Cambodian cuisine, also known as Khmer cuisine, often gets conflated with Thai or Vietnamese cuisine. While it does share similarities with the cuisine of its neighbors, the flavors are different. If one had to choose two ingredients that were definitive of Cambodian cuisine, they would be rice and fish. Rice is so integral to the concept of a meal that the phrase “Niam Bay” which means “eating” actually literally translates to “eating rice” and Cambodians are known to greet one another with “Nyam bai howie nov?” which translates to “Have you eaten rice yet?” Our Cambodian recipe today is Chha Trob (grilled eggplant with stir fried pork) to be served with rice.
A popular dish that is served both as street food and in sit down restaurants, Chha Trob is traditionally grilled. Chha Trob translates to “fried eggplant,” which is a little misleading. The eggplant is traditionally grilled, and the ground pork is stir-fried. The dish is smoky and is delightfully flavorful despite using only a handful of ingredients. Kampot pepper is a quintessential ingredient in some of Cambodia’s well-known seafood dishes like pepper crab, pan fried quid and stir-fried prawns. Stalks of Kampot pepper with peppercorns attached are used in the dishes. In this version of Chha Trob, we use whole peppercorns to infuse some of the pepper flavor to the stir-fried pork. The eggplant can be broiled or as is traditionally prepared, grilled. The use of just a few ingredients makes Chha Trob a perfect dish during these times when we must make a lot with a little.
Eggplant – 3
Ground pork – 1 lb (Substitute crumbled tofu/ground plant-based meat substitute)
Garlic – 4 cloves, finely diced
Neutral oil – 1 tbsp
Soy sauce – 5 tbsp
Fish sauce – 2 tbsp (can substitute with Hoisin sauce)
Whole Peppercorn – 2 tsp
Salt and pepper – to taste
Scallions – sliced to garnish
- Halve the eggplants (leave skin on) and salt them.
- Let the eggplants “sweat” for 30 minutes in a colander. (This step allows the salt to draw out the bitterness from the eggplants).
- Using a paper towel, wipe the liquid from the eggplants and pat them dry.
- If grilling, oil the eggplants and grill them until they are lightly charred.
- If baking, preheat the oven to 350F.
- Bake in the middle rack for about 20 minutes or until the flesh is soft and the skin is lightly browned.
- While the eggplants cool, heat oil in a wok or stir fry pan.
- Add the whole peppercorns and allow them to sputter and infuse some of the peppery taste to the oil.
- Add the minced garlic and sauté until golden, being careful not to let them burn.
- Add the ground pork and sauté until brown.
- Add the soy sauce and fish sauce (or hoisin sauce) and stir to incorporate into the browned pork and cook until they caramelize.
- Soy sauce and hoisin contain salt, so be sure to taste the pork and then adjust for seasonings (salt and pepper).
- To serve, scoop heaps of the stir-fried pork on to the eggplant halves flesh-side, and garnish with the scallions. Serve with rice.
Recipe and photo credit: Vinola Munyon