Tuesday, December 8, 2009

CAMBODIA: Pepper Farmers Get Ready for their Champagne Moment

By Robert Carmichael

PHNOM PENH, Dec 8 (IPS) - Under a shady trellis of rice sacks in the province of Kampot in southern Cambodia, 42-year-old Nuon Yan tends his crop of pepper vines.

Small-scale farming is a tough occupation, with prices and weather unpredictable and the cost of inputs high. But Nuon Yan knows a good idea when he sees one. When he heard about an opportunity to double the money he was making from black pepper, he jumped at it.

That opportunity is to register the prized variety of pepper that he and neighbouring farmers grow – known as Kampot Pepper – for Geographical Indicator, or GI, status. Kampot pepper is highly regarded by some chefs in Europe and the United States as one of the world’s finest pepper varieties.

If the term GI sounds unfamiliar, the concept itself is much better understood, says Jean-Marie Brun, an advisor at GRET, a French non- governmental organisation involved in getting Kampot pepper its GI status.

The most famous GI product is champagne. In fact, says Brun, GI is what makes champagne champagne rather than sparkling wine. Unless bubbly is grown in a specific part of France to specific rules and meets a certain quality standard, it may not be marketed as champagne.

That, in a nutshell, is GI, and it will work exactly the same way with Kampot pepper. The added advantage is that Nuon Yan and the 130 other members of the newly formed Kampot Pepper Producers’ Association (KPPA) – most of whom are also farmers – decide on the rules and the quality standard.

Brun says any grower who meets the requirements can join the association, and once GI is registered it is protected under World Trade Organisation rules.

"The right to use the name Kampot pepper once it is registered belongs to anybody that complies with a certain number of requirements," says Brun. "The stakeholders decide on the delimitation of the area, how it should be produced and the quality criteria."

Brun explains that farmers like Nuon Yan, who currently earns 2.50 U.S. dollars per kilo for his crop, will likely double their income when GI status is confirmed.

Complying with GI does bring added costs, but Brun says these typically equate to five percent of the extra income. In the case of Kampot pepper, and because it is early days for the KPPA, the costs of compliance are higher than that – currently around 10 percent – but they will decline as more members join.

Farmers like Nuon Yan benefit as a direct result of providing a product that consumers can buy safe in the knowledge that it has attained a certain quality standard and is what it claims to be. But that assurance is worth nothing unless someone ensures the members abide by their own standards.

That policing role is performed by the KPPA itself and an independent auditor. The KPPA is based in a small room in a shady grove five kilometres outside the provincial town of Kampong Trach in Kampot province. KPPA deputy head, En Trou, explains that growers have had a tough time in the past.

"Because they were not able to market Kampot pepper and didn’t have much money, the farmers faced many problems trying to earn enough to support their families," he says. "We also found that other growers were using the name Kampot pepper on their products."

But the advent of GI status, which will be confirmed in a matter of weeks, should start to resolve that. En Trou is confident that the future will be brighter for the association’s members, who currently harvest 14 tons of pepper annually.

"I am hopeful that in another five years we will have increased the number of producers to 150, and be selling between 20 and 30 tons a year," he says.

The man in charge on the government side is Var Roth San, who heads the intellectual property department at the Ministry of Commerce. Among the powers wielded by his department is the power to revoke the GI registration for Kampot pepper should the independent auditor find the KPPA is shirking its role to maintain standards.

"The association must form control within themselves to keep the quality good," he points out. "Therefore the price of GI products increases. If [there is] no control within themselves or by an international organisation, who will believe [that their product is high quality]?"

Var Roth San says getting GI status for Kampot pepper links directly with the strategy of government and donors to reduce widespread rural poverty. Around 80 percent of the country’s people live in rural areas, and more than half the eight million-strong labour force is involved in agriculture, so boosting rural livelihoods is critical for Cambodia.

"We want to create jobs, and we want our poor to get more money from their work in the rural area," he says. "GI law is one thing that will help the poor in the rural areas."

Although GI for Kampot pepper will benefit at most a couple of hundred farmers, the government plans to roll out the initiative for other products too, including palm sugar from Kampong Speu province and honey from the northeastern province of Ratanakkiri. But Kampot pepper will be the first.

