Thursday, June 5, 2014

Extra-filling Veg Momo for Saga Dawa

It's Saga Dawa, the Tibetan Buddhist holy month encompassing the Buddha's birthday, enlightenment and death.  Many Buddhists choose to go vegetarian for the first 15 days of the month or the entire month. For people used to the generally meat-heavy Tibetan diet, Saga Dawa can be a bit of a shock to the system.  And pretty much everyone complains about being hungry.  Tonight, my friend Lhamo and I decided to make veg momo and, on a whim, I decided to tweak it.  The result was super delicious and super filling.  Lhamo said these were the best veg momo she'd ever eaten and she's a hardcore Khampa carnivore, so I think we accidentally stumbled upon the best veg momo recipe.  The following recipe makes approximately 30 momos.  The two of us couldn't finish them.  We only finished 20.

Start by making momo dough as usual and letting it rest

3 medium sized white or yellow potatoes, cubed
1/2 a medium sized yellow onion, finely diced
1 medium sized shallot, finely diced
1 bunch of scallions (approximately 6 scallions), finely diced
1/2-3/4 cup of plain, whipped cream cheese
3/4 cup peas (frozen is fine)
Small bunch of cilantro (golf ball sized), finely chopped
1/2 tbs garlic, finely chopped
Salt, to taste

Put the potatoes in plenty of water to boil.  When the potatoes are soft, mash them with the garlic and cheese.
When the mash is smooth, mash in the onion, shallot, scallions, and cilantro.
Gently stir in the peas. Taste and salt to taste.

Fold the momos and steam for 20 minutes.

Although delicious with regular chili sauce, these momos are especially delicious with thai sweet garlic chili.  I know it sounds weird, but trust me. It can't be beat (except possibly by mixing it with spicier chili.)

Super rich, super creamy, super filling.  It was awesome.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Momo Experimentation

Last night, on a whim, I made momos.  Just for fun, I used a handful of chives from the garden.  After much experimentation, I think I should start using 1 part chive, 2 parts scallions, 1 part onion, and 3 parts meat.  I am considering cutting out the white onion entirely.  The chive and onion provided enough of a depth of flavor and texture that I'm inclined to think the white onion might be unnecessary. Many momo experiments shall follow!

Also coming soon: How to make Bhoeja!

Monday, September 17, 2012

How to Survive Tibetan Tea Culture

(I wrote this article in 2009, while staying in Tibet.  I had been approached by two Tibetans and one American. All three were baffled and deeply uncomfortable with the opposite culture's approach to tea.)
A traditional meal in Kham, with an unending cup of Ja Nakku at the corner of the table

I never realized this was a major issue, but now several people in the past two days have expressed to me how much stress Tea Culture causes between foreigners and Tibetans. I would like to share my brief guide to surviving Tibetan tea culture.

First of all, there are many types of drinks that fall into the tea catagory. Not all of them are actually tea, but the rules of Tibetan Tea Culture apply to all.

Chu Kolwa, ཆུ་འགོལ་བ boiled water. This will just be hot water that has been boiled for several minutes.

Ja Suma ཇ་སྲུབས་མ། Churned tea. This is the classic Tibetan butter tea also called བོད་ཇ་ bhoeja, Tibetan tea. Despite what foreign writers say, I have never had it with rancid butter. Dri (female Yak) butter just tastes much sharper than cow butter. The tea is made of a strong black tea, milk, butter, and a pinch of salt all churned, these days using a blender, and served hot and frothy.

'o ja, འོ་ཇ། Milk tea. More popular in eastern Tibet this is just tea and milk. In Kham they may add a little bit of salt, but more likely it will be plain.  It is also called Amja ཨམ་ཇ་ because of its popularity in Amdo.

Ja Ngarmo ཇ་མངར་མོ། Sweet tea. Black tea with milk and sugar. Popular only in major cities like Lhasa and considered a speciality. Probably Indian influence.

Ja Nakku/Nakpo ཇ་ནག་པོ། Black tea. Plain black tea, usually with a pinch of salt.

When you arrive in any Tibetan home, you will be sat down and immediately offered a cup of one of the above mentioned forms of tea. If you have only recently arrived in Tibet, ask for the Chu Kolwa for the sake of hydration.

