Recipes from Marche, Italy

For this entry, I made two recipes. Neither of them were especially good, but I don't blame the people who posted the original recipes or any of the traditions they came from, I blame myself and my propensity for Googling things that might kill me.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Brodetto

A seafood stew with mussels and clams, minus the Vibrio.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Filone Casereccio

An Italian bread that will come out much better than mine did if you use fresh brewer's yeast and steam.

Recipes from Malta

This is actually the third time I’ve cooked a meal from Malta. The first time, I cooked the meal and then just did not write the blog post. Years went by.

Recipes from Malta: Imqarrun

Imquarrum (also called Imqarrun il-forn) is descended from a dish served in Sicily, but the Maltese have adopted it as a traditional staple. The key to making this dish is to be patient.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Recipes from Bosnia Herzegovina

I never thought I'd admit to anything like this, but after last week's merciless Bolivian mouth assault, I was kind of glad to be venturing back into the capsicum-light land of Eastern Europe, where the word "spicy" is usually just used to describe foods that contain paprika.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Cevapi on Lepinje with Kacamak.

Specifically, this week we are in Bosnia Herzegovina, which is one of those countries that everyone has heard of, but for all the wrong reasons. I first became aware of Bosnia Herzegovina back in the 90s, when the news from that region was filled horror—ethnic cleansing and massacres followed by a NATO bombing campaign, all of which combined to kill somewhere in the order of 110,000 people, with 1.8 million displaced from their homes. Those are actually pretty astonishing figures when you consider that today Bosnia Herzegovina is a nation of just 4 1/2 million people.

Here's Bosnia, in Eastern Europe.

Fortunately the dust settled in 1995 with the signing of a peace agreement, and today Bosnia Herzegovina is pretty quiet, with a thriving tourism industry (ranked third highest in growth compared to the rest of the world) and one of the world's highest "income equality rankings" (8th out of 193 nations), which means that if you live in Bosnia Herzegovina you're probably more or less in the same financial boat as everyone else who lives in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Now the good news for me this week is that the Internet is full of resources for recipes and cuisine from Bosnia Herzegovina. The bad news is, almost all of those resources are written in Croatian. Which is fine, if you have Google Translator and an extra 10 to 12 hours you can spend translating, sifting through, interpreting and selecting your menu. I, however, am a mother of four. So for my main course, I went with the one and only English recipe I could find: cevapi.

Now if you don't know about that secret cache of Croatian language recipes from Bosnia Herzegovina, you might think that cevapi is the only thing they eat there. This is because pretty much everyone in any English speaking country who ever wanted to try making Bosnian food has done cevapi. I found the recipe in at least a dozen different places before I stopped trying. It sounded good though, so I only had a mild inkling to find something else, and this stemming from the fact that Bosnian cevapi isn't really a main dish. It's a snack, which is usually sold as fast food by street vendors.

Anyway, here's the recipe (this version came from Visit Bosnia Herzegovina):


  • 1 tbsp lard or butter
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 lb lean lamb
  • 1 lb lean beef
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 2 tbsp onions, finely chopped

Cevapi are usually served in pita bread, called Lepinje. Fortunately I didn't have to look too far to find a recipe--the original version was in that cache of Croatian language recipes (on a site called, but was kindly translated for us by bloggers Kemal and Sheila.

Because sometimes translated and traditional sources leave out important details (like amounts), this recipe required some trial and error. Here's the version I ended up with:


  • About 2 1/2 cups bread flour*
  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Olive oil for brushing

* I said "about" because I started with two cups (the original author of this recipe doesn't give amounts for flour or water) and added small handfuls as my bread machine was working until it looked like it was about the right consistency.

For a side dish:

Kacamak with Potatoes and Cheese

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 medium to large potatoes, peeled, cubed and boiled
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 1/4 cup yellow corn meal
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup oil
Now, if you are familiar with Bosnian food you probably already know that the collective meal I came up with is a little off (I've since learned that Cevapi is usually served with French fries, which makes sense since a street vendor would probably have a tough time packaging kacamak). Still, when made at home I thought the combination was pretty good. Here's hoping I'm not the first person who has ever tried to combine the two.

