Sunday, October 26, 2014

A New Culinary Encounter

The uniquely shaped Myanmar is situated in Southeast Asia.  You might know it by its former name of Burma. The English name for the country of the Burmese has been up for debate, and it has gone from being called the Union of Burma to the Union of Myanmar, and finally the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. A lot of this confusion probably stems from the fact that the Burmese have two different names for their country used in two different contexts. "Myanma" is the written name and "Bama" is the spoken form. How cool is that! As a linguist, I find this very intriguing.
Let's leave behind all caution and run full out into some delicious Burmese cuisine. Be prepared to use a variety of unconventional and somewhat scary ingredients like the ever present fish sauce loved by the people of Myanmar. The cuisine is influenced by other Asian countries like India, China, and Thailand as well as the religious practices. Although most of the people are Buddhist, there is a significant Muslim population who do not eat pork as well as the Hindu population that does not eat beef. A vegetarian salad and a chicken curry are the way to go. Everyone can eat it no matter their religion, and both dishes display the diverse melting pot that the region's cuisine has to offer.

The word "thoke" means salad in Burmese, but do not think this recipe will give you your typical western style salad. Frsh ginger matchsticks, fried beans and lentils, and cabbage are all doused in a healthy serving of fish sauce. It is definitely not a dish for a super picky fish hater like me, but surprisingly I found it to not be all that bad. I think it had to do with the fried topping that I loved so much. I did have to pick out the ginger because I discovered that I cannot stand the stuff raw. It is so spicy!
Gin Thoke
1 thumb fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
4 cups shredded napa cabbage
¼ cup dry lentils, soaked for 12 hours in water
¼ cup dry chickpeas, soaked for 12 hours in water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp chickpea flour
1-2 tbsp fish sauce, as needed
1-2 tbsp peanut oil, as needed plus more for frying
1 lime, juiced
2 tbsp crushed peanuts
lime slices, to garnish

Pat the soaked lentils and chickpeas dry. Heat some peanut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the lentils, chickpeas, sesame seeds, and garlic. Fry until golden. Remove the fried goodies from the pan, clean it out, and then heat it back over medium heat. Toss in the chickpea flour and toast for a minute until aromatic and golden. Allow everything to cool. Toss the ginger, cabbage, lentil and chickpeas mixture, chickpea flour, lime juice, fish sauce, and peanut oil together. Add more oil or fish sauce to taste. Garnish with lime slices and crushed peanuts. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.

Ohn no khao swè is a very popular chicken and noodle curry that is cooked down in a sauce of coconut milk and topped with a variety of ingredients. I found it to be pleasantly filling; a perfect cold weather comfort food. Don't worry if you're not a fan of fish sauce, it does more to add saltiness to the curry than flavor.

Ohn No Khao Swè
¾ pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1” peeled fresh ginger, minced
1 shallot, sliced
2 tbsp chickpea flour
½ cup water
1 ½ cups chicken broth
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground paprika
1 cup canned coconut milk
2 tsp fish sauce
8 ounces spaghetti noodles
lime slices
1 boiled egg per person, peeled and sliced

Heat a pan to medium heat and brown the chicken thighs, about 1 minute per side. Remove the thighs to a plate, pour some oil into the pan, and cook the onion, garlic, and ginger for about 10 minutes, until the onion is tender and translucent. In a food processor, process the onion mixture until it is finely minced. Add it back to the pan along with the shallot, paprika, and turmeric. Whisk in the chickpea flour mixture, and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth and chicken thighs to a boil in a pot. Stir in the onion spice mixture, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. Remove the chicken from the pot, shred it up, and discard the fat. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, and chicken to the pot. Simmer for 10 minutes. Toss the noodles in the pot, remove it from the heat, and serve topped with lime slices and the boiled egg.

Myanmar probably was not the best decision to cook after working all day. The recipes were a little time consuming, I was exhausted and starving, and some of the ingredients I bought were just not quite right. (Burmese food is not exactly top of my western Tennessee Kroger’s stock list.) Needless to say, after three hours of cooking, I was finally able to enjoy my Burmese feast at 11 o’clock at night. I'm pretty sure that just about anything would have tasted good at that point. I did enjoy my Burmese meal. The fish sauce was a little fishy, but everything else was pretty good. It was not my favorite, but it was far from the worst thing I've ever eaten. And now I can say I've had something with fish sauce and enjoyed it!

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