Cooking is instinctive, you don’t need exact quantities, you just need to connect your intelligence to your sense of taste
When I was much much younger, I would go round to see my Great Grandmother ‘Mimi’ (so dubbed as she refused to answer to anything mum/granny-esque) after school where I would be greeted by an overwhelmingly wonderful smell of spices and a never-ending supply of sweet treats and mouth-watering meals.
Mimi was born in Mandalay, Burma 05th January 1924 and grew up there until the Japanese invasion in 1941. On the 28th March 1942, when she was only 18, they began to make their escape initially fearing they would have to travel overland. With the threat of robbery on their journey, her father insisted that they sell their jewellery and any possessions of worth, however at the last moment they were awarded seats on a plane (although these did not come without a cost, and was on one of the last planes to successfully leave the country). They took a train to Myitkyina and then flew to Assam. Mimi would remember how difficult it had been to pack just a small suitcase of her belongings, leaving her pet, a large collection of dolls, and the life she had known behind.
Once in India, she enlisted as a nurse in the British Army, lying about her age to do so. However on her first day, she decided blood and vomit was just not her cup of tea, and so was moved to a clerical position. It was there she would meet my Great Grandfather Ernie, and they married in Jubblepore on 24th May 1947, honeymooning in Cashmere. They would then travel over to England when the base was closed and set their roots, building a rather large family in the process.
Through these happenings, we have ended up with some fantastic family recipes being passed down through the generations, which would often be brought out for family parties, with each branch of the tree bringing along a dish and together creating quite the feast. As these have been passed down, often as rough scribbles on scraps of paper they have changed along the way so may not be entirely authentic, however, they are entirely delicious!
Burmese curries I would say are a good mix between Thai and Indian, relying greatly on aromatic spices, such as turmeric, cardamom, ginger, but staying rather more simplistic. We serve them alongside ‘Toli Molis’ a selection of side dishes which enable you to make the meal how you like. I often go simple with slices of lime, chopped fresh coriander, and chili flakes, however, I remember bowls of crispy fried noodles, roasted gram flour, fried chilies and the oil from making these, prawn powder, raw onion slithers crowding the table. This means that one curry can be suited to the individual, perfect for a large family, or one with more fussy folk joining the table!
This curry is Panthe Kowswe (Pronounced Pan-thay Cow-sway), and in its Non-Toli Moli’d state has a rich flavor with no spicy heat (I chuck some chili flakes on after), and a squeeze of lime towards the end of cooking gives it a nice freshness. Relying on a good ‘gravy’ it’s a fairly thin yet substantial curry, you want your noodles swimming a bit to give them a good coating. I also advise making sure your meat is cut small into roughly 1cm pieces, this enables the flavour to really get into the sauce.
There are a few unusual ingredients in this, such as blachan, a dried shrimp paste, (it stinks, but once in the pan it blends perfectly and adds a great rounded flavour, I got mine from Amazon) and Besan/Gram flour, made from chickpeas it gives a lovely nutty flavour whilst thickening the sauce in a less gloopy way than cornflour, both are staples in Burmese and many southeast Asian dishes, and well worth having in the cupboard.
I think this is best served with rice noodles, however egg noodles or rice work great too, it is also gluten and dairy-free. This recipe does make at least 5 portions and often tastes even better on the second day, so don’t go throwing left-overs away!
Meat-wise, I have used pheasant thigh for the purposes of this write-up, however, I have used duck, pigeon, venison, partridge, all sorts before, and each brings a different flavour to the table. Pork or chicken will work if you are short of the game too!
Approx. 500g Meat (Cut into small cubes about 1cm)
1 Large Onion (pounded or very finely chopped)
4 Cloves Garlic (Crushed)
3tsp Grated Fresh Ginger
1 Tsp Turmeric
3 Tsp Curry Powder
5-10 Cardamom Pods (optional, crush pods, de-seed, grind seeds)
1 Tsp Blachan (dried shrimp paste)
½ Pack of Creamed Coconut (or the solid from a chilled tin of full-fat coconut milk)
2 Tbsp Gram Flour
2 Tbsp Groundnut / Rapeseed oil
1 Tbsp chopped fresh Coriander Leaf
½ fresh Lime
Salt & Pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a large saucepan, add the solid fats from tin of coconut milk, or half a block of creamed coconut. Mix with oil and fry gently to combine and reduce slightly.
- Add in onion, ginger and garlic, fry until water content is steamed off and mix begins to brown.
- Add Tumeric, Curry Powder and Blachan (and Cardamom if using) and fry for a further minute. Take care not to burn the paste at this point.
- Add the meat and mix well so that it becomes coated with the mixture, and the meat is sealed.
- Add water and a tablespoon of chopped Coriander. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until the meat has cooked. Stir regularly during this time to stop the bottom from catching.
- Add the liquid from the coconut milk, or slightly more creamed coconut block. (All down to personal taste)
- Mix the Gram Flour with a small amount of water, ensuring any lumps are removed, gradually add more water until it is roughly a batter consistency, it should be able to pour.
- Pour into the pan whilst stirring to prevent lumps forming when it hits the water. Simmer for a further 10 minutes or until needed, add more water if it becomes too thick.
- Taste and add salt and pepper as required. Add the juice of half a lime and stir well.
- Serve hot with Toli Molis and Noodles/Rice.
Blog written by Alice Wootton