My mother would make Lok Lak for one simple reason, to get us to eat vegetables. Not that we hated veggies, we just liked our veggies better with a side of seared beef! Lok Lak is a glorious hot salad with a bed of crisp whole lettuce leaves, juicy tomatoes, cool cucumbers and sharp raw onions; all of it topped with quickly stir-fried beef and it’s juices. We would spear fork full and dip it all in a sauce of lime juice and black pepper before shoving greedily into our mouths. In those days, beef was expensive and we ate lots of chicken and fish, though truth be told, I think my parents just told us it was expensive. Opting out instead for a diet of mostly fish, chicken and pork because it’s what they’re used to eating back in Cambodia. My parents had been in America less than a decade then, to them, beef was still a luxury and would be best eaten as a Big Mac. On those occasions when my father would bring home tenderloin, sirloin or another cut of beef, I would scramble onto a chair near the stove and watch my mother arrange piles of fresh veggies on plates before simply marinade slices of beef in a dark magical concoction. Set aside and ready to stir fry once my father has washed up and ready to eat.
Lok Lak was possibly brought to Cambodia via the French from Vietnam who’ve named the dish Bo Luc Lac, “shaking Beef” for the method of quickly searing and shaking the beef on a hot skillet. Cambodians have since brought the dish into its culinary hearts that it’s hard to imagine it didn’t originate in our country. Hitting all the senses that makes Cambodian food so unique, salty, sweet, sour and spicy. My mother would present a huge platter of Lok Lak to the table with steaming plates of rice. Our eyes would grow round as the delicious aroma would waft in our direction, mouths salivate in carnivorous desire. Before his children starved to death in their dramatic fashion, my father would run a knife through half the salad, cutting pieces of veggies into bite sizes for us. I would drown my salad in lime pepper sauce, even then I loved sour things while my sister conservatively dipped only the teeniest amounts. My parents would each pull whole lettuce leaves from the bottom and fashion themselves a lettuce wrap with all the ingredients, which is how lok lak is traditionally eaten.
As an adult sometimes I do the lettuce wrap route, but more often than not, I still cut my veggies into bite size, drizzle on too much lime pepper sauce and pile the whole thing on top of my rice. A mish mash of flavors that have yet to leave my memory. I recently made my father a big platter of Lok Lak, I bought all the traditional components, except he took the leafy green lettuce I bought and implored me to use the romaine he bought too much of before it goes bad. Ok Papa, I’ll use the romaine. He says my recipe is good, but mom makes it better. In his eyes, mom will always make everything better, I don’t mind, I expect my future husband to have the same sentiments.
In other news, I’m excited that my friend Rosemary will be giving me a crash course in photography and helping me build a light tent so I can have extra pretty pictures for my blog. It took me so long to post this because I was unhappy with my pictures of Lok Lak but had no time to redo them. First world problems! Hopefully with Rosemary’s help I’ll finally have some creative direction and beginner’s skills under my belt. I’m so excited!
1 lbs Beef, thinly sliced (use your favorite cut ie sirloin, tenderloin, top round)
3 Garlic Cloves, finely minced
1 tsp Sugar
1 tbsp Oyster Sauce
1 tsp Black Pepper
Stir Fry Sauce:
4 tbsp Mushroom Soy
1 tbsp Sugar
1/2 cup Water
1 tsp Corn Starch
Lime Pepper Sauce:
1/4 cup Lime Juice, freshly squeezed
1/8 cup Water
1 tsp Garlic Puree
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Fish Sauce
1 tsp Black Pepper
1 Thai Bird Chili, thinly sliced, optional
Salt to taste
5 cups Green Leaf Lettuce, or lettuce of choice
2 cups Ripe Tomatoes, sliced
2 cup Cucumbers, sliced
1 medium size Red Onion, thinly sliced
4 Scallions, just the green part sliced
1. Mix beef and marinade together. Allow to marinade minimum of 1 hr or up to 24 hours
Only a few more days til Khmer New Years! I adore Khmer music and can’t wait to dance the night away.