Monday, April 3, 2017

Burma Superstar: Beef Curry with Potatoes

I have a particular fondness for Asian cuisine, and enjoy branching out my repertoire to discover other styles of Asian cooking to try. I recently received a review copy of Burma Superstar by Desmond Tan and Kate Leahy.

This cookbook not only shares a look into the food and culture of Burma, renamed Myanmar in 1989, but is a companion cookbook to the restaurant of the same name in San Francisco. I didn't realize this was a restaurant at first, I just thought it was a cool title for a cookbook, but apparently it's a very popular eatery that I would definitely like to try the next time I'm in the Bay Area.

Burma Superstar straddles the line between being an excellent source of recipes for Burmese cuisine, and a book for fans of the restaurant to recreate their favorite dishes. This is my first venture into learning about the food of Burma/Myanmar. Myanmar shares borders with Thailand, Laos, China, and India, so many of its culinary influences may seem similar at times with its neighbors.

You will find a chapter devoted to Curries and Slow-Cooked Dishes along with one focused on Stir-Fries and Fast-Cooked Dishes. Curry powder, fish sauce, cilantro, and Thai basil are only a few of the ingredients found within the book that are also prevalent in nearby cultures. I was fascinated to learn more about what makes the cuisine of Myanmar so unique in comparison. It seems to capture the best of its neighbors and bring it all together.

Some of the recipes in the book are restaurant favorites, such as the famous Tea Leaf Salad and Kebat, which is a home-cooked dish popular in Myanmar and adapted slightly as a restaurant-style version at Burma Superstar. Both the home-style and restaurant-style versions are found in the book featuring several protein options ranging from shrimp, tofu, chicken, and beef. I'd like to try them all!

Since Mother Nature isn't being quite fair to us just yet, subjecting us to too much rain and gloom even with the whole "April showers" mentality, I decided to start with one of the slow-cooked curries. I've tried curries from various cultures, namely Indian, Japanese, and Thai, and have enjoyed them all, appreciating their diversity. This was my first time trying a Burmese curry. I decided upon the Beef Curry with Potatoes, which is offered at Burma Superstar with lamb as well if you prefer that to beef.

Featuring a short laundry list of ingredients including tons of garlic, ginger, lemongrass, onion, Thai chiles, bay leaves, fish sauce, turmeric, paprika, Madras curry powder, garam masala, and more, this is an incredibly fragrant and delicious dish.

Cubes of beef are slow cooked in this aromatic sauce until fork tender. Chunks of Yukon gold potatoes round out the curry, and offer a bit of starch.

I'm not sure if my curry simply didn't reduce enough during the cooking process, but it did not thicken as much as I would have expected for a curry. It was kind of like a thick stew, but still somewhat thinner than some other Indian curries I've tried. I guess saying, "until thickened" is relative depending on the curry style.

Normally I would serve curry over rice (which soaks up all that amazing liquid), but in this case since it contains potatoes I simply served it as is in a bowl with a spoon, much like a typical stew. It was delicious! I'm not sure if mine was identical to what is served at Burma Superstar, but regardless it tasted of pure comfort.

I really enjoyed exploring this new-to-me Southeast Asian cuisine through the eyes and words and kitchen of Desmond Tan. Thank you as well to Ten Speed Press for sharing this lovely book with me and other readers who will now have the privilege of trying something new and different to us, a taste of Myanmar by way of San Francisco.

Beef Curry with Potatoes
Serves 4; 6 as part of a larger meal
(From Burma Superstar)

2 1/2 pounds beef stew meat
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup canola oil (you can probably get away with using a bit less)
1-ounce piece ginger, peeled and thickly sliced lengthwise into slabs
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 1/2 cups finely diced yellow onion
1/3 cup minced garlic
2 to 3 thinly sliced Thai chiles or 2 small dried chiles
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4 cups water
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
3/4 teaspoon garam masala
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes (about 4), cubed
Spoonful of plain whole milk or Greek yogurt (optional)
1 cup cilantro sprigs, for garnish
1 lime or lemon, cut into wedges, for garnish

Trim away the sinew from the beef and cut the meat into 1/2-to-1-inch cubes. Transfer to a bowl and use your hands to mix with the paprika, turmeric, and salt. Let the beef marinate at room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients, or refrigerate overnight.

In a 6-quart pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and cook until the edges become slightly browned, 2 minutes. Stir in the lemongrass and cook until slightly softened, 2 minutes.

Add the onions, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 4 minutes, stirring often to keep the onions from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Stir in the garlic, chiles, and bay leaves. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until most of the water from the onions has been cooked out and a glossy layer of oil has risen to the surface, about 10 minutes.

Add the beef and fish sauce and stir to coat. Pour in the water. Increase the heat, bring to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer (at this point I highly suggest taking a few minutes to skim the impurities and some of the excess oil from the surface--there was a lot of scum on mine). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is beginning to become tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Stir in the curry powder, garam masala, and potatoes. Pour in more water if the curry looks thick. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes more.

Ideally, let the curry sit for at least 20 minutes before serving to allow the beef to soak in the curry flavor as it cools. Bring to a simmer before serving, and taste, adding more salt or fish sauce if desired. Stir in the yogurt. Serve with bowls of cilantro and lime wedges at the table.

Note: You may swap out the beef for lamb if you prefer to make a lamb curry instead.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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