Tea will be offered no matter how brief your stay in the house is. Do not refuse it unless you are with a Tibetan who refuses it as well and you both have a damn good reason. If you don't have time to sit and drink tea, don't worry. Accept the cup, take a few sips, and then ignore the cup and leave whenever you have to.

Tea will be offered with the words "ja tung" or "solja choe". Ja tung (Drink tea) is more common in amdo and kham, while Solja Choe (Honorific: consume some tea) is more common in Lhasa area, or in a home where they are trying to impress you. Accept the tea with both hands.

Your cup will be refilled any time you make a dent in it. This creates a lot of tension because in western culture, if we are given a cup of something to drink, we need to drink it to show our host that we enjoy it. Then the host may ask us if we would like another and we can feel free to refuse if we are full. We would never ignore a cup, because that would be rude to our host. In Tibet, this is not the case. Your cup will be refilled whether you want it to be or not. what you should do is drink slowly (you will drink a LOT over the course of the evening.) especially smiling and taking a sip whenever your host tells you 'ja tung'. 

Drinking slowly will make you appear to be drinking more. Whenever you feel full, simply ignore your cup. It will be refilled to the top and you can safely ignore it. Occasionally taking a tiny sip is a good idea, and if you drink slowly you can pace yourself and drink more, but ignoring your cup is completely OK. Do not get frustrated at the constant filling, do not feel like you need to drink every glass to completion. You can feel free to politely say "no thank you" to a refill, but this will most likely be ignored. Your host will pressure you to drink more, nod in assent and then take a tiny sip and ignore the cup. This is OK.

Tibetans, in turn, are often frustrated in western homes. When offered tea, they are given one small cup and when they finish it, usually no one offers them more. One Tibetan man told me that when visiting western homes, he now carries a large thermos bottle that holds the equivalent of about three cups of tea! When sitting around, especially at a Tibetan restaurant in Tibet, with Tibetans, its a good idea to top off everyone's glasses every couple of minutes. If nothing else, it will show you as a good host.

Finally, do drink the tea! Butter tea can take some getting used to, so most Tibetans will automatically offer westerners some sort of alternative option. No one will ever take offense if you ask for black tea or hot water. Asking for hot water is especially normal. As for the other teas, I reccomend you try them. Butter tea is very refreshing especially in winter, but it takes getting used to. black tea and milk tea are very easy for the western palatte. But the big thing is drink the tea. Refusal is offensive and in Tibet the altitude makes hydration especially important. Yes, you will be peeing every five minutes, but its better than being extremely sick. Over time, you will learn to enjoy the constant flow of tea and the social situations it creates.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Preparing Droma and Droma Dresi and Droma Markhu

Tibetan food, traditionally, does not have a lot of sweets and there are not a lot of naturally sweet ingredients in Tibet.  However,  there are a few.  One sweet ingredient, unique to the himalayas, is droma.  Droma is a sort of wild sweet potato.  It is small, dark brown root, with a grainy texture and a mild and naturally sweet flavor similar to molasses.  Droma is used in a few Tibetan sweets, especially Droma Dresi and Droma Markhu.

Droma Dresi (left) and Droma Markhu (right), a recent photo from Yushu, Kham
Droma is stored dried, and as a result can keep for several years. When my friend M and I prepared Droma Dresi this past weekend, we were using Droma that was well over a year old, and that's fine. However, it does mean that it requires special preparation.

Techniques vary, but most people recommend soaking the droma over night. Just put the droma in a bowl and pour water until it completely covers the droma, and then a little bit more. Leave this over night and the droma will be ready to use in the morning.  Note that this is not ready to eat, just ready to use.
Soaked Droma
The simplest preparation of Droma, and the one most abhorrent to non-Tibetans, in Droma Markhu.  Mar means butter, and Khu means clear soup or juice.  Markhu, basically, means melted butter.  So Droma Markhu is droma absolutely floating and drenched in melted butter and sugar.  If you look at the top pictre, there is a dollop of sugared butter on top of the hot Droma, which will then be stirred in.  To prepare Droma Markhu, just boile the droma for about 5-10 minutes until it has become tender enough to easily bite, but not soft.  Mix butter and sugar.  Dollop.  Did I mention that Tibetan food is not heart friendly?  Delicious though.

