Situated between India and China, Myanmar (formerly Burma) combines the food traditions of both countries it borders. This dish is evidence of those influences--yellow lentils, sometimes called chana dal, are common to Indian cooking, and this thick, comforting stew is often served over Chinese egg noodles (though basmati rice is also a good base). As with most curries, a frosty cold beer is a great match.
Place lentils in a large saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above lentils. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside.
Combine cumin and next 5 ingredients (through cloves) in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken; seal and shake to coat.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add the mixture; sauté 4 minutes. Stir in broth, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add lentils and bay leaves; cover and simmer 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer 10 minutes. Discard bay leaves.
For those that think this is bland, try it again with a few easy modifications and you won't be disappointed. First, prior to tossing the chicken in the dry spices, marinate the chicken in 1/8c fish sauce for 5-10 minutes. Once tossed in the spices, let it marinate an additional 15 minutes or so. Second, instead of chopping the onion, purée it with the garlic and some fresh ginger and then fry that paste in the oil before adding the chicken. Third, use good Hungarian sweet, or smoked, or hot paprika instead of the generic "paprika" in the stores. I used a combo of all three. Smoked paprika always adds a depth of flavor. Finally, chop up two tomatoes and fry those in with a little salt after browning the chicken. If you've got a bell pepper on hand, slice it up and toss that baby in while you are frying the tomato, too. These changes were the result of melding two similar recipes together and I found the result very flavorful and a neat balance of Indian and SE Asian flavors.
Divisive recipe, eh? Like a lot of folks, I was really underwhelmed. There is a great Burmese place a few minutes away from where I've eaten for years. Some of the dishes are great and some do tend to be a tad bland. This is one Burmese recipe that is bland. Actually, earthy and mild might be the more complimentary way of phrasing it. At any rate, I used fresh rated nutmeg, cumin that I'd ground myself a few days earlier, and fresh turmeric. Yeah, the cloves may have been a bit old but they are frequently overwhelming anyway. So, recipe cooked properly, with noodles, using frsh spices, and at leats to my tatses, this was quite bland and one-dimensiional. Basically a semi-exotic chicken noodle soup. On the plus side, it's fairly cheap, easy, and makes a filling four servings.
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