Fall is one of my favorite times—the leaves are turning, the back to school buzz starts up, and the newest cookbooks are released. I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in the Artisan Cookbook Challenge—where a few booksellers across the country cooked through Naomi Duguid’s gorgeous new book, Burma: River of Flavor.
I had never had Burmese food before, but imagined that it might resemble some of the cuisines from Burma’s borders: Thailand, India and China.
Looking through the book, it became clear that while Burmese food shares some characteristics with these other cuisines, it has a unique flavor all of its own.
After much salivating, I narrowed down my choices to items that we could enjoy throughout the week.
Tender Greens with Crispy Fried Shallots
Tart-Sweet Chile Garlic Sauce
Easy grilled chicken
Kachin Pounded Beef with Herbs
Lemongrass Pork Sliders
Duguid recommends that you make some of the Burma Basics in advance—so I fried up shallots and garlic, distilled the oils, toasted up chickpea flour and made the chile garlic sauce in advance. All of these basics were easy to put together, and keep in the fridge or on the shelf for a few weeks!
We made the Tender Greens with bok choy and spinach. It was a delicious salad that was easy to put together, but had surprising depth of flavor. The greens are quickly blanched in boiling water and drained. They are then chopped and tossed with a number of elements that add crunch and texture: fresh shallots, chopped peanuts, fried shallots and garlic. Then the salad is lightly coated with toasted chickpea flour and dried shrimp powder that add both flavor and unctuousness. Finally, lime juice and shallot oil are massaged into the greens for a light vinaigrette.
The Mandalay Grated Carrot Salad was equally easy: carrots are grated on a box grater, then lightly pounded with lime juice and fish sauce to soften. They’re tossed with crunchy roasted peanuts and fried shallots, coated lightly with the shrimp powder & toasted chickpea flour and tossed with chile, salt and a little fresh mint or coriander. It was sweet and spicy and refreshing all at the same time.
The Easy Grilled Chicken was hands down my sweetie’s favorite. I rubbed bone-in chicken breasts with a flavor mixture made of turmeric, chile powder, minced garlic and ginger, and a little fish sauce. We threw them on a hot grill for about twenty minutes and the end result was fantastic—well seasoned, complex flavor in the breast meat with lightly charred skin. Delicious!
My favorite was the Kachin Pounded Beef—which is simmered with evocative Sichuan pepper, lightly seared and then pounded with a spice mixture that includes chile powder, a bit more toasted Sichuan pepper, ginger, garlic and fresh coriander. The resulting mixture was delicious and aromatic served on jasmine rice, with a little Chile Garlic Sauce to give it heat.
The Lemongrass pork sliders were a fun addition to the meal—the lemongrass, ginger, shallots and garlic add flavor, while jasmine rice binds what is essentially, a Burmese meatball. We ate them with rice and greens, but had fun imagining additional serving suggestions: on a baguette with carrot salad and fresh coriander heaped on top; or in a soup, perfumed with ginger and garlic.
We ended our meal with the Tapioca-Coconut Delight—I cooked pearls of tapioca with sugar and then cooled them. Meanwhile, I whisked together egg yolks with brown sugar and coconut milk that had been thickened with a bit of rice flour. Once this thickened, I poured it over the tapioca layer and cooled again. We served a scoop with fresh peaches for a light finish to our flavorful meal.
Duguid is known for writing thoughtfully researched cookbooks that make foods from far-flung areas accessible to those of us stateside. This book doesn’t disappoint. It’s chock full of information about Burma’s political and cultural history, that adds meaningful background; it includes a handy guide to pairing recipes for both larger meals and weeknight suppers; and lovely photographs of the people and food top off the collection. With a small investment of time, and almost no specialty equipment or special skills required, we were transported to the rivers of flavor that Burma has to offer.
|Slicing shallots for Fried Shallots and Shallot Oil|
|Slicing garlic for Fried Garlic and Garlic Oil|
|Tart-Sweet Chile Garlic Sauce|
|Preparing the greens|
|Mis en place for Tender Green Salad|
|Tender greens with crispy fried shallots|
|Mandalay Grated Carrot Salad|
|Easy grilled chicken|
|Aromatics for Kachin Beef|
|Kachin Pounded Beef with Herbs|
|Aromatics for Lemongrass Sliders|
|Tapioca-Coconut Delight with fresh peaches|