Hello Dalai

2007.Nov.19 Monday · 0 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

“You see, my practice is to try to lead a useful existence. That means if you engage in some service to others, give at least a short moment of happiness to others, including animals, then you get the feeling ‘Now I did something good. My existence has become something purposeful.’ After all, the purpose of life is happiness. That’s my fundamental belief. To achieve happiness, good food, good shelter, good friends are part of the source of happiness, but the main thing is deep mental satisfaction. That comes if you make yourself available to others and serve others. Basically, a human being is a social animal. So, if you create some short moment of happiness for people, you get deep satisfaction. You get fulfillment of your existence.”

– Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

Buenos Aires – Lhamo Döndrub may have been born at an opportune moment… or, depending on how one looks at life, an inopportune one. Arriving into this world on July 6, 1935, he was the fifth of sixteen children born to a Tibetan farm couple. His life was pretty uneventful for his first two years… at which time he was declared by the powers that be to be the reincarnation of Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama, and thus began a life of being trained to take on the duties that he would eventually assume – at his coronation as both the ruler of Tibet, and spiritual leader of his particular sect of Tibetan Buddhism (not of all Buddhism as some often believe, though obviously he’s the most recognized figure in the Buddhist world), and renamed Tenzin Gyatso – on November 17, 1950 – a mere five weeks after the Chinese invasion of Tibet, setting the stage for his tenure as 14th Dalai Lama for the past 57 years. In honor of that event, I decided on an evening of Tibetan influenced food… and no, it was not to be a vegetarian meal, the Dalai Lama himself is not a vegetarian, much to the surprise of many folks who first encounter him…

Barley noodle and green bean saladGeographically I can’t say that I know a huge amount about Tibet – well, even outside geography, I can’t claim vast knowledge. But I know a good portion of it is mountainous, and as such, isn’t covered with amber fields of grain, etc. Apparently, when it comes to grain type products, barley is the mainstay, and is used in making breads and noodles… which led me to thinking about a barley noodle from my own tradition, farfel, or egg barley noodles, which are little pellet shaped noodles (not to be confused with farfalle, Italian bowtie pasta). Now this dish, in no way, is traditional Tibetan food, and I imagine would be unrecognizable to any Tibetan grandmother who set foot in my kitchen, should such an event ever occur. But, I hope I stayed true to some of the flavors – having started off with a recipe for something called tema, a string bean and potato dish – though it evolved into something quite different I think. First, I blanched and shocked green beans that had been cut into 1″ segments. Then, I cooked up some farfel, in simple salted water. After draining the pasta, I tossed it with a mix of some sesame oil and olive oil, so that it would abosrb those flavors and not lump together. In a frying pan I sauteed together: a chopped white onion and red bell pepper, minced garlic, ginger, and hot chilie peppers. When the vegetables were nice and soft and just starting to brown, I added some soy sauce and some diced tomato, cooking together just long enough to soften the tomato a little. Then I tossed that all into the pasta and mixed them together well. Once that mixture was cooled to room temperature, I mixed the green beans into it, adjusted the salt, and served it up.

Corn SoupA large number of Tibetan exiles live in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala, and, presumeably adjusting to local ingredients, one of the popular dishes of this community is a corn soup made with tofu and a bit of yak’s milk or yak’s cheese. Not having access to the latter ingredients, I had to go with local cow… the soup is quite simple to prepare, and quite delicious, with a very intense, pure corn flavor. In a pot, saute together a bit of yellow onion, garlic, and ginger, in butter, until they’re soft and translucent. Meanwhile, cut the corn kernels off of several ears of corn, and then cut the cobs into short lengths (2″, roughly). Add the kernels and the cobs to the pot, along with some chopped up tofu – I used a bit of seasoned and smoked tofu that the local market had – mix it around a bit, and add water to nearly fill the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 35-40 minutes. Remove the cobs, and then puree the rest of the soup, straining it through a coarse strainer – you want to get a little texture in it, but not too much (though, I’m sure the traditional soup probably just leaves it all whole). Add some milk, season with salt and white pepper. Serve topped with chopped green onions.

more or less, the Dalai Lama’s momosLike dumplings in any culture, there are as many versions of Tibet’s traditional momos as their are cooks making them. Several websites asserted that they had the authentic recipe for the Dalai Lama’s personal favorite momos, but who knows? The recipes were all different, but then, the guy likes to eat good food, so his favorites may depend on where he happens to be at the moment. I settled on a version of a filling made with mashed potato mixed together with a saute of chopped portobello mushrooms, a bit of nutritional yeast for tanginess, and lots of chopped garlic chives and cilantro, salt, cayenne, and black pepper to taste. I used Chinese dumpling wrappers and made them potsticker style, serving them up with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, red rice vinegar, and a bit of chili-black bean sauce, all pureed together.

Lamb CurryIt’s been interesting over the tenure of Casa SaltShaker to see the different cultural variations on slow cooked lamb stews, from French, to Peruvian, to more French, and on to a third French version, Tex-Mex, Pakistani, Kashmiri… actually, it’s perhaps most interesting looking at the last two, along with a Tibetan version – all come from very close regions, geographically, and to some extent, with cultural connections, yet each is quite different in flavorings. The Tibetan version includes some Chinese spicing, almost the traditional Chinese five-spice. Here’s what I did to come up with roughly a dozen plus servings – In a large pot, saute a mix of 3 each chopped white and yellow onions, a half dozen minced garlic cloves, and finely slivered 2″ piece of ginger, until soft and lightly browned. Add 2 teaspoons each: sweet paprika, curry powder, cinnamon, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon of ground cloves, half a dozen star anise, and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes to develop the spices. Add about ¼ cup of soy sauce and cook to evaporate the liquid. Add about 5-6 pounds of diced lamb shoulder, and continue cooking to lightly brown the lamb. Add half a dozen peeled and diced medium sized potatoes, and roughly three cups of thick, freshly made yogurt. No additional liquid is necessary. Bring to a boil, reduce to minimal heat, cover, and let simmer away for 4-5 hours, stirring occasionally. About an hour before you’re ready to serve, add half a dozen tomatoes cut into wedges, they’ll cook down but stilll stay together enough to add some color as well as their flavor to the sauce. Traditionally, this should probably be served on rice, or maybe with barley noodles…

Carrot BarfiI haven’t quite gotten the texture for this one down right – and it has the unfortunate, at least in English, name of Carrot Barfi. But the flavors all work – I just have to figure out what needs to be done to get it to firm up more – I grated enough carrots to make about 3 cups of finely grated carrot – I think maybe at this step the way to go would be really squeezing out as much liquid as possible, but I’m not sure, and I’d hate to lose all that carrot flavor… Add 1½ cup each of milk and cream, and cook for an hour, which will soften the carrots and end up with a fairly thick mixture. Add 3/4 cup of butter, 1½ cup of sugar, 1½ teaspoons of cardamom, 3/4 cup each of slivered almonds, chopped cashews, and golden raisins, and just a dash of red food coloring to brighten it all up (the orange color tends to dull after the cooking in milk). Continue to cook for about 20 minutes more, over medium-high heat, to caramelize the sugar, stirring regularly so it doesn’t burn. It should end up fairly thick. Pour into a buttered pan, smooth, let cool, and then chill for several hours, even overnight. It should firm up almost to a fudge like consistency – really, I’ve tried it before and somehow it does – but mine stayed fairly soft, more scoopable. Still, it’s delicious, sort of carrot cake without the cake… and topped with whipped cream – or maybe next time, slightly sweetened sour cream… hmmm…

Well, if the Dalia Lama ever wants to drop by for dinner… maybe we can give him a short moment of happiness…


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