If you’ve had Burmese food before, chances are you’ve had this soup. It’s a dish sold in the street markets of Burma, and is usually an introductory dish to Burmese cuisine. It has always been enjoyed during celebrations in my family. The national dish may be mohinga (fish and noodle soup) but this soup is a close second. Most non-Burmese people prefer this soup to the ever popular mohinga. I’m sure everyone I know who makes it has their own version. This is mine, made with my trusty electric pressure cooker, and done in a little over an hour.
This soup is definitely not a part of my low carb regimen, but there was a reason I decided to make it for my family today. It is the 7th anniversary of my grandmothers passing, just a few weeks shy of her birthday. Prior to her passing she was planning a huge celebration, and she planned on making this dish for the entire family, even though her cooking days were far behind her. She would go on and on to anybody that would listen about the big party we would be having. She was always up for a celebration, and every year my family continues to get together on her birthday to celebrate her life and memory. She was right, there’s always a big party, and this soup is always served. Today I celebrate her life at home quietly with my girls. I’ll regale them with tales of a mother of 9 who journeyed half way around the world to seek her fortune. A single mother who worked tirelessly to keep her family strong and united while educating children and eventually fulfilling her dreams by earning her PhD. in her 70’s. My Phwa Phwa was an incredible force of nature, and today we honor her.
The ingredients for this recipe are fairly simple, and with the exception of the coconut milk and gram flour, you probably already have everything you need. Do not use the refrigerated coconut milk that’s supposed to be used as a milk substitute. It doesn’t work well in this recipe, it’s not thick or coconutty enough. I did forget to take pictures of the turmeric, chili powder and paprika that I use in this recipe. The bottles they’re in are sort of mislabeled anyway, so just take my word for it that they’re necessary ingredients. I make a mixture of half paprika and half chili powder in one container, it’s a habit I picked up from my mom. It just goes into the biggest container I can find, which at this moment is a paprika container.
I cook the onions in coconut oil until they start to caramelize. It takes longer to caramelize in the pressure cooker than it does on the stovetop, so you can always start cooking on the stovetop and transfer to the pressure cooker once all the ingredients have been added.
Once the onions are ready I add the turmeric, paprika, chili powder, and garlic and ginger paste. Feel free to use fresh garlic and ginger, I’ve just gotten lazy lately, and the mortar and pestle make my dog bark. So, to save my sanity and voice, I use the jarred stuff. It’s pretty good, and I don’t have to yell, so win win!
I let that mixture cook for a few more minutes before adding the chicken. You’ll know it’s ready because the mixture will look kind of oily.
The chicken and some salt are added and given a good stir. Then I close the lid and wait for it to do its job.
Once it’s done I open it up and add a can of coconut milk to the pot. If I were to make this for anyone other than my kids, I would have cut the meat into bite sized pieces. Chicken is the traditional choice, but I prefer using pork, and my husband prefers beef. My children prefer no meat in their bowls, so it’s easier to leave the thighs whole so I don’t have to watch them pick meat out of their bowls throughout dinner. Once again, preserving my sanity.
It’s important to keep stirring while the gram flour cooks. Start it on medium-high heat, then continue to cook it over medium-low heat. I can not tell you how many times I’ve had this boil over. It has no bearing on the dish, but it is a huge pain to clean up! It just takes a moment and you’ve got a mess on your hands.
You can use your sense of smell to determine when the gram flour is cooked. My mother taught me to smell it first, it smells green. Once you smell it and it smells cooked, it’s done. For those of you that need more info than that, it’s about 15 minutes of cooking once it comes to a boil. And remember, once it starts to boil, turn the heat down or you will wind up with a big, bubbly mess on your stove top that will really take some elbow grease to get off the sides of your pot too. No thank you.
After the gram flour mixture is ready, the second can of coconut milk goes in. I like my soup to be a little on the thick side, so I probably use more gram flour than most. It’s personal preference, I also prefer cream soups, stews and chowders to plain broth, so if you’re more of a broth person you’d probably want to add less than I had pictured above.
Next, all the chicken curry is added to the gram flour mixture. Don’t freak out about the amount of oil that’s in there, it just gets incorporated to the soup and adds to the flavor. Most of it is coconut oil, which is supposed to be healthy now, right? I also add some more raw onions that are pretty chunky at this point. You could use pearl onions as well. It’s one of my favorite parts of this dish once it’s done.
Everything gets mixed together and is brought up to a boil. I add a bit of fish sauce to the soup as well. You could substitute it with salt, but it wouldn’t quite have that Burmese taste. Still delicious, and a great option for those allergic to seafood.
Continue to stir to prevent sticking. Using a non stick pot really helps with this. I was never quite sure when I was done boiling the soup. Once again, mom to the rescue! She assures me that you need to boil it until the bubble are gone. Kind of vague, right? But honestly, after boiling for a few minutes while stirring, the bubbles really do disappear. Mama knows best!
This post is getting quite lengthy, so I’m going to give you the abridged noodle version. Boil some water, put the dry noodles in, boil for 7 minutes, drain, and rinse. Watch the noodle as they boil, they also are prone to boiling over, although that mess isn’t half as bad as the gram flour boil over. It could be enough to extinguish the fire on your gas stove though, and yes, I’m totally speaking from experience.
Burmese people love to add condiments to their food themselves. I suppose it’s a way to feel like you’re customizing your dish to suit your palate. In addition to the scallions, cilantro and lime pictured, I added habanero powder, hard boiled eggs, and split pea fritters that my mom made.
The fritters are unbelievable, and deserve a blog post all their own. Hopefully, I can get my mom to demonstrate her technique. I’ve never met someone who could deep fry like she does. It sounds so silly, but she’s got a magic touch that would make her a rich woman at a state fair or carnival! Too bad she’s so shy.
There you have it, my Burmese coconut chicken soup. I know it seems a little involved, but using the pressure cooker speeds the process up immensely, and it’s so worth the time and effort. I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any questions ask away! Cheers to you, Phwa Phwa!