Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Burma: Rivers of Flavor

an army of shallots
It’s my favorite time of the year at the bookstore.  The fall influx of cookbooks is about to begin, and that means it’s also time for a new Artisan Cookbook Challenge!  This year, a few Indie booksellers from stores around the country were sent advance copies of Naomi Duguid’s new book Burma:Rivers of Flavor and instructions to test the recipes on our friends, and I was one of those lucky booksellers.  Duguid's book Flatbreads & Flavors has long been a staple in my kitchen, so I was thrilled to participate.

When I heard about the challenge, I was immediately intrigued.  I knew almost nothing about Burma.  In fact, when I mentioned the book, my coworker and I discovered that neither of us had a solid grasp on the country’s geography.  She thought it was coastal and similar to Thailand; I pictured snow-capped mountains.  Through the power of the internet we learned that the country has 1,200 miles of continuous coastline and a high point of 19,295 feet in the Himalayan foothills - it turned out that we were both right. Hooray for learning!

A few days later I had the book in hand.  I immediately delved into the introductory chapters and began making some of the Burma Basics:  red chile oil, shallot oil, fried shallots, toasted chickpea flour, and dried shrimp powder.  I knocked out a batch of each in an hour or so one afternoon and stashed them in glass jars for later use.

red chile, tomatillo, and tomato chutneys
Duguid includes so many delicious-sounding recipes that I had a hard time narrowing down my menu.  I decided on about a dozen recipes that I wanted to try and invited a group of 15 willing tasters to my little apartment on a Sunday night.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I would not need to buy any exotic dried spices.  The flavors come primarily from fresh ingredients: shallots, garlic, lime, ginger, chiles, and cilantro.  I only needed tumeric, Sichuan peppercorns, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and dried shrimp powder to round things out.
serving up the pounded beef with herbs

Since I would be at work until 5pm on the night of the party, I started my preparations on Friday night by making three condiments that would hold happily for several days: fresh red chile chutney, sour-plum chutney with chile oil (substituting tomatillos for the plums as suggested), and standout tomato chutney.  The three sauces were pleasantly diverse in flavor and texture and were nestled in the fridge in about an hour.

green mango salad
On Saturday I made the kachin pounded beef with herbs by simmering, then searing stew beef before beating an herb paste into the fibers of the meat with a mallet.  This is the perfect dish to make when you need to let off a little steam!  I roasted several beautiful eggplants for the eggplant delight, which has a subtle flavor that is greatly enhanced by the addition of shallot oil and turns a surprising shade of green when the eggplant puree is combined with shallot oil and tumeric.  I also made the pale yellow shan tofu, which took about 15 minutes to cook but would have to set in the fridge overnight.  Made from chickpea flour, salt, and water, it has a cooking process and texture similar to polenta made with finely ground cornmeal.
Mandalay carrot salad

shan tofu salad
 The shan tofu salad and Mandalay carrot salad were the surprise hits of the night.  Everyone was intrigued by the chickpea tofu and its delicious lime leaf dressing, and there were many exclamations of amazement over the carrot salad.    The kachin pounded beef with herbs had the carnivores groaning with pleasure (myself included).  Also on the menu were minced chicken with tomato and galangal, tamarind-sweet potato curry, and a refreshing green mango salad.  Steamed jasmine rice and a bowl of cucumber slices provided a nice backdrop for the broad array of dishes, and the chutneys provided heat for those who wanted it.

tamarind-sweet potato curry
 One of the best features of this dinner was the cost.  I cooked 12 different recipes to feed 15 hungry people and spent a less than $8 per person, and there were leftovers!  The clearly written, approachable recipes aren't too intimidating but are interesting enough for the experienced cook looking to expand his or her horizons    I plan to try many more of the recipes - this cookbook is a keeper!


  1. Oh, yum! Everything looks beautiful and delicious!

    1. Thanks! It was all so tasty I might have to do this again!