While I’m Cooking: Bhutanese Video

I hope everyone has a wonderful Father’s Day weekend! The recipes, photos, and meal review will be up by Monday morning. Until then, here’s a video about Bhutanese culture, their dragon king, and more … Enjoy!

Fun Fact Friday: Bhutan (with poll)

Happy Friday everyone! My Bhutanese Fun Facts got a little … er … racy this week. My apologies, in advance. I made every effort to keep things PG 13. Enjoy!

When falling of a cliff is a good thing…

In parts of eastern Bhutan it is forbidden to kill an animal. However, if the animal falls of a cliff and dies, then the meat can be consumed.

Cooking is simple when the main ingredient is always the same…

Most meals have chili peppers in them, which can be bought in abundance at the markets.

You can’t smoke, but you can still get cancer…

The sale of tobacco is banned in Bhutan (no other country in the world has done this). Instead they chew Doma (this is a blend of areca nut on a betel leaf with a sprinkle of tsune/lime – or calcium carbonate). Doma is chewed after eating to freshen breath. The crunchy concoction is often offered to guests and is considered an ice-breaker. Unfortunately, the blood-red juices cause cancer and other ailments.

Want to watch The Next FoodNetwork Star? …

Bhutan was the last country in the world to get TV – they let cable in the borders in 1999. But they only got 45 channels, and unfortunately they did not include the Food Network. By 2004, many of the original 45 channels were banned for excessive violence and ludeness, dropping the number of allowed networks to 33. Since that time, only 3 have been reinstated.

Death becomes her…

When someone dies in Bhutan the daughter is given the inheritance, not the son. In addition, the daughter usually inherits her parents house while the son is expected to figure it out. Usually he moves into his wife’s home.

I’m guessing Windex doesn’t sell very well in Bhutan…

Glass panes are rare in rural Bhutan and sliding wooden shutters are used instead to close the window.

And, finally, nothing like a phallus to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune…

In eastern Bhutan, farmers hang a wooden phallus in the fields when the crops begin to sprout.

Phallic images are painted on the exterior of Bhutanese homes and wooden carvings are hung at the corners of the roof. The startling tradition is done to keep demons away and, what else, to encourage fertility and prosperity. Here’s a detailed description of the ritual:

Inauguration of a new house is a sort of phallic ritual whereby the house owner consecrates the house. The ritual is an elaborate one. The ritual constitutes placing of four phalluses on the four eaves of the house facing the four directions and one inside the house. The five giant phalluses carved out from pieces of wood are tied together in a bundle and then put in a bamboo basket. Usually, a young and virgin girl dressed elaborately and leading a dancing and singing troupe carries the basket and circumambulates the house thrice.

Then groups of men and women are formed. The women’s group stands under the eave of the house facing the east while the male group climbs up on the roof. The basket is tied on the middle of the rope and a tug of war ensues. While men pull the basket roof-ward, the women pretend to pull it to the ground. But the common understanding is that the basket will have to reach the roof at the end so that the phalluses can be hung from the eaves. The pulling begins and continues as typical phallic songs are sung. After every verse of the song the people watching the ritual echo the word laso.

The men pretend to lose the battle and the basket is pulled down. At this, the owner of the house serves ara (home brewed spirit) to the men who pretend to be tired. The ara is supposed to energize the men and the ‘pulling’ battle continues.

Keys to Bhutan

In the interest of keeping my blog PG 13, I’m not going to put a picture. But I know you want to see one. Don’t you?

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Technique Thursday: Recipe & 5 Tips for a Great Fruit Salad

The crimes of fruit salad are many: not ripe, over ripe, tart, bitter, warm, rotten … Because of these transgressions fruit salad has become the “Fruit Cake” of summer barbecues – a popular dish that only the brave eat.

This week I made a Himalayan inspired Fruit Salad (just mango, red banana, and papaya) for our Bhutanese Global Table. In my interpretation, I decided to avoid the many pitfalls of regular fruit salad and serve it as elegant finger food. In this format each piece of fruit shone – sweet mango, earthy papaya and buttery bananas in the middle. Incredible.

Pop one and you. can’t. stop.

I dare you to try.

Unconventional? Yes. Incredible? Yes!

Here’s how I cut the mango:

Here’s how to clean out a Papaya

And here’s the tasty red banana:

Stack em up!

and eat!

