Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid explain in “Hot Sour Salty Sweet” (Artisan, $40) that samla’ are “wet dishes,” somewhere between a stew and a hearty soup. They are the standard accompaniment for rice in Cambodia, hot and tasty, often sour and usually loaded with lemon grass and other aromatics. The most common samla’ is made with fish from the river or from the Great Lake, the Tonle Sap.
This fish samla’ is easy, needing no special broth and no long cooking. It’s a close cousin of canh chua, the Vietnamese sour soup so common in the delta, but heartier. Perhaps canh chua is originally Khmer, or maybe it’s an inevitable combination, because a lightly sour and lemony broth goes so beautifully with fish.
Serve this from a large bowl at the table, ladling it into individual small bowls, accompanied by rice, and perhaps a simple vegetable stir-fry, to make an easy meal.
Tamarind pulp, fish sauce, fresh culantro or sawtooth herbs, Asian basil and rice paddy herbs or Vietnamese coriander can be found at Asian markets.