Monday, 24 March 2014

Smoky Bacon and Watercress Noodles (Recipe)

photo 4
Smoky Bacon and Watercress Noodle Soup

There's a sudden chill in the Spring air, and I feel like I need warming up, but I don't want to indulge in something too stodgy. 

This noodle soup is sweet, smoky and slightly sharp - which makes for a satisfying, but light and refreshing dish. 

It takes no time at all to make and uses mainly store cupboard ingredients, so is perfect for a week-night meal. 

This dish is a recent invention, but it's already become a favourite at home. 

You can switch the leafy herbs according to what's available - try mizuna, peashoots, or a friend of mine made a lovely suggestion of using wild garlic which is in season right now.

Smoky Bacon and Watercress Noodles

Smoky Bacon and Watercress Noodles 

Serves 2
  • 6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
  • 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 300g fresh udon or rice noodles
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp wine vinegar
  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced
  • Large handful of trimmed watercress
  • Pinch of sweet smoked paprika to serve

Combine the bacon, stock and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Immediately turn the heat down to medium and simmer briskly for 5 minutes. Take out the cooked bacon, slice into strips and set to one side.
Now bring the stock back to the boil, add the fresh noodles, turn the heat down to medium and let the noodles cook through in the simmering stock - udon will cook in 3 minutes, rice noodles take 1 minute. Take out the noodles and divide between two bowls.
Top the noodles with the sliced bacon and drizzle a tablespoon each of light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and vinegar over each bowl. Bring the stock back to the boil one last time and then pour it carefully over the noodles.
Garnish with the sliced spring onion and watercress and sprinkle with a little paprika. Serve immediately.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Burmese Meatball Curry Recipe - A-thar-lohn-hin

Burmese Meatball Curry

A-thar-lohn-hin aka meatball curry is eaten throughout Burma, but especially in Upper Burma.

It is usually made with goat (seit-thar), but beef (a-mair-thar) is also popular. Lamb makes an excellent substitute, although is uncommonly used in Burma, partly because the Burmese word for "lamb" is thoh which also sounds like our word for "rotten".

It's also good using 50:50 pork and beef mince, and the higher up you travel in Burma, the more likely pork will feature in the mix.

Traditionally served with steamed rice, you could also eat it with naan bread, or even serve on noodles for a Burmese take on spaghetti and meatballs.

Burmese Meatball Curry (A-thar-lohn hin)
Serves 4-6

For the sauce
  • 4 medium onions, diced 
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 4 tbsp groundnut or other neutral oil
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes 
  • 3 red finger chillies 
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika 
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce - good quality - I like Three Crabs

For the meatballs (makes 20-25)
  • 500g minced goat (substitute beef or lamb) 
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • Stalks from a bunch of coriander, minced 
  • 1 heaped tbsp tapioca starch 
  • 1 egg white 
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1 pinch MSG or 1 tbsp Marigold vegetable bouillon
  • 2 tbsp water
For the garnish
  • Fresh coriander leaves, torn
In a saucepan, fry the onions, garlic and turmeric in the oil for 5 minutes on a medium heat till soft. Add the tomatoes but don't throw away the can. Fry for another 10 minutes and then add two cans full of water. Turn the heat to high and then bring to the boil and then turn the heat to medium low, add the chillies, paprika and fish sauce and simmer for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and then form into ping pong balls - you'll make about 25.

Get a large frying pan and add a 2cm depth of water. Bring to the boil, add the meatballs in a layer and then turn the heat down to medium. Flip the meatballs as soon as they're firm - usually after 5 minutes or so.

Continue to fry the meatballs on a medium heat until the water sizzles away, the meatballs begin to brown (flip again to brown all over) and the fat begins to seep out of the meatballs - this method is called hsi byun in Burmese ie "the oil returns". Discard this oil, and then combine the meatballs with the tomato sauce.

Heat through so the flavours of the sauce and the meatballs mingle and everything is piping hot and then serve, scattered with fresh coriander leaves.


Sunday, 16 March 2014

Top Gear in Burma Special

MiMi's Burmese Kitchen
On the road back from Pindaya in 1989.
Shortly afterwards, we overturned the car trying to avoid a bullock.

As Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond have discovered in the Top Gear Burma Christmas (?) special which has just been shown on BBC2, transport in Burma (also known as Myanmar) is interesting

For instance, as a result of British colonial rule, we used to drive on the left-hand side and so all the cars are left-hand drive, but in 1970, Ne Win, the military ruler who was in charge of Burma for decades, decided out of superstition that he would make everyone switch to driving on the right as apparently we were sliding to the left politically (he also once shot at his own reflection in a mirror because he believed that would make him safe from assassination). This change made, and makes, driving in Burma slightly terrifying, as the driver can't really see the road properly. 

And until recently, only military and government officials were allowed to import cars, and so new cars were relatively scarce and so the cars remained right-hand drive. My own family's cars date from the sixties and seventies and actually appreciated in value. 

Because of this, I'm not sure I've actually been in a car in Burma which had a seat-belt, but the Burmese use this to our advantage. I have 16 first cousins alone and the whole family is pretty close, so expeditions are planned with military precision, by which I mean vehicles need to be pressed into service to ensure all of us get to our destination. 

The lack of seatbelts lets us reduce the number of cars we need - the Burmese phrase is "shih' doh, nao' soht" which means "push forward, move back" and it describes how we sit - I'll shimmy forward and my cousin Khine will shimmy back, and that way we can get 4 people in the back of the car instead of 3. 

However, my absolute favourite way to travel in Burma is in the back of a flatbed truck, which we call a pick-up. It means we can cram even more people in, as we spread out a bamboo mat, bunch up together and sit cross-legged on top.

Dangerous as hell I'm sure, but there's no finer feeling than the wind ruffling through your hair as you speed along in the back of the truck at night in the open air.

With my mum in  the back of a pick-up

The new road to Mandalay
MiMi's Burmese Kitchen
On the road to Mogok in 1987
Just trucking
Copy of IMG_5070
There is a bus beneath the monks
On the way to dinner
Onion truck
Burmese rickshaw in Mandalay, known as a "side-car"
With cousins in a pick-up truck

The chicken ladies of Popa come running to our van
"Try our fried chicken!"
A fried chicken's batty