During my first trip to Tibet, I was lucky enough to stay with a nomad family in Amdo in the middle of winter. The family consisted of a husband, wife, and two daughters, seven and ten years old. After a day of yak herding, horseback riding, and playing with the girls (who had never met foreigners, much less foreigners who spoke Tibetan!) we came inside for dinner.
The father had recently slaughtered a yak, something only done in winter, and was preparing a feast for us. The nomadic kitchen is very small, as nomads live in one room tents and occasionally one room huts in winter. All cooking is done on a small, clay, dung burning stove.
Our meal, an absolute feast, was made only in one pot and illustrates how the nomads like to use all parts of the yak. The recipe here is an abridgment of what could only be replicated by re-making that entire meal.
To start, large chunks of yak meat on the bone were boiled in a large pot over a period of several hours( These were fished out and served to us, with daggers to cut the meat and a mix of dried chili and salt. As we ate, freshly stuffed Gyuma Nakpo (Blood sausage) boiled in the same water, which soon became a deep, rich, meat stock. Then, as we ate the steaming hot Gyuma, our hard working host and hostess pulled tenthuk for us and the children.
Especially in winter, vegetables are rare fare for the nomads of Tibet. The spinach was a special treat, bought just for the foreign guests. I remember watching, as the father spoke animatedly, he was holding his bowl of soup in his left hand, just out of his sight. There, his seven year old daughter, like seven year olds anywhere in the world, was carefully picking all of the spinach out of her bowl, and dropping it into her father’s.
1 Lb Lamb or Beef on the bone (Short Ribs or something similar)
1 Medium white onion, Chopped
2-3 sprigs of scallions, coarsely chopped
2 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
4-5 cups of fresh spinach
12 cups of water
Thenthuk Noodles (Although this is made at the end of the recipe, it's easier just to put the explanation here)
The skill of a chef is judged, in part, by how quickly and evenly he or she can make the tenthuk noodles. A skilled Tibetan chef pinch out the noodles faster than the eye can follow.
In a large mixing bowl, pour a large pile of flour. Make a pool in the center with your fist. Fill the pool with water. Carefully mix water from the sides into the pool, adding water until the flour is fully incorporated. The end result should be a stretchy, but not sticky, dough. Knead the dough until smooth. Separate dough into fist sized balls. Pour 1 tsp of oil per ball into the bowl. Roll the balls around until evenly coated. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes.
Roll out each ball between your palms to form a long coil. Pinch the coils between your thumbs to form a long, thin tape around 1 inch wide. Tear 1 inch pieces into your boiling soup.
But Back to the Soup!
Roughly cut the meat off the bones. Leave a little bit of meat on the bones and save the fat. Cube the meat. If you want to be really authentic, buy more meat and just boil it on the bone with some salt and fish that out after several hours and enjoy eating the lightly salted boiled meat.
Bring the water to a boil. Add the bones and fat and let the water boil on a low flame for at least 30 minutes, an hour or more is preferable. The water should turn a rich brown. If the water reduces too much, add more. The final volume should be around 10 cups.
Add onions and continue to boil. Add the garlic and stir. Add Soy Sauce, Chili Powder and salt to taste. When the water is boiling, add the tenthuk noodles (stirring occasionally to make sure the noodles don’t stick together. Let the noodles boil for at least 3 minutes. Add the scallions and stir. Add the spinach and stir until the spinach has reduced, which should only take a minute or two. Serve hot with black vinegar, chili, and soy sauce as condiments.