And finally, for dessert:

Socni Kolac

  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup grated coconut
  • 1 level tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 2/3 cup water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp confectioners' sugar
This particular recipe for socni kolac came from a collection of PDFs posted by Novi Most International, a Bosnian youth charity.

By the way, that is not a typo—there is no flour in this recipe.

The first recipe I did this week was the cevapi, though in retrospect it should have been the lepinje, since my dinner ended up being late while I waited for the lepinje to rise and bake. So let's start there, that way you don't have to make the same mistakes I did.

Now as you know, I never make any bread recipe unless I can adapt it for my bread machine, because kneading is for chumps. Fortunately, pretty much every bread recipe can be adapted for a bread machine, but this one was a little more challenging since I didn't know exactly how much flour to use. So as usual, I just dumped all the ingredients (starting with just two cups of flour) into my machine and turned it on. As the paddle was working the dough, I added the extra half a cup or so since the dough was way too wet. Then I just let the cycle complete.

If you don't have a bread machine, you would do it this way:

First prove the yeast with the sugar and about 1/2 cup of lukewarm water. Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

When the yeast is foamy, pour it into the flour with another 1 to 1 1/2 cups of water. Mix well. Your dough should be a little bit sticky, but not ridiculously so.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes. Shape into a ball and place in a large bowl greased with olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and let rise in a warm place for an hour or so, or until doubled in size. (I took mine out of the bread machine to let it rise).

Put the dough back on the floured surface and punch down. Knead again for another minute, then divide into four balls. Brush with olive oil and let rest for 10 or 15 minutes.

Roll the dough balls with a floured rolling pin until they are roughly the thickness of extra-thick pizza crust.

I've decided to spare you from the boring dough pictures, so this is the only one I'm posting.

Transfer them to a greased baking sheet and brush with a bit more olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rest for another half hour or so.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. When the dough has rested remove the towel and plastic and put the pitas in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 5-10 minutes.

The recipe says to flip the pitas halfway through cooking, but I didn't bother. They were delicious just as they were.

To serve with the cevapi, cut each pita down the middle and make a pocket with a sharp knife.

Now on to the cevapi, which are simple and only a little time consuming.

First melt the lard or butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. During the last three minutes or so, add the garlic and keep stirring to prevent burning.

Remove the onions and let cool.

Mix the ground lamb with the ground beef (I had to grind both with my meat grinder). Add the onion/garlic mixture, egg white and paprika and mix well.

The cevapi ingredients are pretty simple.

Now shape the meat into unappetizing looking little cylinders, which are the traditional shape. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Hmm, yeah, those look ... um ... good?

Pan fry the cevapi in a little olive oil until nicely browned.

The cevapi are finished when they are nicely browned on all sides.

To serve, cut your pita breads in half and make a pocket in each one. Stuff a few finely chopped onions inside the pita, then add the cevapi and top with a few more of the onions.

Now on to the kacamak:

First you'll need to boil your cubed potatoes as you would when making mashed potatoes (I did mine for about 10 minutes). Then drain and bring a second pot of water to a boil (I used two cups of water, but my kacamak was way too thick so I've estimated the correct amount to be probably closer to three cups). Add the potatoes and salt and cook until the potatoes start to break apart. Now without draining the water, gently mash up the potatoes. Slowly add the cornmeal, continuing to stir. The texture should be like cream of wheat. Don't let it get too thick (you may not need all the cornmeal the recipe calls for). When it's done cooking you can add a little oil (I didn't bother).

Add the cornmeal and keep stirring until the mixture is about as thick as cream of wheat.

Now remove from the heat and add the cheese, stirring until mostly melted. Serve hot.

And finally, the socni kolac, which in Croatian means "rich cake."

The socni kolac was weird. First of all, it contained no flour, which by itself isn't that strange (I've made flourless chocolate cakes before) except that the whole body of the cake was made mostly of eggs. I had to go back and check the original recipe to make sure I hadn't miscopied it, because that seemed really odd. Sure enough, the original recipe did not call for flour. Neither did any of the Croatian language versions I tracked down. So I just decided to have blind faith.

