Friday, November 2, 2018

Angel Cruz Beef Skewers

After the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, thousands of Cambodians sought refuge in the United States.  It is estimated that, by 1994, approximately 158,000 Cambodians had legally entered the U.S., most of those were refugees. The United States settled these refugees across the country; and, over time, Cambodian communities began to emerge. Communities such as those in Lowell, Massachusetts (which is the second largest in the United States); Jacksonville, Florida; and Columbus, Ohio, along with Los Angeles and Stockton, California.

And, in Stockton, there is Angel Cruz park, a local gathering site for the Cambodian Community.  Families gather together at the park to "hang out, grill, and eat."  I have never been to Stockton, California, let alone to Angel Cruz Park.  Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I can still get a sense of what happens there. If one were to Google "Cambodian Angel Cruz Park," like I did, he or she would find videos of cooks grilling and preparing a variety of Cambodian foods. 

If you want to get a sense of the kinds of food being prepared, this video provides an example of the experience: 

While I may not be in Stockton, and, I am not Cambodian, that does not mean that I can't try to bring a little of Angel Park out my way.  I found a recipe from Nite Yun, the owner and chef of Nyum Bai (which means "Let's Eat!" in Khmer).  According to Eater, Nite Yun was born in a refugee camp in Thailand.  At age 2, her parents made their way to the United States as refugees. While her parents had been sponsored to go to Texas, they settled in California, Stockton to be exact.  Although her parents were thousands of miles away from their home, they brought their culture, and their food, with them to the U.S.  Yun remembers, "sitting on the floor, chopping lemongrass, peeling garlic, washing veggies and herbs."  She loved that work, and she eventually learned how to cook on her own.  

As her interest in food grew, Nite Yun realized that the food of her family and culture, Cambodian food, was unrepresented.  There were no good Cambodian restaurants.  During a trip to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, Yun was at a noodle stall when she decided that she would start her own restaurant.  A restaurant focused on her culinary and cultural heritage.  That moment led to Nyum Bai. The menu is graced with dishes such as Naim Chien Chrouk (crispy rolls filled with taro, cabbage, glass noodles, pork, garlic and onions), Kuy Teav Phnom Penh (rice dish with minced pork and shrimp served in a 7 hour pork broth with herbs and crispy garlic) and Chien Trey & Ngoum Mango (crispy catfish topped with tangy and tart green mango salad, shallots and red pepper).

Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to try any of these dishes, all of which sound delicious.  I did find a recipe from Nite Yun's for beef skeewers.  The name is Angel Cruz Beef Skewers, a nod to the gathering of Cambodian families at Angel Cruz park. The recipe calls for the beef to be marinated in a very tasty paste of lemongrass, kaffir lime and fish sauce.  The end result is so good that I am seriously thinking of trying this marinade with chicken or pork skewers. 

Recipe from Saveur
Serves 2-4

6 stalks lemongrass, tough outer layers removed, 
     soft inner cores thinly sliced
6 kaffir lime leaves finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 (1-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and minced
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of honey
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons fish sauce
6 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet paprika
Wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes

1.  Prepare the beef.  In a food processor, combine the lemongrass with the lime leaves, garlic, shallots, ginger, and turmeric, and pulse until a smooth paste forms.  Scrape the past in a large bowl, and add the beef, honey, oil, fish sauce, oyster sauce and paprika.  Toss the beef until evenly coated and then cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. 

2.  Grill the skewers.  Light a grill.  Thread the beef on to wooden skewers and then grill, turning as needed until charred and cooked through, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to a platter and serve while hot.  


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