19 October 2012

Burma: Rivers of Flavor

I love to cook food from all over the world, and especially food from every corner of Asia.  Way back in 1998 I discovered Flatbreads and Flavors by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford and I've been hooked on their books ever since.  I still remember paging through F&F the first time and finally finding recipes I'd been looking for after spending nearly a year in the Middle East.  Their tastes worked for me and I've never been disappointed since then.  I've read through and cooked through all of their books (Beyond the Great Wall, Mangoes and Curry Leaves, Hot Sour Salty Sweet, Homebaking, Seductions of Rice, and Flatbreads and Flavors).  There's a lot to love, but these people even get Central Asia. Really.

I was excited to see that Naomi Duguid was going to be writing a book on Burma despite the couple's divorce a few years ago.   I wondered how the book would be different without Alford.  Rivers of Flavor is more cookbookish (although there are still plenty of wonderful photos) and I think this book may be even better without Alford- certainly I don't think anything was lost without him.  Duguid has always seemed more straightforward.

One difference with this book is that there is a beginning section with recipes for staples you'll probably need to make the rest of the food in the book.  I don't really like to open up to a recipe and see that I'm going to have to prepare 5 different special ingredients to make the dish, but it turned out to be okay because all of the staples make a lot.  So instead of trying to track down shrimp powder, you can just make some and store it till you need it.  It's slightly more work initially than just buying it at the store, but after that, it's the same.  And it may not be any more work in reality if you, like me, have spent a long time trying to find the right ingredient in an ethnic store where it may be difficult to communicate what you need.

Anyway, the recipes are very good.  As usual I have dozens marked to try and I've made about 10 so far. I'll add to this list as I cook more. Updated to link to the final list of recipes.

  • Shrimp powder
  • Chile-garlic sauce (this is amazing)
  • Long bean salad with peanuts (I wished I was in Bishkek to make this one so I could use long beans, but regular old American green beans tasted good too)
  • Okra shallot stir-fry (this was the first time I'd ever cooked okra- I figured I ought to try it since I live in the south, but I couldn't bring myself to make a typical southern okra recipe)
  • Tamarind pumpkin curry
  • Easy coriander tomato omelet
  • Golden egg curry
  • Pale yellow Shan tofu
  • Deep-fried Shan tofu

I liked all of these.  My husband isn't a big hard-boiled egg person so the egg curry wasn't his favorite, but my middle son loved it and had fun helping me fry the eggs.  The okra was a surprising hit- I honestly didn't know how it would go over.  And I loved the bean and peanut salad.

This really is just the beginning.  There is so much to try here and I think this book is easily as good as Duguid's best books.  Highly recommended.

One other thing- I've enjoyed learning more about Burma in this book.  I know much less about Burma than any of the other regions Duguid has covered, particularly the minorities living there.  I really appreciated that she traveled all over the country (this is a reason why I love Beyond the Great Wall) and introduced food from different parts of the country.

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