Yasmin's thummi letho (Burmese chicken curry)

Adapted from a recipe by Yasmin Halima

You can prepare the full-on version that Yasmin Halima serves her family – with the chicken curry served on a base of bean threads, basmati rice and linguini, and the whole garnished with all the various condiments. Or make it much simpler, maybe serving the curry on plain Basmati rice or cooked mung bean noodles, garnished with nothing more complicated than cilantro and lime wedges. Depending on how much you do, you may want to prepare the garnishes and cook the basmati first, then  boil the noodles while you make the curry, leaving assembly to the last minute. 


Serves four to six

For the curry:

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 3/4 pounds), cut into chunks about 1 1/2 to 2 inches

8 cloves garlic (or half a head), peeled and chopped fine

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

4 tablespoons canola oil

3 teaspoons chile powder

3 cups coconut milk

2 tablespoons chickpea flour (may be labeled as besan)

2 heaping tablespoons creamy peanut butter

For the base:

1 cup cooked basmati rice

2.75 to 3 ounces dried mung bean threads (vermicelli)

6 ounces dried linguini

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided

1 shallot, peeled and sliced thin

1 cup basmati rice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon red chile flakes

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

2 medium potatoes, boiled then peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds

1/3 cup roasted peanuts, chopped (not too finely) in a food processor or mini-chop

For the garnishes:

3 tablespoons canola oil

8 garlic cloves (the other half of the head), peeled and thinly sliced

1 1/2 tablespoons red chile flakes

3 1/2 ounces tamarind paste (6 ounces boiling water)

2/3 cup roasted peanuts, chopped (not too finely) in a food processor or mini-chop

3/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, or cilantro leaves

2 limes, cut into quarters, then each quarter cut in half horizontally

Prepare the garnishes: 

1. Have a slotted spoon, a strainer and three small bowls (one needs to be heatproof) ready. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and fry 15 to 20 seconds, till it is just golden; use the slotted spoon to quickly remove the garlic to the bowl. Drop the chile flakes into the oil, let sizzle for 10 seconds, then strain the oil into the heatproof bowl. Place the chile flakes into the third bowl. 

2. Place the tamarind purée in a heatproof bowl, pour enough boiling water over it to cover, and let it soak and soften for 15 minutes. Place the tamarind block in a wide, fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl, and use a wooden spoon or your fingers to squish it up and push it through the strainer. The strained tamarind should have the consistency of ketchup; if it needs thinning, stir in a little of the water. Transfer it to a small serving bowl.

3. Place the peanuts, cilantro and limes in each in their own small serving bowl.

Make the base: 

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Rinse the rice well, till the water runs clear. 

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in an ovenproof pot with a lid or a casserole over medium-low heat, add the shallot and sweat about five minutes, till the shallot is soft. Add the rice, 1 1/2 cups of water and the salt and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat, and continue boiling until the water is level with the rice, about 5 to 7 minutes. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Bake for 25 minutes and remove from the oven.

3. While the rice is baking, drop the mung bean threads into boiling water in a medium saucepan. Boil ten minutes and drain. Stir the noodles with a fork to make sure they don't stick together, place in a large bowl and set aside.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, drop in the linguini and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain and add to the bowl with the mung bean threads, along with the rice. Stir together to combine.

5. Heat the remaining oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the chile flakes and sesame seeds and let sizzle for 15-20 seconds, then add the rice and noodle combination, stirring to mix thoroughly and warm the rice and noodles. Heap the mixture into a large, shallow serving bowl. Decorate the top with the egg and potato slices. Scatter the peanuts evenly on top. 

Make the curry: 

1. Place the chicken in a medium bowl, add the garlic and the salt and toss well to coat. 

2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat, until hot but not smoking. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the cubes are lightly seared, about 7 to 8 minutes.

3. Add the chile powder and toss to coat, then add the coconut milk and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then turn to low and simmer until the chicken is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. 

4. While the chicken is simmering, place the chickpea flour in a small, dry sauté pan and toast it over medium-low heat until the flour becomes slightly fragrant and takes on a pinky-golden hue – about 4 minutes. 

5. Stir the chickpea flour and the peanut butter into the curry. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

To serve: Place some of the noodle-rice base in a shallow bowl, then spoon the curry over. Repeat for each serving. Pass around the condiments so each diner can dress up their dish as he or she likes.