What’s cookingA BURMESE FEAST

Amy and Emily Chung are just the sort of wonder-women we love to collaborate with: they’re both NHS doctors that just happen to be brilliant cooks… (or the other way around!) Their new book, The Rangoon Sisters, explores the delicious food from their Burmese upbringing. We’ve caught up with them to find out how the Corona situation has affected their work-life balance (and their cooking habits), and to get their tips on getting experimental in the kitchen.

So, you both work in the NHS – what do you do?

We’re both doctors – Emily is a sexual health consultant and Amy is a psychiatrist. We love our jobs and the NHS!

How do you split your time between the NHS and cooking?

Emily: I have two small children so it’s a bit of a challenge to manage it all but I try and make time at weekends to do a batch cook for the coming week and also a bit of fun cooking, whether it’s recipe testing a new dish or trying out something I’ve seen on someone else’s social media. It’s been really therapeutic to combine cooking with our work, something completely different to focus on.

Amy: Although supper clubs can be exhausting they are really fun to plan and it’s brilliant meeting our diners afterwards and chatting with them. We both try to maintain a healthy work-life balance – whether it’s cooking, reading, going for walks or just a bit of time for self-care and reflection – it’s really important in these busy and stressful times.

What got you into cooking?

Our parents loved feeding and entertaining people when we were growing up and naturally we got involved in the cooking from childhood. It didn’t take long before we took over the Christmas lunch and the midweek dinners. The supper clubs then became the next step, giving us the opportunity to cook for a wider audience and spread the love for Burmese food.

How has cooking changed since the Corona crisis for you?

We’ve been doing lots of cooking at home, trying to be inventive and utilise what we already have (those cans hidden at the back of the kitchen cupboard!) and testing out new recipes as well. Burmese salads are a particularly good way of making the most out of a “fridge forage” – whether it’s leftover roast meat or vegetables, added to flavoured garlic oil, toasted gram flour which adds a nutty flavour and texture, acidity from lime, a bit of heat with chilli and a crispy texture – be it fried shallots or a chickpea fritter.

We haven’t been able to host any supper club events over the last few months but we have plans to organise virtual events and online cooking classes so that we can still keeping things going in the meantime.

As many people seem to have become more experimental with cooking since lockdown, what advice can you give to those who are new to cooking?

Don’t be afraid to experiment! With our Burmese recipes, you can amend a lot of the dishes to your particular taste whether that’s the chilli level or different garnishes we suggest – and that’s totally fine. Don’t despair if you have a fail – we ALL do sometimes and you learn from them. Most importantly, keep going. The more you do it the more confident and successful you’ll be with your cooking.

The recipes

Poppy seed coconut pancakes

These sweet, chewy pancakes can be bought from street vendors in Burma as an ideal breakfast on the go. The name literally translates as opium cake, but don’t worry, this sugary recipe will give you an altogether different type of high!

Bein mont

Poppy seed coconut pancake. Makes 4

  • For the palm sugar syrup
  • 100g palm sugar
  • For the batter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 50g rice flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 125ml coconut milk
  • 1 egg
  • To cook the pancakes
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • Handful of fresh or dried coconut flakes
  • 30g white poppy seeds

1. Make the palm syrup by dissolving the palm sugar in 100ml of water in a pan set over the hob, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, allow it to simmer for a minute or 2 so it slightly thickens but does not become very thick. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

2. Put all the batter ingredients in a bowl and whisk together well with half of the palm sugar syrup.

3. To cook the pancakes, melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan set over a medium heat, then gently add a ladle of the batter to the pan (or 2–3, depending on the size of your pan). Immediately scatter a few coconut flakes and a pinch of poppy seeds on top of the pancake. Once the top is bubbling and the edges are starting to look cooked, flip over to cook the other side. Repeat until all the batter has been used up.

