Chrourk M'teh is a simple pickled red sweet pepper
Recently I find I'm spending more time looking at, cooking, and eating foods with Southeast Asian roots and flavors. The first dish that really captured my attention is Chrourk M'teh, a simple pickled red bell pepper (capsicum) with a wonderfully umami-rich flavor that goes well with most any cuisine.
Wendy Hutton's Green Mangoes and Lemon Grass: Southeast Asia's Best Recipes from Bangkok to Bali is an excellent introduction to the flavors of Southeast Asia. Well-written and lavishly illustrated, Green Mangoes and Lemon Grass includes sections covering all the basics and the major ingredients. If you want to explore the region in depth, get a copy.
2 large red bell peppers (capsicum), roasted and diced
¼ cup (60 ml) rice vinegar
¼ cup (60 ml) fish sauce (nước mắm)
2 tablespoons sugar
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 thin slices ginger
Start by roasting the peppers. If you've never roasted peppers before, it's pretty easy. If you have access to an open flame, an outdoor grill, a gas cooktop, or even a campfire, put the peppers directly over the flame and char all sides. Alternatively, turn your oven broiler on and set the peppers on the rack as close to the element as possible without actually touching it. Turn as necessary so that the skin blackens all over the pepper. Place into a plastic bag or a bowl covered with plastic wrap and seal tightly. Let rest about 10 minutes so the skin will pull away from the flesh. Peel under cold running water. I cut the peppers into small pieces about ½-inch square to make pickles. You might prefer to dice them smaller and make it more relish-like.
While the peppers are resting, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Peel and thinly slice four cloves of garlic. Peel and thinly slice some ginger. I used two slices; you might choose to use more or less, depending on your taste. Green Mangoes didn't include ginger at all. If you want to add some crunch, you might want to add some julienned daikon; bamboo shoots and water chestnuts are interesting possibilities as well. You might also add some Thai basil for a little different flavor.
Mix the fish sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar in a bowl and blend well to incorporate all the sugar. Use the best quality fish sauce you can get, and be sure you get plain rice vinegar, not the seasoned stuff.
When everything is ready, combine in a bowl or other container and let sit at least 30 minutes. If you have any left over, it will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. Be sure to keep it tightly covered or everything in the refrigerator will smell of fish sauce.
The recipe in Green Mangoes that I based this on called for additional salt, as did the recipe in The Elephant Walk Cookbook, which is the original source for this relish. Frankly, I couldn't understand why anyone would want to add salt to fish sauce, but should you find the marinade bland, add a teaspoon of salt.