Monday, March 16, 2009

Khmer Green Papaya Salad and the Story of Sala Bai Hotel and Culinary School





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


Ingredients:
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

Directions:

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.

29 comments:

Selba said...

Interesting to learn about the hotel school in Cambodia.

I like green papaya salad! The one that I had is the Thai green papaya salad :)

Mary said...

Selba, having just returned from Southeast Asia, I must tell you how similar I found the foods of Cambodia, Laos and VietNam to be. I should't be surprised. After tracking the movement of the Khmer people through Asia it is obvious they spread their culture and food far and wide. The heat in Thai food makes it truly unique. The differences in the other cuisines require an active palate intent on learning. I can see how it might all seem the same. Green papaya salad is common throughout SE Asia, though I believe the Thai version uses a small amount of fish sauce to balance the lime. They are all good when you are looking for something to brighten the flavors of a meal.

Donna-FFW said...

So interesting to learn about the school, you are so full of interesting info. You are so lucky to have seen these places!! Good for you and thanks for sharing with those of us who will never see it otherwise:)

Martha said...

Mary -- It is amazing how one person can really make a difference -- your story about the cooking school is such. Even though it is only 100 per year, they are forever changing lives 100 at a time!

Susan said...

What an unbelievable experience you have had, and you are sharing it in such a beautiful way. I am so enjoying all of this.

Julia said...

Terrific program! I especially appreciate the fact that they are giving the students job training as opposed to just a hand-out.

And delicious looking salad! I agree with Selba, it does sound like the one I had in Thailand.

joey said...

A delightful visit, Mary. Beautiful photos with 'perfect bites' of beautifully presented offerings. Now I'm hungry ... but I shall return :)

Mary said...

Joey, welcome to One Perfect Bite. I'm so glad you enjoyed what you found here.

Mary said...

Julia, it is a great program. Because the process is so thorough each class is made up of young people who really want to get ahead. They don't seem to waste a moment of their school time. It's a lovely story in a country where there is not a lot to uplift the spirit.

Burp and Slurp~! said...

I love green papaya salad! It's called somtam in thailand, right? unfortunately, the ones they sell in america is just not spicy enough for me...
btw, thanks for the info on the school! SO fascinating...it's always great to learn new stuff.

Netts Nook said...

Mary Mary you did it again I can't wait to try your Papaya Salad Looks Lovely.

Mary said...

Burp and Slurp, I think the Thai version of the salad is called som tom. Green papaya can be a problem. Have you tried to combine it with green mango to get the flavor you're looking for?

Pam said...

What a great post...the salad looks beautiful!

ChefBliss.com said...

What a beautiful post. The salad looks fantastic. I love the pictures and the tale. What a wonderful school and the changes it makes in their lives, absolutely wonderful!

Apples and Butter said...

What an amazing experience to meet these girls and visit this school. Thanks for sharing the recipe and the story.

The Blonde Duck said...

I love the story and the salad!

Arundathi said...

incredibly, this salad is a huge favorite here in india. we make many variations, esp with raw mango salad which is also delicious. love khmer food! :-)

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Mary this really was the trip of a life time. Wonderful video about the school. Gorgeous salad to go with it.

Mary said...

Arundathi, I'm so glad you stopped by. As you can tell I, too, love Khmer food. I have an Indian friend who makes a salad very similar to this one. It's sweeter because she uses ripe mango, but otherwise it's basically the same.

Mary said...

Tanna, it was an incredible journey. I'm so glad we did it.

Barbara said...

Mary, I'm so glad you enjoyed your trip. I love the story about 100 at a time being helped.
I'm afraid I will never visit these places as hubby was there in the 60's.
He has always had good things to say about the people and the food of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. But it would be too hard for him to return. He was a Green Beret that went into areas with their team of 12. It was someplace the USA never should have been.

noble pig said...

What a story but I beleive it is life changing for them and their families. What a beautiful salad as well.

Mary said...

Barbara, I understand how your husband feels. Bob had reservations also. There were several vets in the group with whom we traveled. To a man, and 1 woman they tempered bad memories with the progress that has been made since the war. The Hanoi Hilton was really tough for some, but they were all glad they came back.

Wandering Chopsticks said...

I was in Vietnam for several weeks before visiting Cambodia. And even though Vietnam is still quite impoverished, the comparison with the extreme poverty of Cambodia was really hard for me to process too.

Mary said...

WC, Cambodia is tough, really tough. I can't write about it yet. One small thing to share with you....the group I traveled with was completely silent at the dinner table after seeing the villages outside of Siem Reap. My prayer for these people is that they be given the gift of hope. Poverty can be dealt with but the vacant eyes and almost robotic responses really got to me. And the children....oh, dear God!

Lori said...

Thanks for sharing the video and pictures. I need to show my kids. I always tell them how fortunate they are as does their Dad.

This salad sounds so interesting. THere are papayas on sale this week. Maybe I will get adventurous.

Anonymous said...

You have the most delicious recipes on the internet. Susan from the schnitzelandthetrout forwards us to us. How fortunate we are.

Mary said...

Anonymous, thank you for the compliment.

Laura said...

Gorgeous salad--green papaya salad is one of my all time favorite dishes.
Great post.

PS I think your fork header photo is stunning!

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