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This Little Hamburger Went to Burma

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Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: Nicholas finds kid food in an unlikely place -- this time, it's a hamburger.

lemongrass-ginger sliders

A few weeks ago, I went on a dyspeptic tangent about how cooking for children is mostly making the old revelations look less old. There are new ideas out there, I said. They just aren’t usually what’s for dinner.

Today on Dinner vs. Child, we inaugurate an occasional series in which we try to change that: we look for family dinner-friendly recipes in overlooked and unlikely places—where the kids' menu fears to tread. And in the name of sheer stubbornness, we start with the most overlooked and unlikely place of all: Burma.

You. Put down the Italian cookbook.

For decades, no one did much looking for anything in Burma, also known as Myanmar: a brutal military dictatorship all but sealed off the country from the rest of the world. In recent years, though, there’s been an unexpected political thaw in the country. For those of us half a world away, among the auxiliary benefits of the thaw is Naomi Duguid’s new book Burma: Rivers of Flavor.

Burma Naomi Duguid

If you know her name, that’s because Naomi Duguid, with Jeffrey Alford, has written a series of books that get unusually close, in a fly on the counter sort of way, to how people actually cook. Their books are part ethnography, part travelogue, part recipe binder, and for anyone looking for unfussy, family cooking, they’re essential. It's true that their unfussy, family cooking is very different from what we're used to from those words: theirs is usually Asian and it is often unmoored from anything that you already know your child will eat. But let them into your home and they become homey: their nam prik ong is our freezer alternative to bolognese.

Even after children, even after Project Sanity, I turn to their books every week, and more out of practicality than escapism.

In Burma, Duguid’s first solo effort, she’s grappling with a cuisine that few Americans have ever tasted. (Burmese restaurants in the States are nearly nonexistent.) This brings with it pantry-defying ingredients: Toasted chickpea flour! Fermented soybean paste! The recipe for tea-leaf salad is included, Duguid admits, “in an act of optimism.” If you have any guests coming over, I recommend you have them make you the coconut sauce noodles with homemade broth, homemade fish balls, and homemade fried noodles.

Still, there’s a lot here that could be weeknight, child-tolerated fare: the delicate curries (a reprieve for sensitive palates), the eclectic and lovely salads. But let’s start slow. Let us, in the name of weaseling out of a tough spot we got into through sheer stubbornness, start with hamburgers.

lemongrass-ginger sliders

Your Burmese hamburger is originally a meatball, made into a slider by Duguid. It’s packed with ginger and lemongrass. The tomato goes not on top but inside; so does a handful of cooked jasmine rice (a substitute for traditional green hog plum wood, obviously). Serve with a crisp salad and a pile of sticky rice. Then go plant some hog plum trees for next year.

Lemongrass-Ginger Patties

Lightly adapted from Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid (Artisan, 2012)

Serves 4

1 pound ground beef or ground pork
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemongrass, minced
1/2 cup shallots, minced
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cooked jasmine rice, cooled
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/4 cup plum tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tablespoons peanut oil

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

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Tags: Dinner, Weeknight Cooking, Long Reads, Kids, Everyday Cooking, Parenting