Burma (Myanmar) has opened its doors to the world after years of isolation.
Country has rich culture and traditions reflected in its cuisine which comes alive in Burma, Rivers of Flavor (Artisan Books, October 2012) by Naomi Duguid.
I previously shared the Lush Fried Sesame Seed Bananas recipe from her book.
Second excerpt is a staple of morning food markets in Shan region.
Silky Shan Soup [tohu byawk]
Serves 4 or 5
At morning markets in Shan areas of Burma and northern Thailand, there is always at least one vendor selling this thick, smooth, pale yellow soup for breakfast, hot and enticing, often poured over fine rice vermicelli. Alongside they sell Shan tofu, either in large chunks to take home or cut up and dressed as a salad.
You don’t have to restrict yourself to breakfast, however: serve this vegetarian soup at any meal. On its own or over tender noodles, topped with chopped coriander or other fresh herbs, it’s comfort food par excellence.
1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
8 cups water, or more as needed
3/4 pound fresh rice vermicelli or soba noodles or 1/2 pound dried rice noodles (optional)
1/2 cup chopped coriander
Optional toppings and condiments:
About 1/2 cup Chopped Roasted Peanuts
1/4 cup Shallot Oil or Garlic Oil
1/4 cup Palm Sugar Water (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons Red Chile Oil
1/4 cup Tart-Sweet Chile-Garlic Sauce
1 cup or more chopped blanched pea tendrils
A handful of tender lettuce greens
Combine the chickpea flour and salt in a medium bowl and add 2 cups of the water. Whisk well to blend and to get rid of any lumps (if you are having difficulty getting it perfectly smooth, press it through a sieve). Set aside for the moment.
Bring the remaining 6 cups water to a boil in a wide heavy pot, then lower the heat to medium-high. Whisk the chickpea mixture one more time, then, using a wooden spoon, stir continuously as you slowly add it to the boiling water; the liquid will foam at first. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring to ensure that the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pot. After about 5 minutes the mixture will be smooth and silky, with a sheen to it, and thickened. Reduce the heat to low and continue stirring for another couple of minutes. (If you are not going to serve it immediately, cover tightly to prevent a skin forming and set aside. When you want to reheat it, add a little water to loosen it, since it will thicken as it cools, and heat over medium heat. Whisk a little as it heats to prevent lumps from forming.)
If serving noodles bring a pot of water to a boil and toss in the noodles: fresh ones will cook in 1 or 2 minutes; dried ones will take about 5 minutes. Lift the noodles out of the water and set aside.
Put out any or all of the suggested toppings and condiments, as you choose.
Serve the soup sprinkled with the coriander. Or, if serving the soup over noodles, place some noodles in each bowl, ladle the hot soup over, and sprinkle on the coriander.
Invite your guests to help themselves to the array of toppings and condiments, then stir it all together and eat with pleasure.
Note: If you have soup left over, pour it into a bowl and refrigerate. In a few hours, it will set into Shan tofu; see page 126.
Palm Sugar Water
Makes about 1 cup
This almost-black liquid is a basic seasoning seen on many street-food vendors’ carts and it gives a slightly sweet and smoky aftertaste to many street dishes, especially those of Shan origin. Make sure you buy darker-colored palm sugar; the darker sugar has a smokier taste and less sweetness.
Pour 1 cup water into a small heavy saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Add 3/4 cup chopped palm sugar (1/4 pound or so) and stir with a wooden spoon to help it dissolve as the water heats. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. Let cool, and store in a clean glass jar, well labeled, in a cupboard or pantry.
Chopped Roasted Peanuts
Makes a scant 1 cup
These are handy to have when you are making Burmese salads, so it’s worth making a cupful or more at a time and storing them in a jar. Buy raw peanuts (in their papery skins or not, it doesn’t matter)—you’ll find them in Asian groceries and health food stores.
1 cup raw peanuts, with or without their papery skins
Place a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat, add the peanuts, and cook, stirring them frequently with a wooden spoon or spatula to prevent burning. Adjust the heat if necessary so they toast and change color gradually, in patches; as they heat up, the skins, if still on, will separate from the peanuts. When they have firmed up a little and are dotted with color, remove from the heat, but keep stirring for another minute or so.
If using skin-on nuts, carry the skillet over to a sink or a garbage can and blow over it gently to blow away the loose skins. Rub the nuts between your palms to loosen the remaining skins and blow again; don’t worry if there are still some skins on your peanuts. Pick out and discard any nuts that are scorched and blackened.
Transfer the nuts to a wide bowl and set aside for 10 minutes or more to cool and firm up.
Once the peanuts are cool, place them in a food processor and process in short, sharp pulses, stopping after three or four pulses, before the nuts are too finely ground. You want a mix of coarsely chopped nuts and some fine powder. Alternatively, place the nuts in a large stone or terra-cotta mortar and pound with the pestle to crush them into smaller pieces. Use a spoon to move the nuts around occasionally; you don’t want to pound them into a paste, just to break them into small chips.
Transfer the chopped nuts to a clean, dry jar; do not seal until they have cooled completely. Store in the refrigerator.
