Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tshomin's Tree Tomato Ezay

This time of year, when tree tomatoes are in season, Tshomin often whips up a batch of her  famous Ezay, a sort of side dish/ condiment  to add a little spice to any rice-based  meal.  Above is a handful of the fresh tree tomatoes, you can see that tree tomatoes are little more egg shaped than "regular tomatoes." This ezay is the only recipe I know for the tree tomato though once at the lovely  Zhiwa Ling hotel in Paro, I ate them  poached in honey as dessert. Very tasty!

Tshomin always makes it sound like this is an easy dish to throw together but it does take a bit of effort and time. Its also best served fresh. Tshomin starts by pre-soaking dried red chillies, this help to soften them up a little. 

Then both the tomatoes and the red chilli have to be roasted. In our house this is done over an open flame . Tshomin braves burnt fingers as she carefully turns the chili and tomato until they are both nicely roasted as indicated by the blackening skin seen in the picture below. 

The roasted tomato must then be peeled. The skin is tough but the flesh is wonderfully pulpy once its been roasted. Again this takes quick fingers, unafraid of a little heat. I love the tufts of steam you can see rising as Tshomin peels

Next both the peeled tomato and the roasted chili are roughly chopped. If you wanted to take the heat down a little you can take the seeds out of the chili but we are not that kind of family. Again look at that steam!

The chopped tomato and chili are then added to a mortar that already contains chopped onions and a peeled chunk of ginger ( no need to chop the ginger) . Generally its about one regular red onion and a finger of ginger. Tshomin tends to keep roasting and adding chili and tomatoes until she feels like she had made enough. She is very much one of those, "I know it when I see it" type cooks!

Now its time to use the pestle to crush and grind the ingredients down into a thick, chunky paste.  Just before the ezay is done Tshomin adds salt, crushed Sichuan peppers and fresh chopped coriander.

The end produce looks like this. Thought admittedly at many meals we serve it straight for the mortar!

As you can tell this particular batch of ezay was not made for a typical Bhutanese meal but it was just as appreciated with oven roasted chicken and peas as it might have been with a more traditional spread.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Reading Notes: Rumors of Poison

From:  Bodt, Timotheus A ( 2012) " The New Lamp Clarifying the  History, Peoples, Language and Tradition of Eastern Bhutan and Eastern Mon"  Monpassang Publication: Alblasserdam, the Netherlands

" A curious and macabre cultural feature  that deserves mentioning is the poison cult that existed and according to some sources continues to exist in certain parts of Eastern Bhutan and Eastern Monyul. Notorious areas are the Kurma area in Lhuntsi, Upper Tashiyangtse, the border areas inhabited by Dakpa, certain parts of Pemagatshel. Lish and Chuk in Dirang and the Kongpo area and Pemako in Tibet.  But practically every area has certain households suspected of poisoning guests. According to popular belief, one should never accept any hot food or alcoholic beverages from household with whom one is not thoroughly familiar. Those suspected of giving poison are always women- most commonly spinsters and widows. They are believed to poison a person in order to obtain his... 'life force.' There are several ways in which the poison is prepared  as well as administer. Whereas the usual poison used for hunting is made from Aconitum sp., the poison for the poison cult is home-made. During the new moon, the woman will paint half her face black and half her face white. She will carry an unboiled egg into the forest and whilst uttering secret mantras, she will bury it at the foot of a tree. During the next full moon, she will return to this place and collect the mushroom that usually sprouts from the egg. The mushroom will be dried and ground to a fine powder. The poison can be administered unnoticed, for example by keeping it under the fingernail and adding it to a cup of alcohol when serving it to an unsuspecting victim.  The victim has to be, in order of preference,  a king, a high lama, a minister, a rich man, a young man, her husband or her son. In absence of any of these she has to consume  the poison herself. Death comes slow and sudden, and often poisoning is not suspected. Households thought to be poisoners are usually outcast and stigmatized but at the same time also kept in respect out of fear that retribution might take place. Belief in the poison cult is still strong and in many cases people suffering from sudden and severe illnesses  are  thought to be /duk rek/ 'touched by poison.' Official policy is to discourage belief in the cult and the social stigma it entails."