We reached another milestone with Bhutan… we are officially 10% of the way through our list of countries!!
I also seem to be stuck in a rut of being one country behind in my blog posts. As soon as I write a blog post, we end up cooking the next country and I get behind again. Bolivia was last night, and I don’t have a plan for the following country, so here’s to getting caught up by then!
Bhutan is a small, landlocked country at the edge of the Himalayas. From what I read, they treat chili peppers as a vegetable, not a spice, so their food comes with a lot of heat! I decided almost immediately that we would be making ema datshi, which looks similar to chili con queso, served on red rice. This seems to be widely recognized as their national dish. Several other “cooking around the world” type blogs that I have stumbled upon also picked this dish, and they all come with a warning that it is HOT. We made some modifications in an attempt to bring the heat level down to something we (I) could eat while keeping it as authentic as possible. To go with the ema datshi and rice, I selected a type of dumpling called momos that is common in the Himalayas, and we made a simple chili sauce to go with them.
We also attempted to make butter tea, which is common throughout the Himalayas. It is exactly what it sounds like… tea mixed with butter. Preferably yak butter. And salt. It seems to be a love it or hate it kind of thing, and the general recommendation is to expect it to be more along the lines of a hot soup than a tea.
Ema Datshi (recipe)
I found this recipe through some of the other international cooking blogs I have been looking at as I go through the list. It is written by someone trying to recreate an authentic taste using ingredients that are available in other parts of the world (for example, it addresses the question of what type of cheese one uses as a substitute to yak cheese). I still couldn’t find one of the ingredients locally–szechuan flower peppercorn. From what I read there isn’t an appropriate substitute, so we just left it out.
As I mentioned above, I made some modifications to this recipe. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the heat of the recommended two cups (!!!) of jalapeños. However, just scaling back that ingredient seems like it would drastically change the consistency of the food. So we aimed to maintain the two cups (chopped) volume, but substituted some different peppers. We used one green bell pepper, two poblano peppers, and two jalapeño peppers.
First the garlic and ginger were fried in some oil, then the lemon zest and spices were added. For some reason I was very surprised to see turmeric show up in this recipe, but I’m not sure why this was surprising, considering the proximity to India and Bangladesh.
Next the onions were added and cooked, and then the peppers were added. After frying them for a couple minutes, we put on the lid and left it to simmer. The recipe says to let it simmer for 30-60 minutes, and I didn’t pay that close attention to the time. I’m guessing they had 45-60 minutes of simmering.
After simmering, the peppers were wonderfully tender and had left a lot of liquid in the pan. Then the tomatoes, lemon juice, and buttermilk were added. We let it simmer for the fifteen minutes uncovered, since there was a lot of liquid.
After this, the cheese was added! All of the blogs I visited used different combinations of cheese types. Many used Feta, some used blue cheese, and others attempted various types of farmer’s cheese and easily meltable cheese. We used a mix of Feta, blue cheese, and Havarti.
The cheese melted fairly quickly, and it became gloriously thick and cheesy!
Bhutanese red rice
There was nothing special about this; we just followed instructions on the package. But since I have never encountered red rice before, I wanted to share some pictures. We were thrilled to find rice that is imported from Bhutan at the grocery store!
Bhutanese Momos (recipe)
I followed the “meat filling” recipes for momos at this link. It isn’t very specific in the measurements, so I got a little creative and did some guesswork with the quantities. Many of the recipes I saw used yak meat, which we obviously aren’t going to find here, so we used ground beef.
I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to cook the meat ahead of time, but I did. In retrospect, I don’t think I was supposed to… but they turned out just fine with it precooked. I cooked the onions at the same time, and they I added some ginger and garlic. I think it was 2-3 cloves of garlic and a tablespoon or so of ginger. I also mixed in some cilantro, salt, and pepper.
The dough recipe was simple, although I thought it was strange that it used yeast but was never left to rise. I made the dough and cut it into circles. As with other dumpling recipes we have made for this project, I ran out of dough before I ran out of filling… so we ended up making a second batch of dough.
I filled these with about a teaspoon each of the filling, and then I attempted to recreate the round/twisty shape I saw in pictures of Bhutanese momos. I was partially successful. Since we still don’t own a double boiler, these went in a strainer over a pot of boiling water with the lid loosely fitting over the top. It took several batches, each steaming for about fifteen minutes.
Bhutanese Chili Dipping Sauce (recipe)
This was another simple recipe–just mix soy sauce, white wine vinegar, and chili oil. We used chili powder instead of chili oil. I know that’s a big substitution, but I saw several other similar recipes that used chili powder.
Himalayan Butter Tea (recipe)
We scaled back this recipe to make just two cups of tea. We steeped some black tea (a little stronger than we usually make it).
Then mixed in the butter and salt.
Then poured it into cups.
YUM. The ema datshi had an amazing flavor!!! I am so glad we scaled back the spiciness to a level that we could handle, because it would have been such a waste to make this delicious dish and not be able to eat it. Seriously, the types of cheese we used, the pepper flavors, the ginger… yum. It went very well with the red rice, which I would describe as somewhere between quinoa and brown rice. It was good, and I could see use eating more red rice in the future. I liked that it was a more hearty rice, which was perfect to soak up the cheese sauce.
The momos were okay. They weren’t great, but they weren’t bad either. I think I got the dough a little too thick, so that was kind of overpowering. I also don’t think I used enough ginger/garlic/salt/pepper, since they seemed a little bland. Some of the other recipes through in a chili pepper of some sort, so maybe I should have done that. The chili dipping sauce helped, although the soy sauce and vinegar were pretty strong, so I could only use it in small quantities.
Neither of us made it through a single sip of the butter tea. It tasted like hot salt water. I am seriously questioning whether the recipe we looked at was supposed to say one TEAspoon instead of one TABLEspoon of salt. I glanced at a few other recipes afterwards, and they all used a smaller quantity of salt. One of these days, we may get brave and try it again. At the very least, I think we will give it another chance when we get to this part of the world (Nepal… it will be a while).