Monday, December 31, 2012

Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid

Burma: Rivers of Flavor

This astonishing compendium of Burmese country foods is a travel guide as well as a cookbook. Duguid has long experience in South Asia, and has worked hard to translate foodstuffs and measurements into something Western cooks can create in their own homes. She tells stories, too, of where she gets the recipes and how she’s seen ingredients used. She tells of places she’s visited and people she’s met—after a couple hours with this gorgeously photographed book one feels as though one had spent a week away. It is positively transporting.

Any aspiring visitor to Burma should have a look at this to get a sense of what one will encounter. Duguid makes one comfortable with local greens, and discusses how, despite Burma’s long coastline, river fish are most prized. Contrary to the expectations of many, not all dishes contain red-hot chilies—often these are condiments that one can add to one’s dish after cooking, along with a series of herbs or pastes, so that one may moderate one’s intake.

Interestingly, Duguid explains that Burma may be a vegetarian haven, for many dishes are meatless or can be modified for meatless cooking, using a fermented soybean paste dried into a cracker “tua nao” for flavoring instead of fish sauce or shrimp paste. She introduced me to “Shan Tofu,” a chickpea-flour tofu that she calls “one of the great unsung treasures of Southeast Asia.” Besan, or chickpea flour, is whisked into salted water and heated on a stove until shiny and thick, then poured into a shallow dish to cool. It resembles a cooling polenta in texture, but holds together in soups or salads, and it can be sliced or cubed, eaten plain or fried. I made a brilliant vegan Ma-Po Tofu** with it and I’m going to try it “savory baked” as well.

Another intriguing dish I’d like to try immediately is a porridge made of jasmine rice and peanuts which resembles oatmeal but which is spiced with chili oil and blanched greens, fried shallots and crushed roasted peanuts. It is a blank canvas on which to riff one’s highly flavored specialties. Duguid suggests this sauce can be amended to become a sort of white pasta sauce to serve over rice noodles…adding ingredients until one has a meal-sized mixture of food held together with a spiced rice paste. Very intriguing.

Every library should have a copy of this book. It is a beautiful, recent introduction to life in Burma and it is indispensable for a traveler.

** from Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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