This book landed on my desk earlier this week and I have not yet found time to follow Naomi on her travels to Rakhine State (near Bangladesh) and Kachin State (up north).
I did fall under the spell of a few of the recipes.
I give you first a 'meltingly lush' treat that might not be out of place for a late Saturday morning breakfast or Sunday brunch.
Fried Sesame-Seed Bananas
Makes 24; Serves 6 to 8
There are versions of sweet banana treats all over Southeast Asia. Sometimes the bananas are fried in a batter until crisp, sometimes they’re cooked in oil or lightly grilled, sometimes they’re simmered in sweetened coconut milk.
These fried bananas are meltingly lush, and they’re given an extra layer of flavor by a squeeze of lime juice. (Some friends like a little dusting of chile powder on top as well, for that hot-sweet-tart hit.) You can also serve them with tart-sweet mango or lime sorbet. They’re good for dessert, but almost better as a snack. Make plenty, for it’s hard to turn down second helpings.
Choose ripe bananas that are still firm. Cutting regular bananas crosswise in half mimics the size of the small sweet bananas that are used in Southeast Asia. If you do come across a hand of small sweet bananas, by all means use them.
The sesame seeds in the batter give a pleasing crunch that turns to chewiness as the bananas cool, as well as a mild sesame flavor.
1 cup rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
1 cup sesame seeds
6 bananas or 12 small tropical bananas
Peanut oil for deep-frying
3 limes, cut into wedges, or sorbet or ice cream for serving (optional)
Combine the flours, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Slowly add the water, stirring to make a smooth, thick batter. Stir in the sesame seeds. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Peel the bananas. If using large bananas, cut crosswise in half. Cut the pieces or the small bananas lengthwise in half (in either case, you will now have 24 pieces). Set aside.
Put out a slotted spoon or a spider by your stovetop along with one or two plates. Set a deep-fryer, stable wok, or wide heavy pot over medium heat. Add 2 inches of oil, raise the heat to high, and heat until the oil reaches 360°F. Use a thermometer to check the temperature, or drop a dollop of batter into the oil: If it sinks slowly to the bottom and then rises to the surface, the oil is at temperature. If it bobs right up without sinking or darkens immediately, the oil is too hot—lower the heat slightly; if it doesn’t rise to the surface, the oil is not yet hot enough.
Stir the batter, then drag 1 piece of banana through the batter and slide it carefully into the hot oil. Repeat with 2 or 3 more pieces, one by one. Fry, moving the pieces around carefully and keeping them from sticking to one another, until lightly golden and crispy. Lift out of the oil with the spider or slotted spoon, pausing to let excess oil drain off, and transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining bananas and batter.
Serve hot, with the lime wedges, sorbet, or ice cream, if you like.
(* Excerpted from Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012. Photographs by Richard Jung)