The most popular Droma desert is called Droma Dresi, or sweet rice with Droma.  This is not only a desert, but a celebratory dish.  If you attend religious festivities, a wedding, or any other big Tibetan special event, chances are the first thing that will happen is people going around passing out cups of bhoeja (Tibetan salt and butter tea) and droma dresi.  Another fun fact:  I have not yet met anyone, no matter how unfamiliar with Tibetan culture they were, that hasn't liked Droma Dresi.  If you can't get droma, you could replace it with cubed yam or leave it out altogether. However, I think it's worth the effort to find it.

So, without further ado,

Droma Dresi

3-4 cups of Basmati rice (really this depends on how many people you are serving)
a heaping handful of Droma
a handful of golden raisins
a handful of cashews
a cup of pineapple, cut into small bite-sized pieces (optional and not traditional, but I had it this way in Xining, Amdo, and fell in love with it)
sugar to taste
half a stick of butter (minimum!!!)

Soak the Droma overnight in room-temperature water.  Drain before preparing.


-Prepare the Basmati rice according to instructions
-While the rice is cooking, soak the golden raisins in warm water for about 15 minutes
-Bring a small pot of water to a boil, boil the dresi for about 5-10 minutes or until tender enough to easily bite, but not soft enough to squish with your fingers.
-When the rice has about 5 minutes left and virtually all the water is gone, stir in the raisins and cashews

Stirring in the raisins will plump them up
-Melt the butter completely

-When the butter has melted, add sugar and hot butter together to the rice, then add the pineapple and droma and stir while still hot

-Taste and adjust sugar

And there it is! Droma dresi, a delicious desert and an important food for special occasions

Our finished product

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hot Laphing

This weekend, I went to visit Tashi Jong for my first social visit in more than a year.  Of course, I went in large part to visit my friend Sonam, the one who taught me how to make the Summer Chili that I posted very early on in this history of this blog.  Sonam and her sister are absolutely amazing cooks.  I think I eat more when I visit them than any other time in India, except when I visit certain restaurants in New Delhi.

Anyway, not long after I arrived, one heckuva storm hit, knocking out power. This meant we had nothing to do but cook, eat, and talk.  I ended up staying the night because of the sheer strength of the storm (which is always a pleasure with Sonam's family) and I took that time to interrogate her about some of my favorite dishes from her home.  For now, I will just post the recipes. I hope to post a photo guide when I get back to the states.  So let's start with the most unique dish I've ever had at her home, one I've never had anywhere else and I've been craving in the two years since I first tried it: Hot Laphing.  It's a unique mix of Chinese influence in Tibetan cooking!

Now, I've made a Laphing post before, however this starts with a completely different kind of laphing entirely, so be ready for something completely different.

Sonam's recipe started off with "buy one block of white laphing," but for most of us not living in a few specific countries in Asia, that's not possible. Fortunately, white laphing is very simple to make, unlike it's yellow sibling. I'll dedicate a post to white laphing and it's accompanying sauces later, but making the laphing itself is quite simple so let's start with that.

White Laphing (Without Sauce)
1 package of Mung Bean flour (available at most asian groceries)

Take a very large pot on the stove, fill it about half way with water, get that going to a boil.

Meanwhile, take a pitcher and mix the mung bean flour and water until you have a liquid that looks like and has the consistency of light cream.

Slowly, and while stirring, pour the "cream" into the boiling water until you have an odd, gelatinous mess that is mostly clear, but slightly white-ish, like ice. It should not be white.  It should be distinctly translucent.  If it is white, the concentration of mung bean flour is too high and it will have a nasty consistency.

Here is a picture of finished white laphing (the blue is because it is under a tent).  Your gelatinous mess should be slightly-slightly more clear than this:

Once you have your weird gelatin, pour that into a wide tray, I usually use a cake pan, and let it cool and set.  This should take roughly an hour in a cake pan, less if you refrigerate it, and more if you use a deeper pan.  There you go! Laphing!

So now, what we use it for...

