Cambodian curry with Hannah and Trevor

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For the past couple of weeks I have had the privilege of lovely Ms Hannah Briggs staying with me. Around the table Hannah and I (sometimes joined by my lovely Dan) have already shared many moments, impromptu dinners, and cups of tea after the long tiring days that have been typical of this last season.

But tonight is special as Hannah’s boyfriend, Trevor, is added to our company. Hannah and I join forces in the kitchen to cook up a feast. Hannah and Trevor love the flavours of the orient, so I decide to prepare Amok fish, the Cambodian curry that stole the culinary limelight during my recent stay in Siem Reap. And Hannah is making a chocolate and pear tart for desert (for which she credit’s Jamie Oliver).

Focaccia and humus are spread on the table to silence our rumbling bellies, whilst we cook and savour every moment of the easy atmosphere and effortless interaction.

The preparation

While Dan and Trevor fill the house with music and chatter, Hannah’s preparation of the tart distracts my senses with the aroma of melting chocolate, butter and eggs (and is that almond? Yum!). She lays and precooks the short crust pastry in a silicon cake tin (because we have not tart tin), and then she prepares the sauce skilfully.

In the other corner, ginger, chillies, lemongrass, lime rind, kaffir lime leaves and garlic are chopped and blitzed into amok curry paste together with fish sauce, shrimp paste, sesame oil, paprika, turmeric and peanuts. I mix a bit of the paste with a couple of tablespoons of coconut milk to marinate the chunky pieces of river cobbler in preparation of the dish. Next I put on the Thai fragrant rice to slowly shimmer to its sticky consistency. And after that I partly boil some curly kale for the curry.  Finally, I prepare the curry sauce. I decide to add to the flavour by frying an onion in sesame oil and then adding the well strained kale. Before I let the sauce simmer, I add the rest of the curry paste and coconut milk and cream. My secret ingredients are Campot pepper and an amok fish curry powder that I brought back from Cambodia. I think it mainly consists of turmeric and dried galangal.

Whilst the sauce simmers on low heat, I cook the marinated cobbler in a non stick pan for no more than 4 minutes and remove from heat. The heat of the pan continues to cook the fish and I don’t want the fish to flake when I add it to the curry sauce.

I love mixing up the spices into a familiar concoction, whilst listening to the conversation around the table. Trevor’s design project, Dan’s Big Little City, Hannah’s stories of old mariners and barges.

At the same time I travel back to the moment that I taste the best amok fish curry cooked by Auntie Pow at the Arun restaurant in Siem Riep. I close my eyes to bring up the memory of its flavour and then dip a spoon in the sauce to test the match. I add some fresh organic spinach to change its consistency and some more paprika and turmeric to adjust the flavour. Mission accomplished: the flavour is a match.

Finishing touches

Dan’s kiss lures me out of the creative bliss. He then whips two eggs and stirs them in the sauce to thicken and complete it. As I add the pre cooked fish we gently stir, cover and remove from the heat.

Hannah’s pear and chocolate tart looks beautifully spread. Slices of pear adorn the chocolate sauce. As we are ready to tuck into our main course, the tart enters the oven for 45 minutes.

Good conversation and new friends broaden our horizons and confirm that the world is a wonderful place to live in. I look at those two unexpected strangers that share their stories and time with us at our intimate gathering. I admire their ventures.  I will not reveal anything about Trevor’s design project but I am sure it will be a big and much sought after success. Don’t forget that I would love to test it on my bicycle Trevor!

Hannah’s current job is to interview people and through documenting the lives and work to trace the living history of places. Her work in various interesting documentaries and programmes fascinates me and so does her anthropology background and past work with women with HIV in Africa. Her genuine interest in sustainability, arts and the world makes me hopeful and inspired. And I have not even started on her warmth that wins you over instantaneously.

Dan’s Big Little City project joins our conversation and together with his contagious authenticity and enthusiasm it adds to the recipe of a good night.

Between conversations and stories, we clean up our main course and devour our slices of chocolate and pear tart. We indulge in good food and company and feed on the positive energy.  And hoping that our quartet meets again, we part to dream wonderful dreams.

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