I'm an indiscriminate salad lover, an unfortunate self identifier in a country full of salad haters. Actually, I take that back. Brits aren't salad haters; it's just that many believe they are (also I still don't understand what is and isn't allowed to be considered a salad). For instance, despite 16 years of frequent positive salad experiences by my hand, my partner still regularly announces he would "quite happily eat salad more often if it tastes like this."
But introduce any salad skeptic to the Burmese style of salad-making and eyes will open, questions will be asked. Ranging from one-dish meals to snacks and rice accompaniments, Burmese salads are no meager tossed lettuce and cucumber affair. In Myanmar cuisine, nearly any ingredient can be transformed into a salad, whether yesterday’s deep fried leftovers or today's market produce.
Burmese salads can be comprised of noodles, rice, meats, vegetables, and herbs. Additional ingredients, just to name a few, can include sliced shallot or onion, fresh and fried garlic, peanut oil, sesame oil, shallot and garlic oils, fried beans and lentils, fermented soybean discs, shrimp paste and powder, peanuts, tomato, sesame seeds, fresh herbs, tofu, dried shrimp, tamarind, lime, and fish sauce.
Another uniquely Burmese salad component is toasted chickpea (besan) flour. This seasoning is used both as flavouring and thickening agents, not just in salads but also in other recipes too (like the popular chicken noodle soup ohn-no khao swe). Toasted besan imparts a memorable, slightly grainy texture and a nutty flavour that adds depth to any dish.
While not technically demanding, Burmese salads run the gamut from uncomplicated and minimalistic combinations to complex and elaborate dishes. A kitchen novice won’t struggle with the task so long as they are patient in procuring and preparing the salad components.
This potato salad is inspired by Burmese methods and ingredients in salad preparation. The dressing may seem too wet initially, but the toasted chickpea flour will bind everything together. Some ingredients are optional, like the fried broad beans, but it's worth spending the time to make at least one of the oils – preferably shallot oil, because that way you are also gifted with moreish crispy fried shallots to sprinkle liberally over the dish.
Vegan Burmese Style Potato Salad
This Burmese potato salad recipe is inspired by a trip I took to Myanmar a few years ago, during which I ate local salads daily. Some ingredients are optional, but don't skimp on oil! The toasted chickpea flour is a must.
- 300 grams new potatoes
- 2-3 tablespoons chickpea (gram or besan) flour
- 4 teaspoons shallot oil or garlic oil (or a combination)
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce or vegan fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ½ cup finely sliced shallot or red onion
- ½ cup sliced cherry or baby plum tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons roasted crushed peanuts
- 2-3 teaspoons fried garlic
- Handful of fried or roasted broad beans (optional)
- Handful or two of sliced spring onion and coriander
- Roasted chilli powder, to taste
- Handful of fried shallot
- Boil the potatoes until they are knife tender. Once cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes into bite sized pieces.
- While the potatoes are boiling, heat a small pan over medium heat and tip the chickpea flour in. Stir constantly until the flour turns a few of shades darker (but isn’t burnt brown). Tip into a large mixing bowl, along with the oil, soy sauce, lime juice, and sugar. Mix to combine.
- Add the potato pieces to the bowl and mix to coat with the dressing. Add all remaining ingredients except the shallots, and toss to combine everything. Sprinkle fried shallots on top and serve.
- Author: Kip Dorrell
- Serves: 2
- Cuisine: Burmese