Hot Laphing
A large chunk of white laphing (say 2 cups per person), cut into 1" cubes
Vegetable oil
Finely chopped garlic
Meat, cut into bite sized pieces OR vegetables cut into bite sized pieces (less traditional and FAR less flavorful)
Erma/Hua Jiao (Sichuan peppercorns, mentioned at length here) finely ground-a few pinches
MSG (optional)-a large pinch
Salt to taste
Chili powder to taste
Sesame oil
Green onion, chopped

In a pot or pressure cooker, boil up the meat/veg in as little water as you can use to get it to boil.  We don't want to lose any flavor with excess water and we will be using the boiling water.  Just boil it for a minute or two, maximum.

In a large pot, heat up a few teaspoons of vegetable oil (enough to coat the bottom). When that's hot, toss in the garlic and stir until the garlic has browned and the oil has picked up the garlic aroma

Now add the meat/veg and when the oil has stopped sputtering, add some of the water from boiling (approx 1/3 cup per serving. NO MORE.  In fact it's better to go with less and you can add more later!)

Add powdered erma to taste, a pinch of MSG, salt to taste, chili powder to taste and let this cook together for a little while (a few minutes is all it needs).

Gently add the laphing, piece by piece.  Stir gently. It will break up a bit, but you don't want to break it up completely.  Break as little as possible. When the laphing is all stirred in, drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle the green onion over this.  Give that a gentle stir to mix it in.

There you go! A super quick meal that is absolutely delicious!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

麻辣火锅 Sichuan Hot Pot

Oh, Sichuan hot pot. One of my favorite foods. Anthony Bourdain tried it in Chengdu (the home of Sichuan Hot Pot) and agreed that it's a painful, but beautiful experience, in fact, perhaps you should hear it in his own words. But here's the thing, going out for hot pot is expensive. However, it is not all that expensive or difficult to make at home as long as you enjoy having lots of leftover fresh ingredients in the house. I just made a huge hotpot today, which makes the above picture look like we were starving, so I figured I'd post my how to.

So, what is Sichuan Hot Pot? It's actually called 麻辣火锅, Mala Huoguo. This literally translates to Numbing Spicy Hot Pot. Mala is a common flavor in sichuanese food and it's very unique. It is a bit of an acquired taste, but it's very addictive. The hot is simple enough, Sichuan likes chilis. The numbing is the weird bit. This comes from a spice called "huajiao" 花椒, sometimes called flower pepper, sichuan peppercorn or Chinese prickly ash.
花椒, Sichuan Peppercorn

It's got a spice smell and an odd numbing effect. When eating, you don't want to crunch down on one of these babies, lest the side of your mouth go numb. However, I do recommend trying it once for giggles! Anyway, the final effect of the mala sensation is food that is truly spicy, yet oddly numbing at the same time. People generally don't like it the first time, and then 2 days later at 3 AM have pregnant-woman-style unbearable cravings for it. I'm a fan.

Anyway, no one makes Sichuan Hot Pot entirely from scratch, so I'm just going to tell you how I make it. A friend of mine, an exchange teacher from China, came over and ate it today and she was shocked at how authentic it was, So, although I make no claims as to my technique being authentic, my flavors are.

What you need:

Since this is like a fondue, you need a hotpot bowl, like in the picture above. You can get these inexpensively at most Chinese grocery stores and expensively at most Japanese grocery stores. If you ask for a huoguo pot, they will know what you want. These generally plug into an outlet and have a heating base. You can get them split and this is very handy so you can make two kinds of broth at once.

You can also use a pot on top of a camping stove, just be careful that it doesn't tip over.

A wide based pot on top of a hotplate works as well.

In a pinch, use a crockpot, but since it doesn't get to a very high temperature, you might need to pre-cook any thicker meats.

If you do not have any of these, just make it on the stove and you won't be elegant.

Vegetable broth or stock (chicken broth will also work)
1 packet of Sichuan Mala hotpot seasoning (it may be called Chongqing hotpot seasoning. Make sure to ask if it's "mala").
Dried red chilis
Huajiao/ Sichuan peppercorns
Dried dates (available in the bag at chinese grocery stores. These are truly dried, not like the snackable dried dates we get in western groceries)
Dried goji berries
Ginger root

Mix one part water to one part vegetable broth. Add hot pot seasoning to taste (start with less, you can always add more and it's VERY potent). Add dried red chilis to taste (same rule! Realize the chilis will get stronger as they boil.) Add around a table spoon of huajiao (more if you really like it) 4-5 dried dates, a small palmful of dried goji berries, a few slices of ginger root, 2 cloves of garlic (whole) and 2 scallions cut into large (1 inch long) peices. When this comes to a boil, it will be your fondue broth. In sichuan, it should have a sheen of blood-red chili oil floating on top. That can be painful for lots of westerners. Use caution.


