Recipe: Burmese Ginger Salad (Gin Thoke)

If we can’t open our hearts to the “weird” things in life, we’re not living fully. The girl who wears rain boots in the snow. The man that studies a bustling ant hill for an hour. The child that dips her scrambled eggs in molasses (Ava did this yesterday).

These people all have one thing in common: they see the world through a different lens. Their world has no limitations.

Wouldn’t it be glorious if a salad could change how you see the world? If one bite could take away all your preconceived notions and open your mind to the new, the exciting, and – let’s just be honest – the weird?

Today we’re going beyond watery diner salads, sporting  browning lettuce, one measly crouton, a white-washed tomato, and a solitary red onion ring.

(Thank goodness)

Instead we’re loading our chopsticks with fresh, spicy ginger, salty fish sauce, fried lentils and chickpeas, chickpea flour,  peanuts cabbage… and… and… so much happy goodness. This is a bouquet of flavor that sounds more … quirky.. than it really is.

This Burmese salad is extremely well balanced, which surprised me. No one flavor dominates the other. The chickpeas and lentils add protein, the cabbage binds everything together, the ginger is the occasional spicy bite, and even the fish sauce simply adds a salty dressing when combined with the bright acidity of lime juice and lemons.

One bite in and you’ll be hooked!

If that doesn’t convince you, let the smiles of Burmese children encourage you on your stove top travels.

Children in Bhamo (Myanmar). Photo by Colegota.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 thumb ginger, peeled and sliced in tiny matchsticks
1/4 cup lemon or lime juice

3 cups finely shredded napa cabbage
2Tbsp chickpea flour, toasted in a dry skillet (I used a chickpea/fava blend I found at Whole Foods)

For frying: 
1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water
1/2 cup dried lentils, soaked overnight in water
3 cloves garlic, slivered
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup peanut oil

Dressing: 

Fish sauce

Garnish:

cilantro, torn
crushed peanuts
green onion, sliced
Lime slices
Lemon slices
Red pepper flakes

Method:

SOAK

In the cool, calm evening, prepare the first few ingredients. Soak the ginger in lemon or lime juice, and soak the dried chickpeas and lentils in water overnight.

Be sure that ginger is sliced fine, fine, fine… or its bite  just might make you cry.

Now go enjoy a stroll through a sparkling Burmese night. Smile and say “Min ga la baa” (a.k.a. “hello”) to at least three people.

Sule Pagoda Road in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Ralf-André Lettau.

While you’re out, the overnight soak will help soften the ginger’s bite and prepare the lentils and chickpeas for a quick dip in hot peanut oil. Some people like to soak the ginger for several days; it’s up to you, but I didn’t think it necessary.

The next morning, squeeze out the ginger (Tip: add the juices to some hot water, vodka and honey for a lovely sipper).

Next, rub the chickpeas and lentils down in a fuzzy towel.

Welcome to Cozy Town.

FRY

Now the serious work begins. Thankfully, it’s easy peasy.

Fry the chickpeas and lentils in peanut oil until golden brown, about five minutes. Add the garlic slivers and cook until golden brown (about 1 minute).

Finally, toss on the sesame seeds and fry for just 1 minute.

If you’d like things more or less crispy, adjust the cooking time.

I took things a little too far and the lentils got really crunchy (I cooked them about 8 minutes before adding the other ingredients).  If you accidentally go this dark, just refrigerate the salad a while to soften the beans. They tasted great, regardless. If they turn black, however, start again. Burned food never tastes good.

Now, nibble a few beans and set the rest aside to cool. Begin shredding the cabbage. I only needed 1/3 of a small napa cabbage for this salad.

If you have some chickpea flour, toast it in a dry skillet (if you don’t, buy some! you can use the rest to make the wonderful crepes we cooked for our Global Table for Monaco.) It’ll turn chestnut brown after a few minutes; stir continually to keep the flour from burning.

ASSEMBLY

Next, add the cabbage, the fried lentil mixture (be sure to scrape in all that good peanut oil), and toasted chickpea flour to a large bowl. Splash on a good douse of fish sauce.

Traditionally, you would toss this salad with your hands which, if you are open to it, is a really great way to be sure it gets mixed thoroughly.

Garnish with green onion, crushed peanuts, lemon and lime slices (which your guests should liberally squeeze all over their salad), and cilantro.

Or, for a fun dinner experience, let everyone garnish their own salads with whatever they’d like.

I find this tastes best after a thirty minute rest in the refrigerator, at which time it’ll have soaked up much of the fish sauce and will likely need a refresher.

Enjoy how beautiful the world looks through this new lens.

Through this new experience.

Through a world of limitless possibility.

Shwedagon Pagoda panoramic view. Photo by Xiquinho.

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Comments

  1. Fantastic! I have all ingredients (I think even chickpea flour in the freezer) – so I’ll be definitely making this once I come back from a trip next week

    If you google “farofa” – you can see a Brazilian concoction which is basically manioc flour, toasted – used as a side dish for black beans and rice, it is addictive. It adds a crunchy texture much like the toasted rice powder in laarb. I think the toasted chickpea flour might have the same goal in this great salad

    awesome post!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      What are the odds that you had everything you needed to make this salad?? I’d say that serendipity for sure :) Enjoy your trip. Looking forward to hearing what you think :)

      • Haven’t had a chance to make the tea either… life’s too busy (we are leaving OK in a couple of weeks, moving to Manhattan, Kansas…. almost 20 years in OK, hard to say goodbye…)

        • Sasha Martin says:

          Wow! Good luck with your move, that is a big deal! Kansas isn’t too far, at least, for a visit if the mood strikes you.

  2. Brian S. says:

    After reading about this lovely salad just by chance I found a record album called “Green Tea Leaf Salad”, and it has a great collection of traditional Burmese music, including this. What a neat coincidence!

    http://www.myspace.com/0/music-player?songid=66458461

    Green tea salad is a famous Burmese dish but I’ve heard from people eating it that the caffeine kept them awake all night. By the way, above you say “splash on a good dose of fish sauce”. I guess this is relative, a really good dose would make it taste, well, fishy. (A small amount is delightful, I use it even when making spaghetti sauce.)

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Yes, it has to be just right.. although I find I can tolerate more and more without noticing the “fishiness” you mention. I suppose it’s an acquired taste…

  3. Teri A. says:

    Many years ago, I lived in San Francisco between Knob Hill and the Tenderloin for a short time. Across the street from my apartment was a Burmese restaurant (only in SF!). This is the exact salad that I ordered whenever I would get take out. I have often thought about the salad. But, never knew what it was called. Thanks for sharing the recipe! I can’t wait to make it and enjoy the delicious flavors all over again!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Fantastic! I hope it’ll bring back some of those good memories… or at least be somewhat close to what you ate. If you have time, let us know how it goes :)

  4. Lovely recipe, Sasha ! Any reason why I couldn’t use tinned/canned chickpeas & lentils and avoid the overnight soaking ?

  5. This looks so good!

  6. This was a success at tonight’s dinner table and I will definitely make it again. Next time I will use more ginger, and probably skip the chick pea flour – I did find the salad a little bit dry, and adding more fish sauce would have made it too salty. Thank you for the inspiration to try something really different!

  7. I am definitely making this salad, it sounds delicious.

  8. More ginger, more lemon, more oil and no chickpea flour was just the ticket. Unfortunately I forgot to buy cilantro – had I included it, today’s version would have been close to perfect. This is quickly becoming a favorite, thanks so much for the discovery!

  9. Just back from Myanmar and craving their food. This recipe was just what I needed. Can’t wait to try it!

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