This was a post I started as an entry for the round of Project Food Blog that I didn’t advance to – the photo challenge. I had been spending way too much time with my blog at that point so I decided to take a little break. Speaking of which – thanks for all the support… my silence since then has probably just furthered the point that I’m not a dedicated enough blogger to have deserved to win anyway. It was fun regardless, and got me back to actually posting on here.
The first time I had Burmese food was about three years ago. My life was forever changed. Until then, Malaysian/Indonesian food was to me the pinnacle of fusion among Asian flavors. They’re similar in many ways, but Burmese food strikes a combination and balance of flavors that takes it to another level. Burma is tucked cozily between Thailand, Laos, China and India. If Burmese food could talk it would speak Thailaochindian… and it would say good things. I’ve always been a little bit intimidated by the idea of cooking Burmese – I’ve made a few things but all in all I’ve kindof left it to be this special thing that I have when I go out. If you’ve never heard of or had Burmese fermented tea leaf salad, you need to stop reading and look it up – if there’s somewhere near you that serves it, forget about this and Go. Eat. I have never gone back to a restaurant explicitly for a salad… until I had that. More on that some other time.
Recently I’ve started pulling back out a book that happens to be the very first Asian cookbook I ever owned. It’s called The Asian Collection. Although it doesn’t focus on any one cuisine in depth, it provides a really nice sample of some pretty classic dishes across Asia. I neglected it for a long time because the recipes are almost too simple – they all fit on one page and often there isn’t much explanation. Without some knowledge and confidence, it can be intimidating with so little to go on. That said, since I’ve taken it back out, everything I’ve made from it has been great – it just requires you to think for yourself a little bit.
This dish is a great variation on chicken noodle soup if you’re looking for something with a little more flavor than chicken, noodles, carrots, celery and onions. It’s a creamy, fragrant, spicy, curried noodle soup and I can’t imagine many things more comforting on a cold rainy day. It seems pretty appropriate to break this one out now when it’s starting to get good and wet here in the Bay.
The ingredients are below and my adaptation of the recipe follows. Enjoy!
Adapted from The Asian Collection
What you’ll need:
Chicken breast – about 3/4 of a pound
Turmeric – 1 teaspoon
Salt – 2 teaspoons
Lemon grass – a stalk or two
Peanuts (roasted) – 3 Tablespoons
Rice (white, long grained) – 2 Tablespoons
Vegetable oil – 2 Tablespoons
Onion – 1 whole
Garlic – 3-5 cloves
Ginger – 2 inch piece
Paprika (or cayenne pepper) – 1/4 teaspoon (less if cayenne)
Red bird chilis – 2
Fish sauce – 2-3 Tablespoons
Water – 1 quart
Somen (wheat noodles) – 8oz
Hard-boiled eggs – 1 for every two servings
Crushed dried chilis
Step 1: Dice and marinate the chicken
Cut the chicken into one-inch or so cubes (I think smaller would actually be a little better). Toss them with the turmeric and salt and let them sit around and soak up some flavor for about 30 minutes.
Intermission – How to dice an onion properly in 5 steps
I’ve been wanting to post this simple technique for a while but never got around to photographing it. If you’re an onion-dicing samurai, move on and let the rest take some time to catch up.
I’m sure there are millions of other posts about it on the internet but one more can’t hurt. This is one of the first things you should learn how to do when learning to cook and maybe the single most useful knife-related skill I’ve ever learned in the kitchen. The photos below should be pretty self explanatory but if not, read on.
1. Cut off the ends
2. Halve pole to pole
3. Cut vertical slices (almost but not all the way through to the back – you don’t want it to fall apart)
4. Cut horizontal slices (also almost but not all the way back)
5. Dice perpendicular to the slices you just made.
Easy, no? *Just don’t slice into your hand making those horizontal slices.
Step 2: Seasoning
Bruise the lemon grass a little bit with a rolling pin or the back of your knife. Tie it into a knot, like you see in the picture a few down below.
Crush the peanuts in a food processor or witha mortar and pestle.
Heat a dry skillet and toast the rice until it’s golden brown. Crush it into a fine powder using either a food processor or mortar and pestle. I found that I had to use a combination of both when I tried to use the food pro. Next time… straight old school by hand with the m&p.
Step 3: Stew
Sautee the onions until they’re soft and then toss in the chicken, garlic, ginger, lemon grass, paprika and chilis. Add the fish sauce and water last and bring everything to a boil. Once you reach a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for between 10 and 15 minutes.
*Tying the lemon grass in a knot not only makes it easy to remove, but also helps expose more of the fibrous, flavorful inner stalk to your broth.*
Step 4: Noodles and topping
While simmering, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook your somen for about 4 minutes. When the noodles are finished, run them under cold water for a minute or so to stop them from overcooking.
You can use the same water to boil your eggs. Boiled eggs are one of the easiest things to make but at the same time there are minute differences in getting them just right. When you’re going to eat them plays a big part in how you want to cook them. If you’re going to eat them right away, you don’t need to shock them in ice water – just run them under cold water for a minute or so to make them peel-able. I like mine just barely hard cooked – if you place them in the water already at a boil, eight minutes should be perfect. If you’re making more than you’ll need at the moment, prepare a bath of ice water to shock them and stop the cooking. This will prevent them from turning green like they would after a slow cooling.
Wash and chop your cilantro and slice your scallions. I like the way scallions look when sliced on the bias, diagonally.
After the chicken is cooked, mix in your ground peanuts and rice to thicken the soup.
Step 5: Eat
I totally left it out the eggs in this picture but trust me that they’re an integral part of this soup. You’ll want to not forget them. The hard cooked yolk, mixed into your broth will add even more creamy thickness.
Divide the noodles between bowls and ladle the soup over them. Top each bowl with a half or a whole egg, scallions, cilantro, another splash of fish sauce and some chilis.