Hot pot is HOT. You should probably dip anything you pull out in something both for flavor and to prevent mouth scalding. So here are the ingredients for the most traditional sichuanese dipping sauce:

Finely chopped garlic
Finely chopped cilantro
Finely chopped scallions
Sesame Oil

(Optional Ingredients)
Chinese Black Vinegar
Soy Sauce

Mix ingredients in a proportion that you like in a small bowl.

Great Things to Put in Hot Pot
(Just a list of my favorites)

Sliced Beef/Lamb (you can get this from chinese grocery stores, frozen and shaved paper thin, so it cooks up very fast)
Fried Beancurd Puffs
Rice Cakes
Udon Noodles
Fish Balls
Meat Balls
Bok Choy
Chinese Brocolli
Enoki Mushrooms
Shiitake Mushrooms
Lotus Root
Sliced Yam
Sliced Taro Root
Napa Cabbage

But you can basically add whatever you can think of.

The way it all works together:

Get the broth up to a low boil in your pot. Add a bit of everything! People can add what they like. Everyone has their bowl of sauce, probably a bowl of rice and maybe just another general bowl and a pair of chopsticks. The food cooks quite quickly, with the meatballs taking longest because they are often served frozen. The meat will take less than a minute to cook through, but it's best to leave it in for at least a minute. Pull out what you like, dip it in the sauce (I usually let it sit for a few seconds to cool) then yank it out and eat! Enjoy!

Goes Best With:

Beer or soda, especially pepsi and fresh fruit for dessert.


Tums before the meal. Seriously.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Tenthuk, obviously my favorite food. Previously, I've included tenthuk recipes for one. The following is quick tenthuk for the whole family. I made the following for 6, we had a lot left over, but we did finish about 2/3rds with each of us having 2-3 bows. So, this recipe could serve ten. Or, make the whole batch and freeze it in ziploc bags to make easy single servings.

TENTHUK FOR THE MASSES! (With Measurements!)

5 heaping handfuls of flower (Approx 9 cups)

3 inches of ginger root, finely chopped
2/3 bulb of garlic, (around 8 cloves) finely chopped
1 medium-large onion, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 lbs beef or lamb cut into bite sized peices
Baby Bok Choy or other greens, several large handfuls
12 stalks of scallions, roughly chopped
Salt (to taste)
Soy Sauce (to taste)

Mix the flower and water until the dough is no longer sticky. Knead until a smooth ball.
There will be a lot more than this, this was a smaller batch

Wrap this in a plastic bag and let it sit and relax for a while.

Meanwhile, finely chop the ginger and garlic.
You can see the finely chopped ginger in the bowl, but it wasn't enough.

Chop the garlic and put with the ginger. Chop the onions, set aside. Chop the tomatoes, set aside.
My lovely assistant, Karma. Onions make me cry.
Note the massive pot, that's what we're using.

In a large pot, heat up 3-4 TBS of vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the ginger and garlic and a pinch of salt and stir until the oil has become fragrant and the garlic has slightly browned.

Add the onions, and a hearty pinch of salt. The onions should reduce and slightly brown.

Add the tomatoes and another hearty pinch of salt. The tomatoes should reduce until you have a sauce-type consistency.

Add the meat and scatter a teaspoon of salt over it all. Stir until the meat has browned and it's started to form liquid.

Pour water over all of this until you have a large pot of broth with meat in it. I think we used around a gallon of water or more.

As the water is coming to a boil, take your dough out of the bag and separate into fist sized balls. Coat these balls with vegetable oil.

When the water has come to a boil taste and adjust salt and soy sauce. Roll a dough ball into a long snake like rope. Flatten between thumb and forefinger to form a long tape. Throw in small pieces of the dough into the boiling water. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

When all the dough is in the water, stir in the bok choy or other green vegetable. Stir. Bring to a boil again.
Mmmm, we made so much tenthuk it overflowed and we had to put some in that bowl on the side! lots of tenthuk!

When it's back to a boil add in the scallions. Stir for about a minute. Serve hot with chili sauce!