The other day I looked in my fridge and found a dozen eggs, pushed to the back and forgotten. They were well past their sell-by date–good for hard-boiling, and little else. I’m leaving town for two weeks, and these eggs needed to get eaten. Enter a recipe I’ve had bookmarked for a good long time: Burmese egg curry.
As the name implies, this is a curry built not on meat, but on hard-boiled eggs. It’s an odd combination, but a nice one, with the eggs providing a rich, chewy contrast to the sauce. And what a lovely sauce it is: clean-flavored, fresh, spicy, light. The primary flavoring agent is turmeric, which I usually rely on more for its pungent yellow color than as a spice in its own right. But as the backbone of this curry, it’s gorgeously subtle: nutty and earthy and just a little bit sweet.
Even beyond the spice base, though, this curry is deeply satisfying. The standout vegetable here is okra, cooked just until crisp-tender; it thickens the curry slightly, making it soft and glossy, while keeping the bright greeny flavor to a maximum and sliminess to a minimum. And the whole thing gets finished with a scattering of cilantro and a big handful of crisp-fried shallot rings–deeply caramelized and sweet, nicely offsetting the spicy bite of the curry and the richness of the eggs.
For such a surprising and exotic dish, this is a great pantry cleanout. Most of the ingredient list is pantry staples–eggs, onion, garlic, canned tomato products, spices. I keep fish sauce around, because I love the salty funk of it, but plain old standby soy sauce works just fine. I also had a knob of ginger hanging around from another dinner, and it turns out this is a great use-up. All I had to buy were cilantro, shallots, okra, and a chili or two. In 45 minutes, I had dinner for three nights in a row–I fried as many shallots and eggs as I wanted each night, ladled on some warm curry, and tore a few cilantro leaves over the top. Easy, delicious, and just odd enough to be special.
Burmese Egg Curry (serves 4)
Note: If you can’t find okra–or just don’t like it–you could substitute an equal quantity of trimmed green beans. If you do, though, you’ll need to find some other way to thicken the curry. The easiest way to do this is to dissolve 2 tsp cornstarch in an equal amount of cold water, then stir it into the finished curry before adding the eggs.
8 large eggs (chicken or duck)
1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
3-4 medium shallots (or 2 large ones), peeled and thinly sliced
1 large white or yellow onion, peeled and diced
1/2 tsp turmeric
1-2 bird’s eye chilies, thinly sliced OR 1 habanero pepper, seeded and minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1-inch piece of ginger, washed, trimmed and minced (no need to peel)
1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp curry powder
3 plum tomatoes, diced OR 1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 lb (8 oz) okra, (thawed if frozen), trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces (see note)
2 cups water
1 tsp fish sauce OR 2 tsp soy sauce (gluten-free, if you swing that way)
Salt to taste
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Cooked rice or quinoa, for serving
Place the eggs in a small saucepan with cold water to cover. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, turn off the heat and let sit for 6 minutes. Drain the eggs and rinse them in very cold water. Peel the eggs, then set them aside.
In a large deep-sided skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers and thins. Gently use your fingers to separate the shallot slices into rings, then drop the rings into the hot oil. Fry, stirring frequently, for 5-8 minutes, or until the shallots are deeply browned and crispy. Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. Set aside.
Add the cooked, peeled eggs to the pan, and reduce the heat to medium. Fry the eggs for 3-4 minutes, turning them every minute or so to get them browned on as many sides as possible. Remove from the skillet and place on paper towels to drain. Set aside.
Add onion, turmeric and chili(es), and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, or until the onions are beginning to soften. Add garlic and ginger, and continue cooking for another 1-2 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and everything is fragrant. Add tomato paste, stirring to coat the aromatics in it, and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in curry powder and cook 1 additional minute. Add okra, tomatoes and a big pinch of salt, and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add water and fish sauce or soy sauce, and bring the liquid to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes, or until the okra is just tender and the sauce has reduced and thickened. Taste and adjust the salt level, if needed.
Add the eggs back into the curry, nestling them into the sauce. Simmer 1 minute more, just to warm the eggs through. Turn off the heat and let the curry rest for 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle the crispy shallots and chopped cilantro on top, and serve with rice or quinoa, if desired.