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Plea Ko
Khmer Beef Tartare 


We are warned that red meat such as beef, lamb and pork are the main cause of cancer and heart  disease. However  due to the fact that red meat  contains various essential minerals and vitamins required by our body, we are advised to eat around 500g of it per week.

Besides, some people eat only organic meat. This is because they believe that the modern methods of raising cattle whereby grains laden  with various chemicals such as pesticides are fed to the animals, and antibiotics and steroids are injected to them.

Some others are afraid of eating raw meat because they associate it with problems of intestinal parasites. In this case, to be safe, according to the US Department of Agriculture (I read it somewhere), you simply freeze the meat for 14 days. This will eliminate all the parasites (check it out). 

Although I call this dish 'Khmer beef tartare', the beef in it is not as raw as the French beef tartare or the Italian carpaccio.  Marinating meat (or fish) in lemon juice will effectively cook the meat and kill off all parasites and pathogens that it may contain.

'Plea' is one of my favourite dishes. It is refreshing and very healthy. The taste is heaven. It is ideal to serve as appetizer to accompany any kind of drinks at any time of the year. I promise you, once you' ve tried it (if made properly), you will be hooked for life. 



Serves 4                                                                   

600g beef sirloin – very thinly sliced - 2-3 mm thick*
½ cup of lime juice
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of roughly chopped roasted
   peanuts or ground roasted rice

2 shallots – thinly sliced length-way
1 cup of mint leaves
1 tablespoon of very thinly sliced lemon grass stems
2 teaspoons of chopped red chilli1
1 cup of bean sprouts

2 cm of galangal2 – roasted, peeled & chopped
2 cloves of garlic – peeled & chopped
1 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons tik prahok or  fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar


Real photo to come...



1. Put the beef in a clean bowl, sprinkle it with lime juice and salt and mix well. Leave it in the fridge for at least half-an-hour. Then take it out, with your clean hands, squeeze the juice out of the beef. Keep the juice aside for later use. Separate the beef slices by fluffing it up and put it back in the fridge.

2. Put all the sauce ingredients except the fish sauce into a mortar and pestle, and pound it into a paste.

3. In a small pan, mix the sauce paste, tik prahok or the fish sauce and the beef juice together. On medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Add a bit of water if it is too thick. Then adjust it to your taste by adding fish sauce or lime juice or sugar. Set aside.

4. Just before serving, mix the beef with all the vegetables. Add the sauce and, with your hands, toss  them together  to make sure that all are well coated with the sauce. Serve over a bed of lettuce leaves, sprinkle with chopped roasted peanuts, with a few wedges of lime on the side.

This dish can be served as appetizer or starter. If you don't like bean sprouts, use half of a Granny Smith apple cut into match-stick sized pieces - which can be very fresh and delicious too.
*To achieve this, put the beef in the freezer for half-an-hour or until the outside around the beef is hard.  Use a very sharp knife to slice it. Defrost it completely in the fridge before use. 
1 Traditionally we use a lot of chilli in this dish. If it is too hot for you, use half and half of chopped chilli and red pepper(bell pepper) match-stick slices instead.
2  Galangal can be substituted with ginger if not available
3 Prahok is a Khmer fermented fish which is used in most dishes. It can be bought in any Asian food stores. If not available, it can be substituted with fish sauce which can be found in any supermarket.

 Little Story:  My father loved this dish as an appetizer to accompany his chilled beer.  One day, he brought  his French friend home for a drink after a game of tennis (Khmer way: no warning to his wife). He asked my mother to make 'plea ko' for them but to omit the use of prahok as he thought his friend might not like its strong aroma. She then came up with an idea about using tinned anchovies instead. Well, yes, it made sense as both are fish preserved in salt.  When my father was trying to assure him that there's no prahok in this plea, his French friend exclaimed: 'but .... I like prahok ...' . And guess what, it didn't taste as good. 
       Then, though still very young, I thought to myself but didn't dare to say anything (typical Khmer kid): 'why are we ashamed of our food?  Prahok is part of our culture ...'  Many years later when I was older, I read about  a similar food in the ancient roman empire in Europe, which was called 'garum'. By all accounts, this could be even more smelly than prahok as it was made from fish intestines. To me,  the smell of prahok is not any worse than that of a strong mature cheese - though, I must admit, it needs a bit of getting used to for those who are new to it.