Tuesday, November 1, 2016

30-minute shortcut Mohinga (Burmese fish vermicelli soup)

Yum


I always feel like November is a month of a preparation for change. I like to stress here the word “preparation” because the change may not have happened yet, but the seeds have been planted and there is potential of replacement.

Burmese lemongrass fish soup






















On November 4th, 2012, the election night of Obama’s second term, I found myself at an election party, hosted by someone I barely know. Come to think of it again, I don’t think I was even invited by the host, but rather by another attendee - well, more like an acquaintance whom you say “hi" out of courtesy when you bump into him at a grocery store. Even today, I would never, in a thousand years, go to a random party like this. I am awful at walking up to a person and striking a conversation. In fact, that night, November 4th, was one of the two times, where I went up to someone. Fortunately, that party was a low-key walk-around-buffet-style election-themed dinner party, where people hated themselves the next day from the amount of calories they consumed than from the pounding headache of hangover. This type, I could deal with.

Burmese lemongrass fish soup
Slice the bottom 2 inches of the lemon grass stalks
I have a theory that everyone has his/her own coping mechanism in a social setting with full of strangers. Mine on that night was settling myself firmly on a comfortable sofa, stuffing my face with sticky sauce-drenched store bought General Tso’s chicken, taking a full-blown manifesto of I-am-not-talking-right-now-because-I-am-very-very-busy-eating. Many times, people accept this as a proper excuse to be by myself at a party full of strangers. When I was minding my own chicken, I overheard someone saying, “DNA definitely has more than four carbons. I think you are mistaken for carbons having four bonds”. Let just call the owner of the voice “K”. The argument with K and another person on the topic of DNA lasted for another good five minutes, until I decided to approach the conversation and support K’s claims. Throughout the night, K and I bonded over science, biology, reasons on how we both did not vote: I am not a US. Citizen, and K was just not into politics (I know, it was bad). That’s how I met K, and that’s how I came to believe that the universe has a plan that put you in the right place exactly when you need to be. 

Burmese lemongrass fish soup


We started hanging out a lot. I discovered K loves food as much as I do. After work, I would take the metro for a minimum 45 minutes to eat dinner with K. I have always hated public transportation, but sometimes, I just do things without knowing why I do them. Taking a long and crowded metro at a metropolitan rush hour to see K was one of them. May be the motivation was to see K’s eyes sparkled at the sight of a thick menu or K’s childish need to order anything and everything? I know that it is not hard to meet someone with a lust for gustatory hedonism, but what’s hard is to find someone who shares that food is also an expression of my values and beliefs. K is the types to bring a chicken soup when you are sick, despite an-hour commute, the type to pack you a lunch box because K remembers what you like and the type to randomly think of you at the sight of your favorite food. This type of person, I feel, is more rare than a truffle, and more valuable than saffron threads.

Burmese lemongrass fish soup


We all know that certain times, in our life, we are forced to get outside of your comfort zone by none other than our strong sense of will – whether it was to prove someone that you are worthy or show a special one that you care. In this case, I wanted to make K a Burmese dish I grew up with – mohinga, a lemongrass fish broth with vermicelli noodle. The only problem was that I did not know jack shit about how to make the dish, and I was a very timid cook back then. I called my mom in Myanmar for the recipe. Instead of giving me a list of instructions, she gave me list ingredients. For the next three days, I busied myself with trying to make the perfect mohinga. The first time the broth was too runny. The second time - too thick. The third time, it was too lemongrassy. Basically, none of them measured up to what I remembered as a comforting grassy savory broth. I was hyperventilating.

Mohinga


Then, I decided to scratch my mother’s “recipe” and start experimenting on my own, something that I would never do before that point. Guided part by instinct and memory, but mostly after another several failed attempts and a disastrous-looking kitchen, I finally came up with a bowl of mohinga, that quickly became my signature dish among my friends. The best thing about my new recipe is it takes 30 minutes to cook, instead of hours, but still as authentic as I remember. This recipe is basically me in a noodle soup form – completely Burmese with a strong Western twist, with a dash of laziness, messiness and comfort. K, especially, was a big fan of my version of mohinga. I laughed hysterically whenever K made comments on topping the noodle bowl with pork bellies, tripe and tendons. Every time I would respond, “this is supposed to be an everyday Burmese food, you spoiled little brat”, and K would go back to slurping.

Every time I make mohinga, I feel the phantomlike presence of K in my kitchen, despite the fact that I have not seen K for over a year. Sometimes, when the person that you were so closed to suddenly disappeared from your life, you are left with just a mixed of scattered emotions. But, you know, November is coming, and it has always been a month of change for me.




Burmese lemongrass fish soup


Mohinga Broth

Serving size : 3-4

1 medium-sized white onion (chopped)
9 oz. (about 200g) of fish fillet (tilapia or catfish)
Half-an-inch knob (about 20 g or 0.7 oz.) of ginger (minced)
1.5L (about 6 cups) of water
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
6 tbsps. (or 100 ml) of vegetable oil
2 teaspoons of turmeric (divided)
1 teaspoon of paprika
6 tbsps. of homemade rice flour (see the previous post)
2 stalks of lemongrass
1 teaspoon of dashi powder
6 tbsps. of fish sauce (divided)


Directions

Cut out the bottom 2-inch of your lemon grass stalks, and slice the cut stems as thin as possible.  Pound the rest of the lemongrass stalks vigorously and cut then in about 3 inch lengths. We will use the slivered lemongrass rings for sautéing and the big knobs in stock.

