Here's some exciting news: I have read the manuscript pages for the Burma Superstar cookbook for probably the last time before it gets sent to the printer. Creating a book is a crazy-long process: I started working with the restaurant in the summer of 2014; in 2015, I visited Myanmar twice for research. And in February this year, I turned in the first draft of the manuscript. February! It's since been designed, edited, revised, edited, revised some more.... and now it's pretty much done. At least for the next several months when it goes to China to be printed and then hangs out in a warehouse before it arrives in stores (or Amazon) in March.
Sometime last year, in between trips, I came across this recipe for braised beans that comes from Myanmar's Shan State. Bordering China and Thailand, Shan State is a large, diverse place. It's where the best tea leaves for Burmese tea leaf salad comes from. It is also where, years ago, journalist Karen Coates encountered this recipe while trekking through the countryside. She posted a recipe for these beans, perfumed with peanut oil and ginger, on her blog, The Rambling Spoon. After I talked with her about other Burmese-related things while researching the Burma Superstar Cookbook, I made a note to try these beans out.
The beans represent everything good about home-cooked Burmese dishes: they are economical and easy to make, no gadgets needed. In Karen's recipe, everything is cooked in the same pot, which is how these beans would be prepared in Myanmar. I veer off from this method and make the beans in a more “refried bean” style, cooking the onions and garlic in oil and then adding cooked beans. Karen uses peanut oil, but I was out and forgot to pick more up at the store, so I used vegetable oil for this recipe. Peanut oil would give the beans more flavor, but vegetable oil is an OK second option choice. Even better than plain vegetable oil would be to use oil remaining from frying onions until crisp. I recommend making the beans the day before you plan to serve them; the next day the ginger flavor becomes more pronounced.
Karen recommends being flexible with the beans–pinto, cannellini, adzuki, navy, a mix…. any and all will do. And while the beans would probably be cooked over a charcoal flame in Myanmar, which would give them a savory smoky edge, they can just as easily be simmered on a modern kitchen range, which is what I did. I went about things a little differently, adding some scallions at the end to boost the onion flavor, but it’s completely optional. For spicier beans, minced serrano chile is a nice addition, too. I served the beans alongside a pork curry with rice, and the plate, in a sort of abstract way, reminded me of pulled pork with beans and cornbread.
Ginger-Braised Burmese Beans
- 2 1/2 cups / 535 grams dried beans, such as pinto, navy, or cannellini
- 1/3 cup peanut or vegetable oil, plus more for finishing
- 1 sliced yellow onion
- 5 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 (2-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and minced (about 1/3 cup)
- 3 tomatoes, diced
- Pinch of chile flakes
- 2 green onions, sliced (optional)
- Lime wedges (optional)
- Rinse the beans well in a colander. Transfer to a large bowl, cover with 2 inches of cool water, and let soak for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Drain the beans, transfer to a 4- to 6-quart pot, and add water to cover by about 1 inch. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to a gentle simmer and cook uncovered for 1 1/2 hours, or until tender. Remove from the heat, stir in 2 teaspoons salt, and let the beans stand in their cooking liquid for at least 30 minutes (or refrigerate them in their cooking liquid and finish the dish the next day). Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid (you’ll have about 4 cups).
- In the same pot used to cook the beans, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and a generous pinch of salt and cook until the onion has softened, about 6 minutes. While cooking, mash the garlic against the side of the pot to break it down. Stir in the ginger and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and chile flakes and cook until the tomatoes have softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Stir in the beans, another teaspoon of salt, and 2 cups of the saved cooking liquid. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until the beans achieve a creamy consistency. Taste, adding more salt as desired (beans do need a fair amount, so don’t shy away from the salt if they taste flat). If the beans are too thick, stir in a little more of the cooking water and continue to cook.
- Remove from the heat. (At this point, the beans can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 1 week. Reheat gently before serving.) Drizzle peanut oil on top to serve, if desired. Serve with lime wedges if you want the beans to taste a bit brighter