Punchy Crunchy Ginger Salad is an intensely flavored dish. According to Naomi Duguid, author of Burma: Rivers of Flavor, salad is "one of the best entry points into Burmese cuisine." Like most Asian dishes, this salad includes a spectrum of flavors including salty, sweet, spicy, and tart. Napa cabbage is tossed with fresh tomatoes, pickled ginger, dried shrimp, and chopped roasted peanuts. You should be able to locate most of these ingredients at your local grocery store but if not, check out an Asian market. To learn more about Burmese cuisine, click here.
Punchy-Crunchy Ginger Salad
A salad made of pickled ginger is a good substitute for Burmese Tea-Leaf Salad when pickled or fermented tea leaves are hard to find, because it delivers a similar refreshing lightly pickled taste. Use Japanese pickled ginger, or make your own. If you don’t have the soybeans, just increase the amount of peanuts; use some whole and some chopped for a variety of textures. The tomato should be cut into long thin wedges, almost like shavings.
Serve as a snack or as a salad.
1 cup pickled ginger, rinsed thoroughly in cold water, drained, and sliced into fine strands
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
1/2 cup roasted or fried split soybeans or split peas, store-bought or homemade
1/2 cup Chopped Roasted Peanuts (see below)
1/2 cup lightly toasted sesame seeds (see below)
1/4 cup Dried Shrimp Powder
1/2 cup thin wedges of Roma or other fleshy tomato
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage
1/4 cup Fried Garlic (see below)
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons Garlic Oil, or to taste (see below)
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
Place all the ingredients except the garlic oil and salt in a bowl and mix together
with your hands, blending well. Add the garlic oil and salt and mix again. Taste and
adjust the seasonings as needed.
Chopped Roasted Peanuts
Makes a scant 1 cup
These are handy to have when you are making Burmese salads, so it’s worth making a cupful or more at a time and storing them in a jar. Buy raw peanuts (in their papery skins or not, it doesn’t matter)—you’ll find them in Asian groceries and health food stores.
1 cup raw peanuts, with or without their papery skins
Place a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat, add the peanuts, and cook, stirring them frequently with a wooden spoon or spatula to prevent burning. Adjust the heat if necessary so they toast and change color gradually, in patches; as they heat up, the skins, if still on, will separate from the peanuts. When they have firmed up a little and are dotted with color, remove from the heat, but keep stirring for another minute or so.
If using skin-on nuts, carry the skillet over to a sink or a garbage can and blow over it gently to blow away the loose skins. Rub the nuts between your palms to loosen the remaining skins and blow again; don’t worry if there are still some skins on your peanuts. Pick out and discard any nuts that are scorched and blackened.
Transfer the nuts to a wide bowl and set aside for 10 minutes or more to cool and firm up.
Once the peanuts are cool, place them in a food processor and process in short, sharp pulses, stopping after three or four pulses, before the nuts are too finely ground. You want a mix of coarsely chopped nuts and some fine powder. Alternatively, place the nuts in a large stone or terra-cotta mortar and pound with the pestle to crush them into smaller pieces. Use a spoon to move the nuts around occasionally; you don’t want to pound them into a paste, just to break them into small chips.
Transfer the chopped nuts to a clean, dry jar; do not seal until they have cooled completely. Store in the refrigerator.
Toasted Sesame Seeds
Toasting sesame seeds is like roasting peanuts, except that the process is very quick. Make sure your sesame seeds are fresh; taste them before you use them. Set a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds and let them heat, shaking the skillet from time to time to ensure that they aren’t scorching; or use a wooden spoon to stir them. After a few minutes, you will start to smell their lovely aroma; keep stirring so they don’t scorch. Cook for another minute or two, until they are lightly touched with gold. Transfer to a wide bowl and let cool completely. Store, once completely cooled, in a clean, dry glass jar.
Dried Shrimp Powder
Makes about 1 ½ loosely packed cups
Dried shrimp are an important source of flavor as well as protein through most of Southeast Asia. In Burmathey are often used powdered. The soft powder gives a subtle depth of flavor and also thickens sauces.
Look for largish dried shrimp, more than 1/2 inch long if possible, and the darker-colored (more red than pale pink or beige), the better. Try to get shrimp that are a little soft rather than completely hard. The easiest way to grind them is in a food processor (traditionally, they are pounded in a mortar).
1 cup or more good-quality dried shrimp
(see the headnote)
Place the shrimp in a bowl with water to just cover and set aside to soak for 10 minutes (20 minutes if the shrimp are very hard and dry). Drain and pat dry.
Transfer to a food processor and process until reduced to a slightly uneven, fluffy powder, from 1to 3 minutes, depending on the toughness of the shrimp. Pause and wipe down the sides of the bowl occasionally if necessary. Store in a glass jar.
Fried Garlic and Garlic Oil
Makes about ¼ cup fried garlic and 1/3 cup garlic oil
You can use a similar technique to make garlic oil, but slice the garlic thicker (a scant 1/4 inch), rather than into thin slices, since it cooks much more quickly than shallots. Heat 1/2 cup peanut oil over medium-high heat, add 1/3 cup or so sliced garlic, and fry over medium heat until just golden, about 5 minutes. Lift out the garlic and set aside to crisp up. Store the oil as above. Fried garlic does not keep as well as fried shallots; refrigerate and use within 5 days.
Excerpted from Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright 2012. Photographs by Richard Jung.