hsa ba – burmese recipes from miki

as a bit of a fussy eater, i’ve always been wary of weird foreign foods, even burmese ones. as a burmese kid myself, it’s slightly embarrassing to be eating mashed potato in burma, because i can’t bring myself to eat something new. i do try, honest, but sometimes i just can’t. however, there are some burmese food i absolutely love, and this chicken curry  is very similar to one my mother makes, and it’s absolutely delicious! the book and website this recipe is from, hsa ba (which means ‘please eat’ in burmese) by tin cho chaw, is chock full of authentic burmese recipes that i would love to learn to make myself, and of course eat :3

here’s the recipe itself! it serves 4-6 and takes about an hour to cook.

for the spice mixture

3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
2 tablespoons chilli powder*

for the ground paste

8-10 shallots or around 250g
3 garlic cloves
3 dried chillies, soaked in hot water
15g fresh turmeric root
15g shrimp paste, roasted**

100ml peanut oil
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 sprigs of curry leaves
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces or use 8 thighs
8 new potatoes, peeled and halved
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
250ml water
270ml coconut milk
1 teaspoon palm sugar or brown sugar
salt to taste

To make the spice mixture, dry roast each spice separately (except chilli powder) in a saucepan over moderate heat, until fragrant or just beginning to smoke. Roasting spices individually means you are less likely to burn one that takes less time to roast.

Leave to cool before finely blending in a coffee or spice grinder then mix in chilli powder. I usually triple the quantity above and store leftover spice mixture in an air-tight container until the next time I cook this curry.

Using a pestle and mortar, pound the shallots, garlic, dried chillies and turmeric to a fine paste. Best to do this in small quantities so it is more manageable, then add in roasted shrimp paste. Alternatively blitz small quantities of the ground paste in a food processor.

Heat the oil in a saucepan or wok and throw in cinnamon stick, star anise and curry leaves. Stir until fragrant then add the ground paste and spice mixture. Reduce the heat and cook the paste for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Don’t skimp on the oil as the mixture will burn and become bitter.

When the oil has separated from the paste, it is time to add the chicken, potatoes and lemongrass. Stir through before adding water. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the chicken is cooked through.

Add the coconut milk and simmer a further 20 minutes. Finally add the sugar and season with salt.

*look for Kashmir chilli powder, as the intense red will give the curry a great colour
**wrap shrimp paste in foil and roast in oven at 180C/350F/Gas4 for 15 mins

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