Here's how it's done:

First preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Beat the eggs and mix the with the oil, walnuts, raisins and coconut. Add the baking powder. Pour the mixture into a lightly oiled pan (it should be thin, maybe about a half inch).

This is the batter. The very eggy batter.

Put the pan in the oven and bake until the edges are starting to brown. Now, the recipe said this would take 5 to 10 minutes. In my oven it took more like 20 minutes, and when I took it out the center was still jiggly and the whole thing smelled like an omelet. At this point I didn't have much hope left, but I carried on.

While the cake is baking, melt the sugar in the water and simmer until it starts to become syrupy. When you remove the cake from the oven, pour the syrup over it while it is still hot. All of the syrup.

Here's what it looked like after 20 minutes in the oven. Like an undercooked omelet.

If you have the same experience as me, it will seem like way too much syrup, and the whole thing will start to collapse and the jiggly center will start to look like a very mushy jiggly center, and you'll think "Oh God what have I done." Now turn the oven off and put the cake back inside to cool. After about 30 to 45 minutes you'll take it out and be amazed by how perfect this near disaster now appears. Refrigerate for an hour or two.

After cooling, this actually looks like it might be OK.

Put the whipping cream in your mixing bowl and whip until stiff peaks form, then add the confectioner's sugar and the vanilla. Whip a little more to blend. Take the cake out of the fridge and gently spread the whipped cream on top. Serve cold.

Top with the whipped cream. Done!

This actually turned out pretty good.

My family's reaction was amusing. I'll start with the best part.

I decided to spare my long-suffering children the indignity of having to eat onions, so I stuffed the pitas with the cevapi and added a side of kacamak to each plate. Natalie (who just turned four) came running to the table, sat down and looked at her food for a long time.

"Why is it poo?" she finally said.

Yes, the cevapi is unfortunately shaped. But I convinced her to eat it, and she finished at least half of her meal though the kacamak wasn't her favorite part. Hailey ate one cevapi and some of her pita, then sat at the table staring at the kacamak, having what appeared to be random mild seizures while making the same noise that a wounded wildebeest might make if it was hoping to attract a pride of lions to put it out of its misery. Eventually I got her to eat three bites of it, but it was quite dramatic. The boys ate everything on their plates.

As for the dessert, Hailey scraped the whipped cream off of hers and ate that. So did Natalie. Henry ate most of his. Dylan finished off everything that everyone else didn't eat.

As for Martin and me, we thought the cevapi would have been nicer served with some sauce—and evidently it is served with sauce (as I found out later) in other parts of Eastern Europe, where it goes by various different names. It is sometimes eaten with sour cream, cottage cheese or other types of fresh cheeses, and sometimes with traditionally prepared condiments. Though this recipe made no mention of any accompaniment other than onions, if I made cevapi again I would certainly add something to liven it up.

I liked the kacamak too, though it was really stodgy. It was really just a nice, different twist on a mashed potato.

The cake was surprisingly yummy for something that seemed to be catapulting towards disaster. I was able taste the eggs over all that syrup, nuts and raisins (though Martin didn't taste them until I mentioned it) and I do actually think it would have been better baked with some flour. Of course, my tastebuds have been trained to associate eggs with breakfast, so I'm probably not the best person to ask.

Next week: Botswana

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Recipes from Bolivia

Some years ago I was invited to a friend's house for a Mexican meal, which was served with salsa on the side. I passed up the salsa because I tend to prefer unspicy Mexican food (to me, Mexican food is all about the cheese). When I said that fateful "no thank you," my friend then hit me with a snide "Oh, is it too spicy for you?" remark, which I guess I took badly. In defense of my honor, I invited her to dinner a few weeks later and served a Thai curry that was so spicy she couldn't even finish it.

