Tibet Cuisine (recipes for Tsampa, Butter Tea, Momos, Koa, Kapsas, etc.)

Tibet Cuisine (recipes for Tsampa, Butter Tea, Momos, Koa, Kapsas, etc.)

(Joy wrote: We're doing traditional Tibetan New Years food. By midnight I expect to be covered in barley flour.)
(Replies and pleas: Recipes, please?)

Okay, since I've had several people request more info, and I'm taking a break here, I'll do a quick and dirty run down. Recipes, as such, are pretty much individual preference as to quantities.

95% of Tibetan food consists of meat, dairy and grain. Most of the country is above the snow line and the people are herders. So a Tibetan diet is... well... pretty dense. Fine for freezing temperatures and a very hard lifestyle, not so great for the average American.

For New Years we are doing Tsampa, butter tea, momos, koa and, if we have time, Kapsas.

Is the staple food of the Tibetans. It is bread, pasta, potatoes, etc. to them. What it is is coarse flour made from roasted barley. It is eaten as is or made into a paste with butter tea, mixed with butter, mixed with yogurt, mixed with sugar and dried fruit and butter and made into cakes, ground coarser and made into soup, etc. etc.

Traditionally you roast the barley (pearl barley from Safeway works if you moisten it just a tiny bit a few hours beforehand) a few handfuls at a time over an open flame in a kind of wok, stirring it until it pops (a little like popcorn, but barley doesn't get that fluffy) and is golden brown. Then you take it down to the old stone mill *g* and have it ground into a substance that is about midway in coarseness between fine cornmeal and whole wheat flour. I do some in the wok, but, for a big gathering like tomorrow, I roast it on heavy baking sheets in a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes. Then, when it cools, I put it through the grain mill attachment on my Kitchen Aid. This method makes tsampa identical to the traditional stuff. As far as I know, I'm the only westerner who has been able to make tsampa using modern tools that "tastes like mom's." *g* Trial and error - and my trusty Kitchen Aid.

Butter tea gets talked about in the literature a lot. Usually it is described as "ak butter" which makes Tibetans laugh hysterically because, essentially "yak" is linguistically equivalent to the English word "bull". A female of that species, which gives the milk, is a "dree". So saying "yak butter" is like saying "bull butter". Anyway, we have neither yaks nor drees, so we use regular old cow's butter which is quite similar, though not as rancid as butter often is in Tibet.

Butter Tea:
Don't think "tea" here - think herbal soup. First of all it is salted - often heavily. You use a kind of fermented brick tea (available at Chinese groceries) that has a pinkish tinge when steeped. You bring some water to a rolling boil then break a bit off the brick and pitch it in, boil it a minute, take it off the fire and let it steep another minute or two. Then strain it (traditionally into a tea churn, but a blender is even better) add salt to taste and a good-sized lump of butter. You can also add whole milk or half and half if your family likes it milky. Then you churn (or blend) this until it's nice and frothy.

When this is poured, it should have a nice oily slick of butter floating on top. Yum *g* Usually you make a meal by putting a layer of tsampa in the bottom of your tea bowl and then filling it up with the tea. You drink the tea off until you have a bit of it left and the butter and tsampa in the bowl which you then mix into a paste and eat with you fingers. This is called "pa'ap" People live on this.

Momos and Koa:
Momos are basically meat-filled dumplings - dense ones. You get some meat shanks, cut the meat up and chop it fine. While you're making the dumplings, you break up and boil up the bones to make broth (koa) You can add a tiny bit of chopped onion to the chopped meat. Then you make a wheat paste (just like thick potsticker wrappers or eggless ravioli skins) roll it out and cut it into 3" rounds or squares, put a dollop of meat mixture in the center of each round, fold up and seal them and steam them in a metal or basket steamer over the broth so that any juices that leak out are caught in the broth (no waste.) They are heavier than Chinese steamed dumplings, but quite similar in concept. You can use potsticker makers to fold and seal them quite nicely. Served with or in the koa broth. Maybe with a bit of hot sauce or chili oil or vinegar if that's your taste.

These fill the niche of cookies. Fried dough - wheat flour, water, a bit of oil, salt, a pinch of baking powder (if you have it) in proportions to make a dough that can be kneaded, rolled and cut into rectangles then slit and folded back on themselves through the slit - very like those Polish fried cookies. Deep fried and then, if it's available, sprinkled with a little powdered sugar or drizzled with honey. They are often rolled fairly thick (1/8") and end up pretty dense, especially after they have "aged" through the holiday season LOL! Very yummy if made thin and fresh.

So here you have the basic Tibetan cooking class that we hold periodically at our house. There are a few other dishes that we include: homemade yogurt, cheese made from (real not cultured) buttermilk and dried in the sun, tukpa - soup made of beef broth, bits of beef, noodles and maybe a few nettles or slices of radish if they are available, poma (Tibetan stir fry beef with cabbage and turmeric) and what we refer to as "Monastery gruel" which is similar to a Chinese congee, but made with crushed barley instead of rice. Everything else is basically meat (sha) - roasted or boiled - butter (mar), yogurt (sho) and tsampa. Oh, right, there is a thing called troma which is a kind of tiny root from wild grasses which are one of the very few vegetables. You boil them and float them in a bowl of melted butter or drown them in yogurt mixed with the water they're cooked in. They only grow wild in Eastern Tibet and are practically impossible to get south of Lhassa, even for Tibetans. We have about 2 cups left, dried, on our shelves and they are more rare than jewels. Very, very tasty though! Had some for breakfast today.

Back to the tsamp-making!

In San Francisco


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