Thursday, July 12, 2012

Burmese ginger salad

I have had a lot of different jobs over the years, including some pretty bizzarre ones when I was in University.

Like that time I did a good friend who worked in PR a last-minute translating favor because he had an emergency which ended up with me wearing a short red velvet dress with white fur lining, pretending to be Santa's helper/wife (I'm still not sure which) standing on a theater stage with a microphone in front of a crowd of pre-schoolers and mothers translating their questions to him in English. Santa spoke not one word of English and we had to totally improvise and the only reason I am telling you this is because we are good friends in an intimate setting.

Another time, when I was working for the inauguration of a historic Italian landmark that had been painstakingly restored, I was asked by that same friend (come to think about it, he is probably to blame for some of the insecurities that have followed me into adulthood) to become an impromptu interpreter for HRH xyz who was on an offical visit from xyz while they were taking her on a tour around the place. Just so you know, they started talking horse racing and thoroughbreds and the related terminology is not a part of my everyday English or Italian vocabulary. I was then pressed to entertain and distract her when the waiters had to take back the second course of the gala dinner as the pigeon that was being served was giving off a rotten smell because it had been aged a tad too long.

These days, however, working in finance, my work life is not quite as eventful or as exciting as it used to be so I had to smile today when I received an email offering me a free lance job totally unrelated to blogging by a person  because he is a foodie, or at the very least has a good sense of humor.

This is what he wrote at the end of his email:

"...P.S. The thing that really convinced me to contact you is the fact that you are a food blogger. Sure beats financial statements..."

In life, you never know what is around the corner and the best way to go through it is not taking yourself too seriously.

When I read the recipe for this salad on Global Table Adventures, I knew I had to make it. I love the flavors, textures and colors of Southeast Asian cuisine but had never tasted anything typically Burmese. I also conveniently had a most of the required ingredients in my kitchen, always a plus for me.

When it comes to food, you also never know what new surprises are awaiting you out there. A few weeks ago I discovered the joy Burmese food can give your taste buds.
Before making it I decided to do a little research. It turns out that this salad, called Gin Thoke, is usually served as a palate cleanser or even a dessert in Burma. I found several recipes for it and although almost all of them listed ginger, lime, peanuts, fish sauce, sesame seeds and cabbage as their main ingredients, several left out chickpeas and lentils or substituted these legumes with black eyed peas, split peas or lima beans. You can also use deseeded tomatoes, papaya, carrots or dried shrimp in it. As all popular dishes, there are as many variations as there are cooks. This salad is ideal for pescatarians and even vegetarians/vegans simply substituting the fish sauce with soy sauce (and kelp powder for fishiness if you like).

As many Asian recipes, this one may seem daunting if you just read the list of ingredients but it is actually very simple to make because it mainly involves a lot of chopping and the following of a few basic steps.

I set out to make this to bring to an aperitivo we were having with friends on Saturday evening and as potluck for a BBQ the following day, so I made about 16 servings worth, which meant I fried in several batches. If you make a smaller amount it will be even less laborious and time consuming.

Oh, last but not least, this recipe will leave you with about a 1/2 cup of deliciously aromatic ginger-infused lime juice that you can use to make a refreshing digestive summer drink with some sparkling water, or as Sasha over at Global Table suggests, adding hot water, vodka or honey (or all three together) to make a somewhat unusual, exciting cocktail.

Ingredients (serves 4)
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and julienned
1/2 (or more) cup lime juice
3 cups finely shredded cabbage (I used savoy cabbage)
1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1/2 cup dried lentils, soaked overnight
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
2 tbsp chickpea flour, toasted in a dry skillet (I skipped this for lack of it but it is very traditional)
1/3 cup peanut oil
fish sauce

coriander/cilantro, chopped roughly
peanuts, crushed roughly
spring onions, sliced
lime slices
chilies, sliced (optional)

The evening before you will be eating the salad, pre-soak the chickpeas and lentils in water. Squeeze limes and julienne (cut into matchsticks) a preferably young piece of ginger that you will have previously peeled. Soak the ginger overnight in the lime juice to pickle it and bring down the heat level.

