I feel like I’m constantly bypassing the simple recipes in cookbooks in favor of flashier dishes that promise an explosion of flavor or lots of contrasting colors or textures that will photograph well. It’s usually only in the 11th hour that, in a moment of panic at not having enough posts for the upcoming week, I do a quick scan of the short and simple recipes to see what can be made with ingredients I have on hand.
And that’s exactly how I came to make this simple chickpea soup. Hooray for poor planning but a relatively well stocked fridge and pantry!
Although this vegan and gluten-free soup has a relatively short ingredient list, it certainly isn’t short on taste. Chickpeas are simmered with fragrant ginger and lemongrass and then combined with a turmeric shallot mixture. But it’s the toppings that really make this soup something special. Crispy golden shallots add umami, chopped cilantro adds a pop of freshness and a squeeze of lime gives it a slightly sour edge.
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So many Southeast Asian cuisines are known for their dishes that incorporate hot, sour, salty and sweet elements. But Burma seems to place no less importance on umami, which is often referred to as the fifth taste.
We’ve already covered two vegan Burmese basics that add some umami (golden crispy shallots and toasted chickpea flour), but this dried shrimp powder might just be the ultimate way to add some funky umami punch to your favorite Burmese dishes.
Although you certainly won’t be doing anything wrong if you just blend up dried shrimp in your food processor or high-speed blender, I’m going to defer to Southeast Asian cuisine expert extraordinaire, Naomi Duguid on how to correctly make shrimp powder at home.
Duguid recommends soaking the shrimp a bit to soften them up, which is helpful if your blender or processor blades aren’t quite as sharp as they once were.
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Burmese Basics week continues with this toasted chickpea flour, or besan. The Burmese use it as both a thickener for soups and sauces as well as a seasoning for salads.
You should be able to find chickpea flour in an Indian market or health food store. Or if you’ve got a high-speed blender and want to save yourself a trip, feel free to process ground chickpeas until they’ve turned into a fine powder. Just make sure to break out the sifter to remove any lumps or large pieces.
The toasted chickpea flour should only take about 10-15 minutes to make, so there’s no need to make it in huge quantities. But once you taste the depth of flavor and texture it adds to salad, you just might want to.
If you’re not quite sure how to use the stuff, stay tuned. I’ve got a couple recipes that use toasted chickpea flour in the pipeline.
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Before I move on to more Burmese entrees, salads and desserts, I thought it would be best to go back to the basics. So over the next couple days I’ll be focusing on Burmese pantry staples that pop up in just about every savory Burmese recipe.
Would it have made most sense to start with these from the get-go? Of course. But I tend to get impatient and want to skip right ahead to the more exiting and complicated recipes. It’s a little character flaw of mine. And yes, I’m working on it.
Because I’ve been making Indian Burnt Onions for years, it didn’t occur to me to look at the recipes for Crispy Shallots in the Burmese cookbooks I picked up. Big mistake on my part. Because with this recipe, in addition to crispy, sweet shallots, you’ll end up with plenty of shallot-infused oil for your favorite curries and stir-fries. That’s what I call a win-win.
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