Sala Bai Kitchen
There are stories that words alone can't tell. Cambodia is one of them. While the country is struggling to recover from the brutality of the Khmer Rouge, most of its people continue to live in dire poverty. Cambodia is tough to process; it assaults the mind and spirit, so it's best to let photographs tell that part of the story. There is, however, another more uplifting story to be told. Within Cambodia there are small groups of expats and NGO's who try, in ways large and small, to beat back poverty and offer hope to the people of this beleaguered country. The Australian Social Aid Agency and Agir Pour Le Cambodge are among those groups. They operate Sala Bai, a hotel school that trains young people from underprivileged families to work in the hospitality industry. Priority is given to girls, who are excluded from the traditional school system. Three-quarters of the students, some of whom are orphans, have never lived in town and come from the rice fields of villages in the area. The school trains 100 students a year; they are selected for the program based on records, an examination and an interview with the applicants and their families. All of the schools graduates find employment and earn a decent salary by Cambodian standards. One hundred is not a large number, but if you're among those chosen, your life, and that of your family, will forever be changed. Funds to support Sala Bai come from institutions such as the Orion Hotel alliance, star chefs like Joannes Riviere and culinary students around the world who dig into their own empty pockets to help as they can. Some future stars in the culinary world are being trained here; the best of them are snatched to apprentice in the kitchens of five star hotels. These kids can cook. Some of them can create. Today's recipe is based on a salad I had at Sala Bai. It's refreshing and simple to do. I hope you'll give it a try.
Khmer Green Papaya Salad
3 cups green papaya, peeled and finely julienned
1 cup carrots, peeled and finely julienned
1/2 cup finely sliced onion
1 cup cucumber, peeled and finely julienned
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed and finely julienned
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup lime juice
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 handful fresh mint, torn into pieces
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1) Combine papaya, carrots,onion, cucumber, and bell pepper in a large bowl. Set aside.
2) Combine water and sugar in a small bowl. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add lime juice and pepper flakes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
3) Pour dressing over salad. Add mint and peanuts; toss to combine ingredients. Transfer to a serving dish or plates. Yield: 6 servings.
Cook's Note: Hot chili peppers can replace the pepper flakes. Plain boiled shrimp can be added to the salad.