I just recently returned from a whirlwind trip through Europe and Southeast Asia, which included my first visit to Myanmar (previously known as Burma). I’d traveled with friends through Europe and Vietnam, but for Myanmar, I joined up on a culinary tour with Robert Carmack and Morrison Polkinghorne. In addition to operating their culinary tours as The Globetrotting Gourmet, they’re also the authors of The Burma Cookbook: Recipes from the Land of a Million Pagodas. It was amazing to get to try many new foods and walk through the markets with these seasoned experts, plus we had the added benefit of being accompanied by Ian Hemphill—author of The Spice and Herb Bible—and his wife Liz, who collectively own Herbie’s Spices, one of Australia’s preeminent spice shops.
Burmese curries are quite different from Indian or Thai curries, for a number of reasons. One of the defining characteristics of Burmese curries is that their base is usually a sizeable amount of oil that’s slowly heated and seasoned with onion/shallots, garlic, and ginger. Burmese curry powders are most similar to Madras-style blends from India, with slight variations, simplified as a result of decades of economic hardship and limited imports.
It bears explaining that this recipe I tossed together is not traditional by any stretch of the imagination. I did use some Burmese curry powder and chile powder that I brought home with me, but that is about the extent of its authentic Burmese roots. (You’ll almost never find coconut in a traditional Burmese curry.) After a long and trying 38-hour route to get me home from Yangon, I was hungry, exhausted, and didn’t have a whole lot of ingredients in my kitchen since I’d been gone for a few weeks.
I tossed what I did have and what sounded good in my rice cooker to cook, closed it up, and 45 minutes later, it had never felt better to get home.
- 3 cups water, or vegetable broth
- 1 cup black beluga lentils
- 1/4 cup raw whole cashews
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 3 Tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 Tablespoons Bragg Liquid Aminos, or low-sodium soy sauce
- 2-3 Tablespoons Burmese curry powder (see recipe below), or your favorite curry mix/garam masala
- 1 Tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cayenne pepper, for garnish (optional)
- Steamed rice, for serving (optional)
- Place the water, lentils, cashews, garlic, coconut oil, Liquid Aminos, curry powder, and sesame seeds into a rice cooker.
- Close it and let it go through its "regular" cycle, about 45 minutes in total. (If cooking in a traditional pot, combine all the ingredients, bring to a boil, cover, and lower the heat. Cook until the lentils are al dente, about 30 minutes after lowering to a simmer.)
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Garnish with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper and additional curry powder.
- Serve hot, as is or over steamed rice.
Simple Burmese Curry Powder (from The Burma Cookbook)
- 3 Tablespoons ground cassia or cinnamon
- 3 Tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 Tablespoons ground allspice, or star anise
- 2 Tablespoons ground fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
Sieve ingredients together to create a fine powder. Store in an air-tight jar. Makes 1/2 cup.