Here’s the recipe

Ingredients:

1 mango
1 papaya
2-4 bananas (I used the sweeter red banana)

Method:

1. Cut all fruit into nice cubes/even sizes.

2. Stick onto toothpicks, with the creamy banana in the middle. Serve immediately.

NOTE: You can also make these a little ahead, but remember bananas brown.

There are 5 keys to a great fruit salad:

1. Never use pre-cut fruit.

Ever notice how pre-cut fruit in plastic boxes tastes… fizzy? A tad chemically? The salad is an unsatisfactory blend of unripe cardboard fruit (usually the pineapple), mixed in with overripe, bruised, fungus fruit (often the grapes). Awful. Serve pre-cut fruit to a bitter enemy, if you must, but never serve the stuff if you’re going to hang your reputation on the salad.

Trust me. Trying to impress your boss or mother-in-law? Do yourself a favor and get fresh fruit.

2. The fruit must be ripe.

The rule is simple. If the fruit is not ripe, do not use it.

The biggest single problem people have is they buy the fruit the same day they need it. The bananas are green, the mangoes taste like crunchy lemons, and the watermelon tastes like, well, water. Get the fruit a few days before the party. This will give the fruit time to soften and the sugars increase. If things still seem under-ripe the day before the party, go ahead and put the fruit in a brown paper bag. This will speed things up.

3. Buy fruit in season.

Fruit tastes better in season. Strawberries are a great example. Right now they taste incredible – sweet, juicy, red bites of heaven. The rest of the year they taste like sour cardboard. Experiment and try a new fruit every week in the summer – here in Oklahoma there are a ton of peaches to try. Or, go wild, and try a papaya.

4. Cut the fruit at the right time.

Many people cut fruit way ahead to let the juices mingle and “sweeten” each other up. I call this the “fruit cup” effect, where all the fruit tastes exactly the same. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat it.

I prefer to cut perfectly ripe fruit within an hour of eating it. That way the flavors remain distinct. When I eat a mango, I want to taste a mango. When I eat a banana I want to taste a banana.

5.  Try an unusual presentation

Present your fruit in a fruit bowl made with half a watermelon, cantaloupe, or papaya.  Or try putting squares on skewers, toothpicks, or mini forks (maybe with a honey yogurt dip). Do something unexpected and your guests will love it.

Menu: Bhutan

I’m not sure I stand a chance with Bhutanese food. You may find me with my head in a bucket of ice before this week is over.

I’m originally from New England where we don’t “do” spicy. In fact, my strapping Oklahoman husband is the only reason I can eat anything remotely spicy. Just looking at him down so-called “hot” buffalo chicken makes me sweat (although some of that is because of the crush I had – and continue to have – on him). Year after year of his teasing has worn me down and I’ve graduated from mild to medium. Let’s just say I’m nervous.

NOTE: This week’s Global Table is completely vegetarian. Recipes and photos will be up on Monday, as usual.

Butter Grilled Poblanos
Poblano’s stuffed with a generous pat of butter and grilled until soft and smoky

Ema Datshi (chili pepper and cheese sauce)
Firey hot chilies and cheese melt together in the beloved national dish of Bhutan

Cracked Red Rice
Himalayan rice with a reddish/pink hue and slightly bitter, whole-wheat flavorAvailable online and at many Indian markets.

Butter Tea
Hot black tea made with butter and milk

Himalayan Fruit Salad
Bhutanese love cool, fresh fruit at the end of their meals. Our salad is made with a few of their favorites: Papaya, Mango, and banana

Global Table Wednesday Cook-Along: Bhutan

Calling all food bloggers… this is your opportunity to share your international food escapades with me and other Global Table readers.

How it works:

Anyone who has a blog post about the food or culture of *BHUTAN* is welcome to post a link to their blog (or to someone else’s food writing they find interesting) in the comments section of this post. Please include a short description – in your own words.

Links should go to blog posts about the country of the week and fall into any of the following categories:

  • recipe
  • ingredient/food discussion
  • cultural information
  • travel story
  • restaurant review/information
  • photos
  • videos
  • music

Looking forward to seeing what you came up with!

I’ll link to this post again at the end of the week on our Facebook Fan Page.

Next Week’s Wednesday Cook-Along will be *BOLIVIA*, so get ready!