The next step in making this salad is deep frying your pulses. Yes, you read that correctly. Without boiling them first. I promise, it works, and gives them that specific texture that makes this salad unique. However, if you want to keep things a little healthier and less calorie-ridden you can go ahead and boil them or use canned legumes instead, but you won't be getting that free spin to Burma, so feel warned.
Make sure you let the soaked pulses dry well before putting them into hot oil otherwise it will start splattering all over the place. Fill a big pot (I used a wok) with peanut oil or fry in small batches so that the pot does not get too overcrowded and each and every legume turns golden and crunchy. Once this has happened, fish them out with a slotted spoon and let them cool off on paper towel (to get rid of excess oil). Make sure you don't overcrowd them here either, so they turn nice and crunchy during the cooling process.

Once you reach this point, you are more than halfway done. Now is the time to sliver and fry the garlic until brown and crunchy, toast the sesame seeds (and chickpea flour if you some and peanuts if you didn't buy toasted peanuts) and then let them cool. Sasha fried all these ingredients (minus the peanuts and chickpea flour) together but I did everything separately because of the large quantities I was making and because I was not confident about the different cooking times and didn't want to risk burning one of the ingredients, making everything taste bitter as a result.

Now chop your vegetables, herbs and peanuts. Once everything has cooled down you can start assembling. Mix the chickpeas, lentils, garlic, sesame seeds, cabbage and ginger (that you will previously have taken out of the lime juice and squeezed well to get rid of excess liquid) thoroughly and dress with fish sauce and some of that ginger lime juice you stored for drinks later on. That is why I suggest using lots of lime juice.

Finally, garnish with the spring onions, cilantro, peanuts and lime slices.


  1. What a fun and tasty salad. I am a big fan of Asian food and I love all of the Asian flavors in here.

  2. This looks gorgeous. I don't think I've intentionally ever cooked Burmese food, but I do use a lot of these flavours in my cooking. Lovely.

  3. What a gorgeous salad! And I can totally relate to your work experiences. I've had some strange ones too! Thank you for sharing this Burmese meal.

    1. If we think back, haven't we all? I mean most of the time I don't even remember all these odd jobs, and then one day something will trigger a memory...

  4. Wow, rock star salad!!! (Looks like a lot of work!) I think you should make it when you come to NY!!
    I like your commentary on life "the best way to go through it is not taking yourself too seriously." I can't seem to get away from people who DO take themselves too seriously- we all need to lighten up sometimes!

    1. There are some steps involved and chopping but it is quite simply once you get over the fear of deep frying (which I am still trying to get over).
      So true, I sometimes catch myself doing that and immediately reprimand myself!

  5. Burmese food is a new one on me, but I can definitely get behind all the flavors you mentioned here.

    (Food blogging sure does beat financial statements, I bet, but even for us "nonprofessional" food bloggers, it's also a heck of a lot more work than I expected it to be when I first started!)

    1. It was totally new to me too. And yes, blogging does turn out to be much more work than expected!

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  7. Good move on cooking the pulses etc separately - I would have done the same thing making so much :) Annnndddd... now I'm hungry.

    1. Thanks for your recipe and the Twitter advice!

  8. Wow, so interesting to read about your unusual jobs! sounds like my unusual dates over the years. I was left hanging with the last one though! This salad sounds delicious, especially since I no nothing about Burmese food!

    1. Glad it happened in the job sphere and not in the dating area hehe!

  9. This is a lovely salad. Should we call you Santa's helper?

    If you have a moment, would you stop by and link this recipe to My MEatless Mondays?

  10. Hehe I'd love to hear more about your unusual jobs Fiona! They sound very funny indeed! :D A lovely looking salad too, I don't get to try enough Burmese food!

  11. this looks delicious and refreshing!

  12. LOL fun jobs you've had in the past! hehehe
    What a great salad! I have never eaten anything Burmese, but this sounds like a great dish and has all ingredients I really love!

    Sorry I have been MIA lately... I have had my eldest daughter's birthday party/ies to deal with and a friend from Italy visiting. She's one of my best friends, so I was not at the computer much. Unfortunately she's back in Milano. BTW... any idea on where to get Maple Syrup in Milano??

  13. I'm myself is Burmese and a chef living in UK. So glad you have patiently prepared and shared your experience. Ginger salad is second most popular salad for after meals or even late afternoon snack with green tea.
    Try Most popular Pickled tea leaf salad( La-Phet Thoke).


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