Beef Lok Lak

Beef Lok Lak: Hot on pepper

One of my favourite things about traveling is discovering new dishes and new taste combinations. I’d heard great things about Thai and Vietnamese cuisine before our South East Asia trip, and had been to restaurants serving Vietnamese and Thai food all over the world, but I knew next to nothing about Cambodian, or Khmer, cuisine. It deserves more fame, so I’m sharing a recipe for one of my favorite Khmer dishes, Beef Lok Lak, here.

Pepper is one of the stars of Cambodian food. Usually it’s Kampot pepper, often fresh, from the little river side town of Kampot in the south of Cambodia. Real Kampot pepper is hard to get outside of Cambodia, but for this amazing dish, Beef Lok Lak, your normal black pepper will do just fine, as long as it’s freshly crushed rather than industrially ground. Beef Lok Lak combines the taste of black pepper with the sourness of lime and adds just a little bit of sugar for balance. Similarly to Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, it’s all about getting the balance right between salty, sour, peppery and sweet.

Lok Lak can be found in almost any restaurant and many street side food stalls in Cambodia and is made with a variety of meats, so feel free to try this with chicken or even shrimp.

This recipe is my own version after talking to a number of Lok Lak vendors and restaurants and reading up on traditional versions of it.

Beef Lok Lak
Image: Beef Lok Lak by Sodanie Chea licensed under CC BY 2.0

For two people:

300g of beef tenderloin

For the marinade:
2 cloves of fresh garlic
1 small piece of fresh ginger (about the size of one clove of garlic)
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
1 teaspoon of crushed black pepper
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of vinegar (rice vinegar if you have, if not, balsamic vinegar will do as well)

For the dipping sauce:
Juice of half a lime
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of crushed black pepper
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of water

Serve with:
A few leaves of lettuce
A few slices of cucumber
1 small red onion
2 tomatoes
Boiled rice (optional)
Fried eggs, sunny side up (optional)

Preparation:

Chop the garlic and ginger very finely and mix with the remaining marinade ingredients. Cut the beef into small cubes or strips and cover with the marinade, let it sit for at least an hour.

If you’re serving this with rice, make your rice now as well.

When you’re ready to eat, mix up the ingredients of the dipping sauce and put a small amount in a dipping dish on each plate. Cut the cucumber, onion and tomatoes into small slices and arrange on the plates on a bed of lettuce. In a pan, heat up a little bit of oil until it’s very hot. Fry the beef with the marinade in small batches for just two minutes or so (unless you like your beef very well done), take it out and serve it on top of the salad bed.

If you’re serving it with rice, serve the rice on the side, with the fried egg on top of the rice.