Fried Shallots and Shallot Oil
Makes a generous 3/4 cup flavored oil and about
1 1/4 cups fried shallots
Here you get two pantry staples in one: crispy fried shallots and delicious shallot oil. Drizzle shallot oil on salads or freshly cooked greens, or onto soups to finish them. You can fry up shallots each time you need them, but I prefer to make a large batch so they’re around when I need a handful to flavor a salad.
The trick with fried shallots is to cook them slowly, so they give off their moisture and get an even golden brown without any scorched or blackened patches. Once they’re removed from the oil and left to cool, they crisp up.
1 cup peanut oil
2 cups (about 1/2 pound) thinly sliced Asian or European shallots
Place a wide heavy skillet or a large stable wok over medium-high heat and add the oil. Toss in a slice of shallot. As the oil heats, it will rise to the surface, sizzling lightly.
When it’s reached the surface, add the rest of the shallots, carefully, so you don’t splash yourself with the oil, and lower the heat to medium. (The shallots may seem crowded, but they’ll shrink as they cook.) Stir gently and frequently with a long-handled wooden spoon or a spider. The shallots will bubble as they give off their moisture. If they start to brown early, in the first 5 minutes, lower the heat a little more. After about 10 minutes, they should start to color. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the pan or to each other, until they have turned a golden brown, another 3 minutes or so.
Line a plate with paper towels. Use tongs or a spider to lift a clump of fried shallots out of the oil, pausing for a moment to shake off excess oil into the pan, then place on the paper towel. Turn off the heat, transfer the remaining shallots to the plate, and blot gently with another paper towel. Separate any clumps and toss them a little, then let them air-dry 5 to 10 minutes, so they crisp up and cool. (If your kitchen is very hot and humid, they may not crisp up; don’t worry, the flavor will still be there.)
Transfer the shallots to a clean, dry, widemouthed glass jar. Once they have cooled completely, seal tightly. Transfer the oil to another clean dry jar, using all but the very last of it, which will have some stray pieces of shallot debris. (You can set that oil aside for stir-frying.) Once the oil has cooled completely, cover tightly and store in a cool dark place.
Fried Garlic and Garlic Oil
Makes about ¼ cup fried garlic and 1/3 cup garlic oil
You can use a similar technique to make garlic oil, but slice the garlic thicker (a scant 1/4 inch), rather than into thin slices, since it cooks much more quickly than shallots. Heat 1/2 cup peanut oil over medium-high heat, add 1/3 cup or so sliced garlic, and fry over medium heat until just golden, about 5 minutes. Lift out the garlic and set aside to crisp up. Store the oil as above. Fried garlic does not keep as well as fried shallots; refrigerate and use within 5 days.
Red Chile Oil
Makes about 1 cup
Chile oil is quick to make and keeps well at room temperature. You’ll be happy to have it on hand to add a dash of heat and color to many dishes. It can also go on the table as a condiment, with a small spoon so guests can scoop out a little to drizzle on their soup or noodles or whatever. Be sure to warn them that it’s very hot.
1 cup packed dried red chiles, soak in lukewarm water for 20 minutes
1 cup peanut oil
Drain the chiles and remove and discard the stems. Put the chiles in a food processor and process to a coarse paste.
Pour the oil into a nonreactive pan and set over medium heat. Add the chile paste and bring to a bubbling boil, then remove from the heat and let stand until cooled to room temperature.
You can store the oil with the chiles in it, but in Burma the oil is often served on its own. For clear oil, drain the oil through a sieve into a clean, dry glass jar and seal with the lid. Store away from heat and light. You can keep the chiles in another glass jar for a spicy condiment, or discard them.
Tart-Sweet Chile-Garlic Sauce [NGA YOKE THEE ACHIN]
Makes about 1 ¾ cups
A standard hot sauce on tables in Burma, this condiment for every occasion is hot, tart with vinegar, and a little sweet. If possible, make it at least a day before you first want to serve it, because when you make it the sauce will seem watery, but it thickens and the flavors blend after a day.
I reach for this sauce whenever I am eating rice or noodles, and I drizzle it over fried eggs. It’s also a great complement to grilled meat and deep-fried snacks. Once you have a stash of it in your refrigerator, you’ll never want to bother with store-bought Sriracha or other commercial hot sauces again.
1 cup packed dried red chiles
¾ cup water
¼ cup coarsely chopped garlic
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup rice vinegar, or substitute apple cider vinegar
Break the chiles in half, break off the stems, and empty out; if you wish, discard some or all of the seeds. Place the chile pieces in a small pot with the water. If your garlic is somewhat dried out and harsh-tasting (in the winter months), add it too. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the chiles are softened and have swelled up a little. If your garlic is young and fresh, add it for the last minute of cooking.
Combine the chiles and garlic with their liquid, the fish sauce, and sugar in a food processor, and process or grind to a coarse paste; scrape down the sides of the processor bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula. Add the vinegar and process again.
Transfer to a clean, dry glass jar and store in the refrigerator, preferably for at least a day before using. It will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.
(* Excerpted from Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid(Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012. Photographs by Richard Jung)