In temperate and northern climates, we take the year-round availability of potatoes for granted. But in Rakhine State on Burma’s west coast, there’s a very limited growing season for potatoes, from February until early May—in other words, from a month before the start of the hot season until the rains begin.
Potatoes are eaten only in season there, and when they are small. In this dish they are dressed with shallot oil that is, in typical Rakhine fashion, made hot with a little chile. There’s an enticing contrasting tartness that comes in Burma from hibiscus flowers. To get the same effect, I use sorrel leaves (especially in summer, when sorrel grows in my garden, in season with the new potato crop), which have a fresh lemony tang, or I get a tart edge from chopped tomatillos or green tomatoes. If you have none of these, a generous squeeze of lime or lemon juice gives the same balance.
Place the potatoes in a pot of cold water to barely cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook at a low boil until just cooked through. Drain, place back in the pot, cover, and set aside for 10 minutes.
Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chile, and as soon as the oil starts to bubble around it, remove from the heat and set aside.
If the skin on the potatoes is at all tough, strip it off; otherwise, leave it on. Place the potatoes in a wide bowl, pour the chile oil over, add the sorrel or tomatillos or tomato, and toss. Add the salt and toss. Taste for salt, and adjust if you wish.
You can wilt about 1½ cups chopped dandelion greens or fenugreek leaves in the oil alongside the chile, then add to the potatoes.
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