Saturday, October 20, 2012

Peaches by candlelight

 This time of year the trees around our house are so heavy with fruit that we can hardly keep up with all the ripening apples and peaches. In fact much to my mother's frequent distress many of our apples are being eaten by bird or they fall off the tree and rot. We have been giving away apples by the basket-full.

 Luckily  my family has "invented" a new favorite way to eat our peaches. The peaches are peeled, the pit is removed and the small peaches are then sliced in half. Then we cook them in a large pan with some sugar and water. After dinner we eat the peaches in a bowl with some fresh homemade yogurt.

Its a simple dessert, much lighter and healthier than peaches and cream, prefect after a regular weeknight dinner. During a recent power outage we discovered that peaches and yogurt are even tastier by candlelight!



Friday, October 19, 2012

Reading notes: NPR does dal

Much to my absolute delight NPR recently had a great article on dals with recipes. The best part is the wonderful assortment of dal variations described including a dry dal and deep fried dal dumplings. The readers comments are also informative, amusing and well worth a read. Also the delightful author of the article is on twitter @mbhide

Friday, October 12, 2012

Cold weather and tingmos

In my mind cold weather can only mean one thing food wise, comfort foods! This week there was a sudden cold snap  and in response my mother made one of the most widely eaten Himalayan comfort foods- tingmo or tingmomo. Tingmo for the uninitiated is a sort of steamed bread that can be used to soak up everything from soup to curries to spicy pickle. I have heard it called the Himalayan version of white bread.  When it comes out right, its wonderfully soft and fluffy and just a tiny bit greasy. My mother uses a standard white bread dough recipe with salt and yeast to make her tingmo ( thought I know other recipes out there sometimes call for sugar and soda). She mixes and kneads the dough and then leaves it in a covered bowl to rise a little. It will eventually be cooked in a the same kind of steamer  as we use to make the fancier, better known Himalayan dumplings, momos.
The bottom most pan of the steamer will be filled with the water that will steam the tingmos. As it cooks the tingmos this water will become wonderfully greasy and tasty so that it actually can be made into a lovely soup to eat with the tingmos. So while I grease each layer of the pan my mother chops and fries onions and ginger before adding various chopped vegetables, whatever you have on hand, in this case it was cabbage, beans ,some potato and then of course she adds salt and water.

Next my mother works on further soften the dough by folding in more butter. Here is a photographic representation of  how she does this: 

1. She spreads chunks of butter onto rolled out dough

2. Then she cuts into the rolled out dough

3. She uses the cut to roll the dough

4. She roll, roll, rolls until she has a cone like shape

5. The she punches the dough back down so that it called be rolled out again

6. She repeats all this from the top a couple more times until she is confident that her dough will make the softest, fluffiest, yummiest tingmo.

Now it time to start shaping the tingmos and steaming them. My mother once again rolls out the dough and then she rolls the dough up, as seen below until she gets a long thin tube of dough.

 She then uses a knife to cut circular slice off the tube. She then gently pulls on either end of the slice and joins it together, as seen below

And now they are ready to be placed in the steamer. Here are the tingmos before they are steamed.

And here they are once they are steamed .

And here they are served and ready to eat. In this case with some of the soup made in the same steamer and a tomato sauce made with generous amounts of chilli, onion and garlic with a little cheese added at the end.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fruits of the Forest: Nakay

One of the greatest pleasures of coming back to Bhutan during the monsoon months is the availability of nakay or  wild ferns. In fact this year when I flew home in August, my family, well aware of my fondness for nakay, stopped on the way home from the airport to purchase nakay from some of the roadside stalls between Paro and Thimphu.

Nakay is one of the most widely known and collected edible wild plants in Bhutan. According to a joint Japanese- Bhutanese survey of edible wild plants, Bhutanese know about and collect 190 species of wild plants, eating not only the fruits, nuts and tubers but in some cases also the flowers, stem, shoots and leaves. Nakay was found to be the best known of these wild plants and the term " Nakay" in fact is used to refer to three different species of fern. Its amazing how rich Bhutanese forests continue to be and that despite the introduction of all sort of foreign and processed foods that Bhutanese continue to collect and enjoy  these wild plants, many of which are said to have particular medicinal properties. For example according to the survey, nakay is believed to stimulate the brain.Saddly my family and I are not collectors and we eat only the wild plants that get sold in the local market.