Make the stock by bringing 1.5 L of water to boil and adding in dashi powder and 1 tbsps. of fish sauce. Drop in your pounded 3-inch-long lemongrass stalks and fish fillet. Simmer for about 10 minutes until the fish is thoroughly cooked. (If you are using frozen fish fillets, I suggest you thaw them out first. I find that frozen fish tend to get tough when cooked with high heat like this.)

Heat the oil in a big sauté pan under medium high heat. When you see the oil is hot, but not smoking, add in your chopped onions, garlic, and slivered lemongrass. Turn down the heat to medium, add in turmeric, paprika, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, and a dash of salt. Cook under medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce will turn into the most aromatic ruby red.

In the mean time, take out your fish fillet from the pot. Be careful as the fish might be hot, Using two forks, flake the fish as finely as you can. Drop in the fish shreds into the sauté pan.

Turn up the heat to medium high, and sauté the fish shreds together with the red sauce for about 10 minutes. Make sure you stir vigorously. Otherwise, you will burn for sure. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Drop in the fish mixture into the stock pot, and bring the stock to a boil. Put in 4 more tablespoons of fish sauce. Add in rice flour while stirring. Bring it to a boil, and let the stock simmer for about 15 minutes or until the broth has drastically thickened, and the rice cooked through.

This dish can and should be made at least 2 days ahead as the flavor deepens as it stands.

Assembly

For one serving

100g (about ¾ cup )of rice noodle (I like small thread kinds)
2 cups of broth
2 tbsps. of chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. of chopped Chinese string beans (optional)
½ boiled egg
Red chili flakes

Ladle the broth on top of rice noodles. Topped with your desired toppings.



print recipe

30-minute Mohinga
This version of mohinga tastes like traditional one, but takes only 30 minutes.
Ingredients
  • 1 medium-sized white onion (diced)
  • 9 oz. (about 200g) fish fillet
  • Half-an-inch knob (about 20 g or 0.7 oz.) ginger (minced)
  • 1.5L (about 6 cups) water
  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 6 tbsps. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsps. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 6 tbsps. homemade rice flour
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 1 tsp. dashi powder
  • 6 tbsps. fish sauce
Instructions
Cut out the bottom 2-inch of your lemon grass stalks, and slice the cut stems as thin as possible.  Pound the rest of the lemongrass stalks vigorously and cut then in about 3 inch lengths. We will use the slivered lemongrass rings for sautéing and the big knobs in stock.Make the stock by bringing 1.5 L of water to boil and adding in dashi powder and 1 tbsps. of fish sauce. Drop in your pounded 3-inch-long lemongrass stalks and fish fillet. Simmer for about 10 minutes until the fish is thoroughly cooked. (If you are using frozen fish fillets, I suggest you thaw them out first. I find that frozen fish tend to get tough when cooked with high heat like this.)Heat the oil in a big sauté pan under medium high heat. When you see the oil is hot, but not smoking, add in your chopped onions, garlic, and slivered lemongrass. Turn down the heat to medium, add in turmeric, paprika, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, and a dash of salt. Cook under medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce will turn into the most aromatic ruby red.In the mean time, take out your fish fillet from the pot. Be careful as the fish might be hot, Using two forks, flake the fish as finely as you can. Drop in the fish shreds into the sauté pan.Turn up the heat to medium high, and sauté the fish shreds together with the red sauce for about 10 minutes. Make sure you stir vigorously. Otherwise, you will burn for sure. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.Drop in the fish mixture into the stock pot, and bring the stock to a boil. Put in 4 more tablespoons of fish sauce. Add in rice flour while stirring. Bring it to a boil, and let the stock simmer for about 15 minutes or until the broth has drastically thickened, and the rice cooked through.This dish can and should be made at least 2 days ahead as the flavor deepens as it stands.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 3-4 servings


12 comments:

  1. I used to hate Mohingha but your photos make me wanna try it again. Really.. I feel hungry now :)

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  2. What a beautiful recipe! I've never had Mohingha before but I can tell the flavor is superb from your recipe. And I love adding fish into my noodle soup. Yum!

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    1. Thank you Maggie. I hope you give this a go :D

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  3. Mohinga is definitely one of my favorite Burmese foods. And It's so nice to have someone like "K" to hang out with. I always believe that I don't need MANY friends. I just need one (or two won't hurt either) friend that I can bond with over anything...but mainly over food !! I love to eat more than life probably and so I can totally understand what you and K have ! Priceless !! Saffron threads stand aside please!

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    1. Marv....I am so happy that 1) you took the time to read the piece and 2) feel the same way. Thank you!! And yes, I just noticed that my feedburner thing was not working. It should be fixed now hehe

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  4. And...btw, you might want to check your email subscription thing. It keeps saying your feed burner for subscription is not activated ;) I plan to stalk alright ?!?

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  5. I never ate Burmese food but this looks sooo tasty! And your story of 'K' and your description of them was so lovely to read. It's always hard to have people disappear on you but at least you have the good memories ;)

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    1. Thank you so much for your warm comment Nati. Yes, beautiful memories make things worthwhile :D

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  6. My new years resolution this year was to cook a recipe from every country in the world (partly to distract myself from the change November ended up bringing). When I stumbled upon Mohinga, I knew I had to make it! And while not as pretty as yours, what a treat this was... and on the first try! Thanks for sharing a 30 minute version, it was just what we needed after a long day at work!

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