Travel Tuesday: Bhutan

File:Tigernest (Taktsang)-Kloster in Bhutan.jpg

Monastery in Bhutan

The rugged mountain-country of Bhutan is nestled in the Himalayas, between India and China. This largely vegetarian country is known for eating chili peppers (called ema) and rice in abundance.

Photo courtesy of the CIA World Factbook

Just reading about their food made me break into a sweat. They actually treat the chili pepper as a vegetable, instead of a minor spice component to a larger dish. In other words, in many cases, the chili pepper is the meal.

To a Bhutanese, however, ema (chilli) enjoys an exalted culinary position. It isn’t just a food or a fad. It is the stuff of life. It is integral Bhutanese heritage and culture.

It’s not just the vegetable; it’s the taste. A bowl of black dhal or a cauliflower sabzi in a diner in India is likely to contain some chillies, and would be considered very hot by most people there. But that, as every Bhutanese who has studied in India would vouch, is piddling compared with the blistering fury of a highland Bhutanese chilli. But it is not raw heat that makes Bhutanese chillies distinctive. It is their incomparable sharp flavour, which some describe as succulent and earthy, with a clarity that seems to reflect the taste and smell of the skies and landscapes of Bhutan.

Bhutanese eat chilli raw or cooked, minced or roasted, but no Bhutanese dish is complete without ema. And young toddlers are initiated in the art of chilli eating early on. Parents pick meat or vegetables from the chilli dish, suck it to moderate the heat, and then feed their child, who breaks into a sweat but quickly adapts.

- Ema:The fiery Bhutanese food (by Wangdi and Yeshi)

I smiled when I read the last paragraph because this is exactly how we share spicy food with Ava. I often feel like a mamma bird and, although many people probably find the habit revolting, I believe this is the simplest way to give her a variety of food that does not include bland “baby food.” I’ve often wondered if there was a better way, but am glad to learn the the technique is the same in countries like Bhutan with incredibly spicy food.

The most interesting recipe I found for chilies is from Choden’s book Chilli and Cheese. She tells the story of her father filling green chilies with butter and salt, then grilling them on skewers until tender. I find such straightforward cooking appealing because, in simplicity are pure flavors celebrated.

The most common recipe with chilies is the screaming hot Ema Datshi, the national dish. This cheesy, chili infested sauce is considered a vegetable curry that makes a complete meal with red or white rice (or, in central Bhutan, buckwheat noodles or pancakes). According to an interview with a local chef by the BBC, real Ema Dhatsi is made with just two ingredients: equal parts cheese and chili peppers. Other ingredients, such as tomatoes, onions, and cauliflower, can be added to reduce the heat (but this is usually only done for foreigners).

The curry in Bhutan is called “white” because they do not include yellow spices, like turmeric. For non-vegetarians, meats are also served in curries, often with radish or mushroom. Popular meat in Bhutan includes beef, pork, and yak (yak is also used for cheese), although chicken and fish are also consumed.

For dessert Bhutanese usually cool things off with fresh fruit such as watermelon and mango. This is sweet relief after a blazing hot meal. They also enjoy tea, especially suja, or “butter tea,” a salty mixture of black tea, butter (traditionally yak butter), and milk. In the capital, cakes, eclairs and cream puffs are becoming popular.

Photo courtesy of the CIA World Factbook

Monday Meal Review: Benin

In my humble opinion, the highs and lows of life are equally worthy of a great meal. Highs are cause for pompous, celebratory food that leaps, dancing into your mouth, while lows beg for rich, fattening foods that slide in softly and ground you (and your belly). It is therefore fitting that this week of highs (seeing Anthony Bourdain live at the Tulsa PAC) and lows (a miserable husband with a giant kidney stone that just won’t pass) be acknowledged with a special feast. As chance would have it, Benin is perfectly suited to this split-personality of a week, with an interesting blend of celebratory food (crab and bananas in orange sauce) and rich food (pureed black-eyed peas and coconut rice). Enjoy!

PS – I’m not sure what happened, but this week’s Global Table is in varying shades of cream and brown. Not very visually exciting, but the flavors were good all the same.

Crabs from Benin (Crabe Beninoise) [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish

Crab is a real treat, classy enough for any celebration. This mini casserole is easy to throw together, with intense flavors from sweet crab, spicy garlic, onion, and strikingly hot Serrano chili.  Overall a decent dish, but I would only make it again after major changes (see below).

