned to prepare it properly I should slice along the grain into tiny wisps, the "grass", and then blend it with minced garlic, ginger, chili, and a little water, to create a paste. *I found that if you blend it in the blender with about a cup of water to really loosen up the little shreds of lemongrass and then pour through a strainer, it achieved the desired consistency.
I heated oil in the wok, added the lemongrass-garlic-ginger-chili mixture, cooked for a bit to infuse the oil with the flavor, and then added the vegetables, mixing to coat. I diced the tofu and browned it first in a separate pan, sprinkling in a little cornstarch to crisp up the edges, and then added the tofu in with the veggies and spices. I added some chicken broth and raised the heat (ensuring that the bit of cornstarch dissolved in the hot broth and thickened it), a dash of curry, then lowered the flame and stirred in some coconut milk. (You'll note there are no measurements to this as I "winged it" as they say - if trying to recreate this I'd say about a cup of fat-free, low sodium chicken broth to half a can of light coconut milk, using two lemongrass stalks, a container of tofu, and a ton of veggies.) I added a dash each of fish sauce, soy, rice wine vinegar, and some sesame oil, stirring to combine and simmering to let the flavors meld.
Then I ripped up some fresh basil to stir in, added chopped scallions for garnish, and served the steaming hot curry over brown rice. The verdict: not bad for my first try ...