It’s not often that I come across a cookbook that captivates me enough to make me want to cook every single dish in it, but I think I’ve found a match. I was casually perusing the cookbook section of my local library when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted this book: Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid.
As I thumbed through its pages, it dawned on me how little I know about Burmese cooking, or Burmese culture, really. I loved the simplicity of the recipes. Turmeric, shallots, and peanut oil are the basic building blocks to most dishes. Fresh ginger, garlic, chiles, tomatoes, limes, fish sauce, and dried shrimp are layered on to give the food more complexity.
I decided to start with the fried rice because it seemed like the best introduction to Burmese cooking. It’s a simple dish that’s often served for breakfast along with some fried eggs or other leftovers. The cooking method is slightly different from how I would prepare a Chinese-style fried rice, and I had to fight off my instincts to throw in onions, soy sauce, or five-spice powder. I made a few tweaks to the original recipe by adding ginger, garlic, and sliced scallions.
Since peas are in season, I decided to use fresh peas here, but feel free to use frozen ones if that’s more readily available.
MASTERING MY MISTAKES / COOKING NOTES
- Be sure to use cold, cooked rice: Traditionally, fried rice is made with overnight rice as a way to repurpose leftovers into a new dish. That’s why you want to start off this dish with cooked, chilled rice. Freshly cooked rice can be a bit mushy.
Burmese Fried Rice
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil, or any vegetable oil
- 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots, a fairly large bulb
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 4 cups cooked, cold rice (I used brown rice)
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
- 1 teaspoon salt, add more if necessary
- 2 scallions, sliced
- chopped cilantro
- red pepper flakes
- Heat peanut oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add turmeric and let it dissolve in oil. Add shallots and cook for about 3 minutes, until they turn translucent. Be sure to stir the shallots frequently. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add rice and stir. Use the back of your spatula to break up any big clumps of rice. Add peas, salt, and sliced scallions. Continue cooking until rice has heated through, about a few minutes.
- Top rice with chopped cilantro and red pepper flakes, if desired. Serve with your favorite vegetables and protein.
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