This was my first time preparing crab, so I was a little unsure of myself (and painfully aware that any mistake would cost me $20/lb). Luckily this is an “add ingredients to bowl and stir” kind of recipe – easy and attainable.

Now that I have a super-fast-crawling-climbing-monkey child, I’m going to be relying on simple dishes like Crabs from Benin more and more. (At least until I grow eyes in the back of my head and/or four arms).

What I liked least about this dish

I was a big idiot and forgot to buy fresh tomatoes at the market. Things being what they are with a baby and drugged up husband trying to pass a kidney stone, I simply didn’t have it in me to run out and buy some… so I made the recipe with canned diced tomatoes. The whole time I had this guilty feeling, like I was committing culinary sin. It’s not that canned tomatoes don’t have their purpose – they do (mostly in slow cooked items, like sauces and stews) – but this dish only bakes for 30 minutes. There is no time for the tinny, metal taste to leave the tomatoes. The result is terrible, no good, bad, yucky. So, rule #1 – use fresh tomatoes!!!!

Another problem I had is based on personal preference. Although I love onion and garlic, I like the flavors to cook into the food, slowly becoming one with the dish, soft and mellow. Unfortunately, this popular crab casserole from Benin has a rather sharp taste of onion and garlic. Like an unrefined diamond, this dish will please some, while others will find themselves wanting for more refined flavor.

Pureed Black-eyed Peas [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish

Such a straightforward side dish makes me appreciate why the people of Benin eat beans with many meals. Aside from the wonderful healthy fiber, pureed black-eyed peas are affordable, easy to prepare, and taste great. The addition of rich, creamy butter sends the black-eyed peas into taste nirvana. I could eat this with fish, chicken, or meat and be happy (although guilt might make me cut back on the butter…. or, on second thought, not).

What I liked least about this dish

If you read my Technique Thursday post, you know that I found no enjoyment in hand peeling the peas. Definitely take advantage of food mills to get this dish perfectly creamy. Can’t be bothered? Hey, I won’t tell – just puree the beans whole! Let me know how it comes out and if you wished you would have peeled the beans.

One important note – I think I undercooked my beans a little, making them slightly less creamy than they should have been. Make sure you taste several beans to determine doneness.

Coconut Rice [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish

Coconut Rice is a fun alternative to regular white rice. This side dish is equally appropriate for west African and Caribbean meals. I was thrilled to eat it cold on an asian salad the next day with baby spinach, grilled chicken, and spicy peanut dressing, to name just a few of the ingredients.

A note of warning – this rice will fill your belly fast thanks to coconut milk’s high fat content. But never you mind, the flavor is worth it!

What I liked least about this dish

There’s nothing bad about this dish, as long as you like coconut milk! Be sure to season appropriately with salt and pepper and you’ll have a winner in about 16 minutes. Perfect for adding pizzaz to week night dinners.

Green Baby Bananas in Orange Sauce [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish

Another easy dessert that is kid friendly yet upscale enough to serve adults. The orange sauce coats the bananas and brightens up vanilla ice cream and cake. While I was eating, I kept thinking I was eating a bowl of fresh squeezed summer. That’s pretty good if you ask me. With recipes like this, I’m not sure why you’d ever eat a plain ol’ banana split again.

What I liked least about this dish

I wish I’d been more hungry. By the time I got to the bananas I was stuffed and ready for a nap.

Also, I was disappointed the store was out of baby bananas. The good news is that this forced me to try small red bananas. Sometimes I need a little extra help to get out of my comfort zone. And I’m glad I did – they were great – slightly more floral and less dense than a standard banana. Who knew?

Anyway, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter – any old banana will do – the size is just for looks!

Ava’s Corner

I don’t feed Ava food with added salt or sugar yet. At 11 months old I think her body is too young to process that stuff. She has her whole life to make herself sick with a bowl of ice cream (like I just did). For now, she gets her sugar from fresh strawberries and peaches. She doesn’t seem to be complaining.

Between this and the fact that she cannot eat shellfish yet (major allergy concern), she was left with very little she could sample from Benin. I decided to give her a few bites of beans, but not more due to the high butter content. She liked them no more or less than anything else on her plate that night (chicken and green beans). I think I’ll serve her pureed beans again, but next time with some tarragon and much less fat (I’ll take her extra :) ).

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