Back on his one-fifth hectare pepper plot in Kampot province, Nuon Yan explains that his rice crop has to date generated more income than the pepper he harvests from his 300 pepper vines. Last year he made around 400 U.S dollars from selling 150 kilograms of pepper.

But he is clearly banking on Kampot pepper’s potential.

"If I can sell my pepper for a higher price, then it is possible that one day I could earn more from pepper than from rice," he says.

Nuon Yan has an eye on that future possibility. He will deposit some of the extra money he will earn in the bank and put the rest towards buying more pepper vines. He and the other members of the association are banking that Kampot pepper’s GI status will result in a more secure future for them and their families.

I love how Cambodian pepper is so aromatic. A little goes a long way! I grind it fresh in my mortar to add a spicy zing to many dishes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cinnamon Honey Sweet Potatoes

This was a well-liked side dish to go with Thanksgiving dinner, thanks in part to Pillsbury and their November 17, 2009 issue of Thanksgiving.

I love cinnamon and honey, so partnered together with butter and sweet potatoes made for a winning combination.

5 Tbsp butter or margarine, melted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp grated fresh lemon peel
1/2 cup honey
4 lb medium sweet potatoes (about 8-10)

1. Heat oven to 325 F. Brush 13x9-inch (3 quart) glass baking dish with melted butter. To remaining butter, stir in cinnamon, salt, lemon peel and honey; set aside.

2. Peel sweet potatoes; cut into 1-inch chunks. Place in baking dish. Drizzle with half of the honey mixture; stir to evenly coat potatoes.

3. Cover tightly with foil; bake 30 minutes. Remove foil; spoon remaining honey mixture on top. Recover; bake 20 t0 30 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender.

This is such an easy recipe, and the honey and cinnamon makes the sweet potatoes so yummy!

Plus it's great with any main dish, or just by itself.

Maybe next time I'll try agave nectar in place of the honey for a different approach. I might even try this with roasting some squash I've got.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Beef Lok Lak

MckLinky Blog Hop: Favorite Recipe

Lunch on Friday was Beef Lok Lak. I prefer to cook it myself, but this was tasty enough.

Making it is very simple. All you need is some beef that you slice into bite-sized pieces, steamed rice, freshly sliced cucumber, tomato and onion with some lettuce leaves, and finally a sauce made of freshly ground pepper, salt and lime juice squeezed over at the last minute.

Prepare a large platter layering the vegetables starting with lettuce leaves on the bottom, then followed by cucumbers, onions and tomatoes.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add some oil and minced garlic. Cook until slightly golden. Add the beef, stirring quickly to cook it, but not too long.

When the beef is mostly cooked, add a Tablespoon or two of sugar and soy sauce. Allow that to bubble up into a sauce. Turn off heat. Pour beef with sauce directly over the vegetables.

Squeeze the lime juice into the salt and pepper. Mix up. Serve with rice.

Eat Lok Lak by taking a piece of beef, vegetable, rice and add a little of the salt and pepper sauce onto a spoon.

MckLinky Blog Hop

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fried Ginger with Pork

Image originally uploaded on Flickr by drkigawa

This dish is another standard in my repertoire of Cambodian cooking. It's simple and tasty.

Here's what you'll need:

200 grams of pork cut into bite-sized pieces
1 ginger root, peeled and grated
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced

Here's how you do it:

Add oil to a heated wok or frying pan. Add garlic and brown slightly. Add the ginger and stir fry til it is well cooked, then add the pork. Cook until no longer pink.

Transfer to a dish. Add some chopped green onions. Serve with steamed rice.

Grated ginger image from Anna Parabrahma

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fried Rice with Sausage

OK, so this is the ultimate "I'm afraid of eating anything strange, so I'll stick with something I know" food. Actually, it's a simple dinner that's inexpensive and filling all at the same time.

Fried rice is made with pre-cooked rice that has been chilled or cooled. There are several mystery sauces added to the fry, but mainly there is oil, chili sauce, egg and vegetables. The vegetable usually consist of bits of carrot and sliced stem pieces of collard greens.

