This month, we are headed to a Myanmar (or Burma), a Southeast Asian country with a lesser-known cuisine and very unique flavors. For my first stop, I decided to try one of the salads Myanmar is famous for: chickpea tofu salad, also known as tohu thoke.
Tohu thoke is one of the many staples of Yangon street food. Yangon (or Rangoon) is the largest city of Myanmar with 6 million residents and the former capital of the country. Naypyidaw, a smaller city in the middle the country, has now been the capital for more than 10 years.
Burmese salads are an institution in the Land of the Golden Pagodas. Indeed, those salads, known as a thoke, thohk, thouk or simply thoke are what most foodies know Myanmar for. You can find a variety of salads with various flavor profiles, including with rice or rice noodles (nan gyi thohk), wheat noodles (khauk swè thoke), potatoes, ginger (gyin thoke), tomatoes (kha yan chin thee thoke), kaffir lime, long beans, pickled tea leaves (laphet thoke), fish paste (ngapi thoke), as well as today’s star ingredient: tofu (tophu thoke).
The main ingredient of the salad I decided to prepare for our first Burmese recipe of the month is not the soy tofu that we are all familiar with but rather chickpea tofu. In fact, this chickpea tofu has nothing to do with standard tofu, but its texture ressembles the one of silken tofu and it can be used in a similar fashion to its soy counterpart, including deep fried, or fresh in salads.
Chickpea tofu is very easy to make and really only calls for chickpea flour and water (with salt and turmeric for the color), much like socca (or farinata), this delicate chickpea bread from the South of France and Northern Italy.
This is the same chickpea flour that is called besan or gram flour in India and is used to prepare papadum, pakoras or bhajis. If you have some leftovers, you can even prepare falafels, the Middle Eastern staple that is now popular all over the world.
Chickpea tofu is full of protein and is therefore a great recipe for vegetarians and vegans alike, but also for people looking for gluten-free recipes. The process of making it is actually quite similar to polenta, where yellow cornmeal is used instead of chickpea flour.
Most of the time, chickpea tofu is made with chickpea flour but it can also be made with dried chickpeas that are soaked overnight, although the recipe is a little more involved. Chickpea tofu is a great base ingredient, but much like soy tofu, it doesn’t really have a lot of flavor by itself. It is really used for texture and absorbs all the aromas that it is combined with, and this is exactly how we are using it in this chickpea tofu salad that I am sharing with you today.
Although chickpea tofu salad is now known all over Myanmar, it is originally from the province of Shan, in the East of the country. The version I chose to prepare is therefore called Shan tofu salad, and includes a couple ingredients that are different from the recipe of our Burmese culinary expert Soe. Soe, who is originally from Yangon, now lives in Southern California, and will be my co-host for my seventh cooking class this coming Sunday. And guess what, we will be making chickpea tofu salad!
As I mentioned earlier, there are various ways to use chickpea tofu, including fried in to hpu gyaw (rectangular shapes and eaten with a spicy sour dip), hnapyan gyaw (literally “twice fried”, traditional form in the Shan States), or to hpu gyauk kyaw (deep fried tofu crackers, usually served with htamin gyin or “sour rice” balls with tomato and fish or potato).
Chickpea tofu can also be served in salads like today’s salad to hpu thouk, but also as to hpu gyaw thouk (tofu fritters served as a salad). To hpu nway (warm tofu) or to hpu byaw (soft tofu), the soft warm creamy tofu (before it sets) is also used in salads dressed and garnished similarly, although it may be complemented by tofu fritters or rice noodles.
A cooked curry called to hpu gyet is also popular. In this recipe, sliced chickpea tofu is cooked in peanut oil and fish sauce with fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic before being garnished with cilantro and green hot chili. Sounds delicious!
There is not one recipe for chickpea tofu salad, and you can decide to skip some ingredients or add fish sauce or dried shrimp powder for a non-vegan version too. I have to say that this chickpea tofu salad was good but I am sure it is an acquired taste and that some people may not be as excited as I was to try this very unique recipe. But I encourage all my foodie friends and followers to try it as it doesn’t look and taste like anything you may have tried before!
- 1 cup chickpea flour
- 3 cups water , divided in 2
- A pinch of salt
- A pinch of turmeric
- 8 fresh kaffir lime leaves (or 1 cup chopped cilantro)
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- 2 shallots
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons chickpea flour , toasted
- 4 tablespoons dried shrimp powder (optional)
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
- Toast the chickpea flour in a pan on medium-high heat for about 2 minutes. Set aside.
- Add 1½ cup of water, a pinch of salt and a pinch of turmeric, and stir until all the flour dissolves.
- Add another 1½ cup of hot water. Put the pan back on the stove on very low heat and whisk for about 10 minutes The batter will eventually turn glossy and smooth.
- Grease an 8x8 baking pan with vegetable oil. Spread the batter in the pan and let it cool down for at least 30 minutes.
- Thinly slice the shallots. Heat the vegetable oil in a pan. Fry the shallots for about 4 minutes.
- Dice the tofu in ½ inch squares. Divide among four wide bowls.
- Strip out the central vein of each lime leaf, then stack them, roll them up and slice thinly.
- Distribute the chiffonade among the bowls of chickpea tofu. Sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds.
- Mix together the dressing ingredients with the fried shallots and oil in a small bowl, whisking to blend well. Distribute the dressing over each serving, then toss gently to coat the tofu with dressing. Serve at room temperature.