Nom Bahn Chok: Cambodian Breakfast Noodles
This noodle soup is synonymous with Cambodia. Unique to Cambodian cuisine, you'll find this soup is delicious for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Think coconut green curry without the chilies and topped with an array of beautifully coloured fresh vegetables.
I'm often asked what makes Cambodian food different from Vietnamese or Thai food? The countries of Southeast Asia share many common recipes with slight variations between each country such as Pho (Katiew in Cambodia), Pad Thai (Mee Gola in Cambodia) or Banh Mi (Nompang in Cambodia) just to name a few dishes. However, Nom Banh Chok is one you'll only find in Cambodia.
How do I describe Nom Banh Chok to someone who's never had it before? It's sort of like a sweet green coconut curry without the chilies in the curry paste. It's also sort of like a salad with all the fresh raw vegetables and herbs that garnish your bowl. The key ingredient that makes this dish is the Kachai (Krachai in Thai) Root, sometimes called finger roots. The Kachai root adds an mild earthy flavour to the broth. Similar to Galangal, but not nearly as spicy.
What's not to love about a flavour packed broth, soft noodles, and fresh seasonal vegetables?
Traditionally the broth is made from boiling river fish until it's cooked. Removing the cooked fish and pulling apart the meat which you would then pound into your groeung paste before adding it back into the broth.
My recipe is not traditional. Growing up in land locked Alberta the quality of fish you could find in the grocery stores was not always the best. I did not enjoy eating Nom Banh Chok as a kid, I found the broth tasted "fishy" and how many kids love raw vegetables? My mom adapted her recipe to use chicken instead of fish as a way to get the kids to eat this soup and avoid her having to make two different dinners.
I now cook this dish about once a month and I especially love cooking it for my Cambodian friends who had the same experience with the fish version of this soup growing up and now can't get enough of the chicken adaptation.
½ whole chicken or 2 lbs mixed breast, thigh, drumstick (skin on, bone in)
1 can Arroy D coconut milk
1 cup Pantai brand preserved
1 roasted crushed peanuts
120 grams palm sugar
2 tbsp MSG
3-5 Lime Leaves
1 package Dongguan Rice Vermicelli Noodles
Groeung (see below)
Groeung (Lemongrass Herb Paste)
60 grams sliced lemongrass (approximately 2-3 stalks)
5 large garlic cloves
5 lime leaves (fresh or frozen)-not powdered
25 grams turmeric (fresh or frozen)-not powdered
20 grams ginger (fresh)-not powdered
45 grams kachai root (fresh or frozen)-not powdered
1/4 cup water
1/2 head of purple cabbage
1 large carrot
1 bunch Thai basil
1 bunch Vietnamese mint
1 bunch dill
1-2 Thai chilies
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
Boiling the Chicken
Pour 3 liters of water into a 5 liter or larger pot. Bring water to a boil and add chicken and lime leaves, reduce heat to a medium boil.
Cook chicken through, which should take about 20 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken or until internal temperature reaches 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once chicken is cooked remove from the pot and let it cool slightly before you shred the meat off the bones.
While your chicken is cooking prepare the groeung paste and roast your peanuts.
We only want to use the “softer” white parts of the lemongrass which is usually the bottom half or quarter of the lemongrass stalk.
With a heavy sharp knife (preferably a clever) chop the hard root end of the lemongrass and chop the top half that you won’t be using.
Peel away the hard outer layers of the lemongrass stalk. Starting from the root end, carefully slice the lemongrass as thinly as you can.
Peel and roughly smash the garlic. Since it will be going into a blender or mortar and pestle it doesn’t necessarily need to be chopped.
Turmeric, Kachai Root, & Ginger
If you can only find frozen make sure to defrost before chopping. Peel skin and roughly chop into 1cm chunks.
Tear the leaves from the stems and thinly slice.
Place all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and add half of the water at first. Blend until it turns into a puree adding water as needed. If you are looking for an arm workout you can ground out this paste in a mortar and pestle, omitting the water.
Heat a non-stick on low heat. Add peanuts to the pan and lightly roast. Consistently stir the peanuts so they don’t burn. Once we develop some colour remove from the heat and set aside to cool down before we place in the grinder or food processor. · Once the peanuts are ground. Set aside ¼ for garnishing.
Cooking the broth
Remove the cooked chicken from the pot to cool before shredding. Add in your ground peanuts, msg, palm sugar, coconut milk, and preserved gourami in brine. Stir until the palm sugar has fully dissolved. Once the sugar dissolves add your groeung paste to the soup and let the soup simmer.
If your chicken has cooled down begin shredding the meat with two forks or you can also use your hands. Take half of the shredded chicken and finely mince it.
Add all of your chicken back into the soup pot and keep on a low boil to allow all the flavours to continue to come together (at least another 15 minutes).
Prepping your veggies
Using a box grater shred your carrot or julienne into long thing strips. Thinly slice the cabbage into long ribbons. Chop cucumber into matchstick pieces and roughly tear your mint, dill and basil. Chop chilies. Set aside on a large serving platter until we’re ready to serve.
In a medium sized pot bring water to a boil to cook your vermicelli noodles. Have a colander on hand to drain the noodles. The vermicelli rice noodles are very starchy and will need help separating while they cook. Use chopsticks to help separate them as they boil. Once the noodles are cooked drain into a colander and rinse under cold water to remove any extra starch.
Serving Nom Bahn Chok
Taste your soup and see if you need any more seasoning. You want the soup to be intense in flavour and slightly too salty to eat on its own. When we add the soup to the noodles and veggies it will balance out the salty flavour. You can season with salt or add more preserved gourami sauce.
To serve add noodles to the bottom of your bowl. Pour the soup over the noodles. Top with the shredded cabbage, grated carrots, sliced cucumbers, Thai chilies, peanuts, mint, and basil.