I like my fried rice with bits of sausage because the sausage here is a bit sweet. The rice is fried up in a large wok with lots of stirring to keep it moving and thoroughly cooked.

Finished fried rice is place on an oval plate (no other style of plate is used) and served with a bowl of broth that either has a meatball or a bone in it along with some herbs. You can also order a fried egg to go on top of your fried rice.

Add some chili sauce and soy sauce to the rice and stir it in, then enjoy a tasty evening treat!

Note: real fried rice is only available at night, along with fruit shakes and fried noodles. There are stalls set up around town in designated places. Foreigner price: 5,000 Riel ($1.25). Local price: 3,000 Riel ($0.75).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back to Cambodian Food!

I am so happy to be back in Cambodia enjoying Cambodian food. There is just nothing else that compares to the yumminess of food here. Besides that, if you get tired of Cambodian food there's plenty of Western food to enjoy.

Back to eating sour soup and rice, mom's cooking at the cottage with roasted salted fish.

I love the noodle soup in the morning at the Soup Dragon with iced coffee (no milk this time). It's become the place for locals to do business in the morning. I just enjoy watching the pubs open and clean up for a fresh day ahead.

Of course there is also the yummy street snacks of fresh fruit, roasted bananas, and roti with sweetened condensed milk.

Come on over to savor the flavors of Cambodia!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Polish Cabbage and Noodles Dish

OK, so this dish was inspired by an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives that I briefly caught. It was some Polish restaurant. I know there's a funny Polish name for this dish, but of course it escapes my memory.

I was mesmerized by this dish because 1) it was so simple, and 2) I had all of the ingredients sitting in my fridge. The Cal Poly Organic Farm cabbage heads from my CSA boxes have been crying out to be turned into something delicious, and one can only eat so much coleslaw.

So, I did a little online investigating and discovered many recipes for this dish. It's really very simple. All you need is:

1/2 head of sliced cabbage
1-2 yellow onions, sliced
1/2 package of egg noodles (other noodles will do, but these are the tastiest)
1 kielbasa sausage
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup sour cream
salt & pepper to taste (I used my mortar to grind some fresh white Cambodian Kampot pepper)

Fill your pasta pot with water to start it boiling.

Get the butter melted in a BIG frying pan, or wok. Add the yellow onions and cook on medium-low until tender then turn down to low to start carmelizing them.

Slice the kielbasa into somewhat thin rounds. Cook over medium heat in a skillet to brown them on each side.

If the water's boiling, add the egg noodles and boil them according to directions on package.

Add the cabbage once the onions are a nice golden brown and let that stir-fry until tender. Once nice and tender, add the egg noodles along with salt and pepper to taste. Toss in the kielbasa slices and stir in the sour cream. Allow it to continue cooking on low for a few more minutes.

Oila! Scoop into a bowl and have yourself some delicious Polish comfort food.

Feel free to veg it up a bit by add more vegetables in the onion and cabbage stir-fry and leave out the sour cream. Consider using another cheese, or none at all.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Easy standby stirfry

Fried Tofu with Collard Greens

I love making this as it is so simple and easy and I can let the tofu cook first while cutting up the rest of the vegetables.

Before starting, get your rice started cooking, either in a rice cooker or on the stove top. Rice can always stay warm if it is ready before the stir-fry.
  1. Cube very dense tofu and place in a hot wok with oil. Sprinkle some sugar and salt over the top. Cover and let brown.
  2. Minced several cloves of garlic to place with the tofu after the first side is browned.
  3. Slice 1/2 of a yellow onion. Cut the stems out of the collard greens, then thinly slice the leaves. Select another vegetable of your choice. I like broccoli, cauliflower or carrots, but any will do.
  4. When the tofu is brown on one side, turn all the cubes over. Add the minced garlic. Continue cooking until the second side is brown.
  5. Add the most dense vegetable first (i.e. cauliflower). Add a 1/4 cup of water to the pan and cover to let cook. After about 1 minute, stir in onions leaving the collard green leaves for the last item to be added.
  6. If necessary, add more salt and/or sugar.
  7. Add the vegetable mix to a plate or bowl of steamed Jasmine rice.

Enjoy! It should take less than 30 minutes.