Sunday, 13 September 2009

Pchum Ben - Nom Ahnsahm

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The fifteenth day, of the tenth month, of the Khmer calendar marks the Pchum Ben festival. This is a time when the spirits of the dead ancestors walk the Earth. And the living can ease their suffering by offering them food to eat.

Throughout the country, families will gather to make food and cakes in honor of the festival. The nom ahnsahm is a linga-shaped cake made with a layer of sticky rice laid in a banana leaf with spread of bean and pork lard. Traditionally, the leaf is wrapped into a roll and the phallic cake tied with the fibre of the banana tree “trunk” and steamed in a large pan.

When I first happened upon this somewhat, in western eyes, untraditional cake, I instantly loved it. So this year hubby and me decided to make them at home. Or, that would be, I asked hubby if he wanted to make them for the festival, to which he replied that he would love to eat them but he would prefer not to have to make them. Anyway, to make a long story short, I made them.

They are fairly easy to make, but quite time consuming. And of course, the wrapping can be a rather messy affair, but when you master that there is no secrets to makeing these at all.


You need sticky rice, which you soak in water at least for a couple of house, then drain, and mix generously with salt and pepper and shredded coconut. I used the dried one you can buy at any grocery shop, work like wonders. Yellow beans, also soaked for a couple of hours and drained. Pork meat, fatty meat makes the cakes tastier, cut into strips and seasoned with salt and pepper and quite a lot of garlic. Well, I use fatty meat, in Cambodia there is common to only use fat or lard. And of course banana leaves and some string.


In order to get the banana leaves soft and pliable enough to be able to roll rice into them, you will need to give them a quick boil. When raw banana leaves are quite stiff and brittle, but turn soft and a lovely shade of green after a few seconds in boiling water. If they are not soft enough, then give them a few more seconds.


Then you make the cake. You take a sheet of banana leaf, put on a layer of the coconutty rice, a layer of yeallow beans, and then pork at the top. Then you roll the leaf together to for a tube, fold in the ends, and tie it off. Make sure that the bananaleaf do overlap as the rice do expand a bit when cooked. After all the cakes are prepared, then put into a large pot, cover with water, and leave to simmer for 3-4 hours. Yummy!!!!

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