4. Drizzle with the remaining syrup and eat!

Spiced chicken salad

Here we cook the chicken fresh for this salad, but you could always make this using leftover roast chicken; we have also made this for several supper clubs using fried chicken. We would recommend keeping the skin on the thighs when roasting them, because it keeps the flesh moist and the cooked chicken skin adds a wonderful crispy texture to the salad.

Kyet thar thoke

Spiced chicken salad. Serves 4 as a main

  • 4 chicken thighs, skin on
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ medium-sized white cabbage (about 450g), finely sliced
  • Juice of 3 limes
  • 5 tbsp garlic oil
  • 5 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 4 shallots, finely sliced
  • 4 tsp gram flour, toasted
  • To serve
  • Coriander leaves
  • Chilli flakes
  • Crispy fried shallots

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.

2. Coat the chicken thighs with the spices and the salt and place on a baking tray in the oven. Roast for 35 minutes (check they are cooked by piercing them – the juices should run clear), then set aside to cool.

3. Roughly shred the chicken with a fork and knife and place in a large bowl.

4. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the garnishes, and mix well.

5. When ready to serve, divide the salad among four plates, then garnish each with the coriander, a sprinkle of chilli flakes and a teaspoon of fried shallots. Serve immediately.

Burmese falooda

Falooda originates from the Indian subcontinent and is a milky drink served in a tall glass, often based around a rose sugar syrup, with basil seeds, jellies and ice cream in the mix. Many varieties exist and we don’t think you can go too wrong with what you choose to add to it. In Burma, the addition is a delicious lump of custard flan. The drink is served cold, so you will need to allow some time to prepare all the components and chill them.

Faluda

Bermese falooda. Serves 6 generously

  • For the flan (this will make more flan than you need, but you will enjoy the leftovers)
  • 8 tbsp caster sugar
  • 410g tin of evaporated milk
  • 397g tin of condensed milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • For the rest
  • 1 packet of strawberry jelly
  • 75g small (1–2mm) tapioca pearls
  • 25g basil seeds (optional, but they add a good texture)
  • Red rose syrup, such as Rooh Afza
  • 1 litre whole milk
  • 6 scoops of vanilla ice cream
  • Ice (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. You need an ovenproof dish of about 20 × 20cm and at least 6cm deep (the shape doesn’t matter).

2. Start with the flan. Melt the sugar in a non-stick pan over a medium heat, watching carefully as it turns to a caramel and shaking the pan gently so that all the sugar melts evenly. Once the sugar is golden brown, pour it into your ovenproof dish, tilting it so the caramel spreads evenly. Set aside to cool.

3. Next, whisk together the tins of evaporated and condensed milk, eggs and vanilla in a jug and pour over the caramel. Place a sheet of foil over the dish and cook for 1 hour in the oven, until nicely set. Remove from the oven, allow to cool and put in the fridge.

4. While the flan is in the oven, you can prepare the strawberry jelly – simply follow the packet instructions, pour into a dish and leave it to set in the fridge. Now heat a pan of water on the hob until boiling, then add the tapioca pearls (the water must be boiling when you add them). Allow to cook for 10–15 minutes until soft and translucent, stirring them intermittently as they tend to stick to the bottom. Once cooked, drain the tapioca through a sieve over the sink with plenty of cold water (to minimise the pearls sticking to each other). Allow to drain and set aside.

5. If you are using basil seeds, simply soak them in cold water and they will plump up into crunchy miniature ‘spawn’ after 10 minutes.

6. Once the flan is cool (room temperature will do if your patience is short in supply) and the strawberry jelly is set, you can assemble the falooda in big glasses. Start with 2–3 tablespoons of rose syrup in the bottom of each glass, followed by a dollop of tapioca pearls and soaked basil seeds, if using, a dollop of strawberry jelly, a dollop of flan and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Pour over the milk, add some ice if you want (if there’s space!) and serve, remembering to tell your eager recipients to give the whole thing a stir before diving in.