Nakay comes covered in a brown fur, my mother always takes great pains to wash each stack in vinegar and water so that this fur comes off completely. Its easy enough to do by hand, just gently brushing off the fur.

She then cuts up the stalks to remove any parts that aren't tender enough . Below you see a batch of tender-est parts of each stalk.

Most often we make nakay datshi with chilli and cheese. Each family makes datshi, a standard way to cook vegetables a little differently, we tend to boil the vegetables with a little chopped onions, garlic, chilli and salt, adding butter when the water bubbles and cheese when the vegetable is almost cooked. Delicious!  

 *Here is a reference if you are interested in learning more about the survey of edible wild plants in Bhutan.

Ken-ichi Matsushima, Mineon Minami and Kazuhiro Nemoto ( 2012) " Use and Conservation of Edible Plants in Bhutan" from the Journal of the Faculty of Agriculture, Shinshu University Vol. 48, no.1

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How Sonny makes Dal

Dal is pretty much a standard at many of our family meals. It is nutritious ( very high in protein!), tasty and more importantly the fussier members of the household love dal.

Dal is a dish that is eaten all over South Asia, probably a little less in Bhutan than in  other parts of the sub-continent.  It is both ubiquitous and hugely varied. Not only are there lots of different types of lentils that can be made into dal but also a huge number of ways to cook it. In general though  the lentils are cooked long and slow ( or you can cheat a little like with do with an pressure cooker) into a seasoned stew or soup (depending on how thick your family likes it) that is then eaten with rice or  some kind of flat bread like chapati.

Here is how my brother Sonny makes dal on an average weeknight. The lentil we use is orangish in color and based on a quick Internet search is called "split red lentils" or  masoor dal. The first thing we do is wash the dal and soak it water while we prepare some of the other ingredients. The soaking helps it to cook a little faster.

Now Sonny chops up onions, garlic, ginger, tomato and some chilli. You can see on the right hand the approximate sizes to aim for. Later he frys the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli in the pressure cooker. Sonny then adds some salt, curry powder and a bay leaf.


Once things start to get golden ( if they start to  brown you have fired too long!) he adds the tomato and immediately afterward he adds the drained lentils, the drier the better. Then Sonny stirs and let this mixture fry for a while.

Now its  time to add water based on how thick or thin you want the finished product to be ( I am so sorry not to have exact measurements but as discussed in previous posts, Sonny doesn't use measurements when he cooks)

Now its time to seal up the pressure cooker and wait for it to signal with its steamy whistle that the contents are ready ( Sonny let the whistle go three times before he opened up to see how the dal was doing) If you don't have a pressure cooker, you might try soaking the dal a little longer. Pressure cookers are kind of wonderful,  though potentially dangerous for first time users! Read the manual, steam burns are very, very painful!

Once Sonny opens up the pressure cooker he checks for water and salt and adds more as needed.  He then continues to stir until the dal is ready. Just before serving he adds some butter and sometimes chopped coriander ( cilantro for  any American readers) .Once the dal is cooked and served there are still option for how to eat it. Here are two: a)  You can either  pour it over the rice, mix well and eat or  b) you can reserve the dal in a small side bowl and drink it like soup.  Either way Sonny's dal is always delicious!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reading Notes: Sensitive chilli plants

From " Chilli and Cheese: Food and Society in Bhutan" by Kunzang Choden

"Our understanding of the sensitivity of plants and our environment was once profound: I recall how forty years ago people from Bumthang who had gone gleaning to Lhuentse District  were not allowed to go into gardens because the unfamiliar presence of new people with alien smells of chemicals like soap and face creams had an adverse effect on chilli plants."