Friday, February 22, 2013

Reading notes: Pork Dumplings

I am completely infatuated with NPR's fantastic food blog The Salt , if its not a part of your regular on-line reading it should be. In honor of Chinese new year earlier this month they posted the recipe for pork potstickers or dumplings by  Scott Drewno the executive chef of The Source by Wolfgang Puck, a fancy-pants Asian fusion restaurant in Washington, D.C. I think the best part of little write up is how clear it is that Chef Scott LOVES dumplings. According to him "They're everything you want in a dish — salty, savory, filling" So true!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lunch on a snowy day: Bathup

 Yesterday morning we woke up to a Thimphu covered in a thick white blanket of snow. Unusual not because we don't ever get snow but because usually we see a light snowfall that melts almost as soon as it settles. This time the snow came down so thick and heavy and that is stayed all day into the next one. My facebook and twitter were full of people's photos of the snow including snowmen, snow-women and even one snow-buddha. My mother and my brother, Sonny took the opportunity to make and serve up a typical Bhutanese cold weather meal: Bathup or soup with homemade noodles.

 Below are the assembled ingredients minus the homemade noodles. To left you see a basket of chopped leafy greens (my mother likes to use mustard greens but any other leaf green is likely to work), onions, garlic , ginger and some potato. Potato is not a standard Bathup ingredient but my
mother likes the way it melts in the soup to give it a lovely thick consistency. To the right are salt, chili power, sichuan pepper ( or thingay in Dzongkha) and of course bones.  Bones are critical to making a savory and hearty stock for the noodles. My mother puts everything ,except the greens and  thingay (that goes into the soup absolutely last) into a pressure cooker, adds a tiny bit of vegetable stock powder and lets it all cook until the bones are completely cooked.

In the meantime Sonny prepares the dough to make the noodles. To make the mixture he blends two parts of atta ( or whole wheat flour) with half a part of maida ( or white flour) and warm water.  The mixture of flours gives the noodle a nice texture. Below you can see the kind of consistency
that you need to aim for.

The flour is then rolled out and Sonny used a serrated pizza cutter to slice the dough into noodles. He also used the straight edge of a salad serving soup to make straight and consistently sized noodles.

The cut noodles are kept in a bowl that has flour in it and tossed regularly ( ideally with each addition of newly cut noodles) to keep the noodles from sticking together or clumping.

Once the meat it judged to be cooked, its time to add the chopped mustard greens. These are stirred into the soup and the pressure cooker is now left open and used like a regular cooking pan.

Once the soup comes to a boil again its time to add the homemade noodles. Sonny is careful not to stir too vigorous as this might ruin the noodles. He gently stirs in the noodles, makes sure all of them  are completely submerged in the soup. 

Now its time to add the thingay. My mother has had some thingay sitting on the warm stove as the soup was made  ( not over a lit flame but just sitting out on the stove )  so that they are lightly toasted. Now she crushes them into a coarse powder before adding it to the soup.

As a final touch my mother chops some green onion directly into the soup before serving.

And there you have it, the perfect snowy day meal!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Reading notes: Food Processing and the Growth of Cities

Rachel Lauden a historian who has a wonderful blog about the history and politics of food, recently had a great post  ( with wonderful vintage photographs of cod and pasta drying, well worth a look) wondering aloud about the amount of space that traditional food processing takes and how this may have impacted the growth of cities.

"I’m toying with the idea that one factor contributing to the growth of cities was the development of space-saving methods of processing foods, such as commercial drying facilities for pasta.
In early days (ancient Rome, for example) this commercial milling and baking would have dramatically reduced the space needed to produce daily bread. In the Industrial Revolution, steel roller mills, huge bakeries, vacuum pans for evaporating liquids, and so on would similarly have made operations more compact."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Reading Notes: Dried Chili

Taken from the blog "Imperfectly Perfect- Simply Being by Me" by Thimphu based blogger, Chuki.  Here she writes about dried chili both as a harbinger of Bhutanese winter and as something she loves to eat. 

"Perhaps the best part about winter is the dried red chili. I know the cold season is just round the corner when I drive past houses and see windows and verandas decorated with strings of red chili. I can see the winter sun working on them diligently.
Like any normal Bhutanese, I love chili for reasons I hardly care to find out. And the dried ones are even better. It effortlessly blends with every other item. Shakam with red chili, vegetables with red chili, or red chili with cheese!"

 Note: Shakam-- is the Dzongkha word for dried meat. Any dried food has the suffix "kam" added to it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dried things: An Introduction

This is a picture of a recent home cooked dinner, one my all time favorite Bhutanese meals. It might be a little hard to tell what it is from the picture but the dish consists mainly of three different dried ingredients: dried meat, dried turnip leaves and dried red chilies.

This time of year, winter time, the weather is dry and sunny and everywhere you go, even in dense urban Thimphu,  people are drying food in whatever space they have available. Sometimes they have strings of red chili drying out of a window, strips of meat on a clothes line or a layer of chili laid out on a rooftop.  Once again I love that despite all the change in our eating habits (for example, my mother complained again yesterday about the over-use of processed Indian cheese in Bhutanese dishes) and fridges and weekly vegetable markets and meat shops,  there is still so much fondness for an old-fashion food preservation process like drying.

According to Dr Brian Nummer of the National Center for Home Food Preservation ( proof that there is a national center somewhere for everything!) drying as a food preservation technique is not only found not in every culture in world but also throughout human history. Its one of the oldest, most prevalent ways to deal with the fact that fresh food doesn't stay fresh all that long.

Over the next few posts I am going to share a little bit about how my family and other families in Bhutan dry foods and also how they cook and eat them. Join me?