Bratty, I know. But by telling you this story I'm admitting that the ability to eat and tolerate spicy food is kind of a badge of honor. Now before you get all defensive, yes it is true that many people (and I'm one of them) enjoy spicy foods for reasons other than machismo. But let's face it, there comes a point when the actual flavor of the food gets lost under all that heat, and it really is just about enduring the pain.

Which brings me to Bolivia. Now Bolivians, I am told, like it spicy. When I embarked on my Bolivian journey, I was thinking that probably meant hot Mexican-American salsa spicy, not London curry house spicy, which is several notches above the spiciest Mexican food you can get here in the US. So I was unconcerned.

The star of our show: Bolivian fritanga.

Bolivia, as you probably know, is a South American nation. It is respectably large—in fact, at just over 424,000 square miles, Bolivia is the 28th largest nation in the world. It is also a high-altitude nation, with bragging rights to the world's highest elevation capital, La Paz, Bolivia, which is 11,942 feet above sea level. But wait, that's nowhere near the highest point in Bolivia—the highest point is the peak of Nevado Sajama, which is a whopping 21,463 feet above sea level (to put that into perspective, Mount Everest's peak is at 29,029).

Bolivia, the 28th largest country in the world.

With more than half its population living in poverty, Bolivia is not a rich nation, but it is culturally wealthy with traditions influenced by its native Quechua and Aymara populations as well as by Spanish colonialism. Likewise, its cuisine is a marrying of Spanish style with local ingredients.

Now despite the relative enormity of Bolivia and what I have no doubt is a rich culinary tradition, online resources for Bolivian food were scarce. I kept encountering the same small handful of recipes wherever I went, so I ended up choosing a meal based on sadly limited options. But the three recipes I did pick sounded pretty good, and here they are:

The appetizer: Pukacapas

For the dough:
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tsp Baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg, beaten (for brushing on top)
For the filling:

  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 small red pepper, minced*
  • 1 small green pepper, minced*
  • 1 tomato, minced
  • 1 green onion
  • 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup green olives, chopped
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups queso fresco, crumbled
* I took this to mean bell peppers, but I now think I interpreted it wrong. I ended up with way too much filling for the amount of dough I had, and because I have elsewhere seen this recipe called "spicy cheese empanadas" and there was nothing else in the ingredients that could be called "spicy," I now think that the "peppers" called for are probably not bell peppers but their smaller, spicier cousins (such as jalapenos).

This is queso fresco, available in most grocery stores.

Next recipe: Fritanga

  • 2.2 pounds pork rib meat
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 cups white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cup tomato, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp mint, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup parsley, finely minced
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup ground cayenne pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 cups water or broth
  • 1 cup green onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 eggs, beaten

Yes, that's right. A half cup of cayenne pepper. That is not a typo. Next recipe:

Arroz con Queso
(Rice with Cheese)

  • 2 cups short grain rice (I used sushi rice, which seems to be the only short grain rice going around here)
  • 1 1/2 cups crumbled queso fresco (kolla cheese is traditional, but most Bolivian resources seem to agree that queso fresco is a good substitute)
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp red onion, minced
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 cups water
  • Salt to taste

I started by making the filling and dough for the pukacapas, which I'm pretty sure I did wrong. Here's how it went:

First mince and or chop all the ingredients.

These are the filling ingredients. Colorful, aren't they?

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and put everything except for the cheese into the hot oil. Saute for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Then take the pot off the heat and stir in the cheese.

Saute until the vegetables are soft, then take off the heat and add the cheese.

Now as I mentioned above, I'm pretty sure now that you're supposed to use smaller, hot peppers and not bell peppers, though the bell peppers did taste good in this. Using bell peppers I ended up with way too much filling.

While the filling is cooking, make the dough. First blend all the dry ingredients with the butter, then add the milk and eggs. Blend until you get a smooth dough.

Blend the dry ingredients, then add the milk and eggs.

If you're making this ahead of time, you can shape the dough into a ball, cover it with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge until you're ready to use. Just let it warm up at room temperature for about 20 minutes before rolling it.

Blend until you get a smooth dough.

When you're ready to bake the pukacapas, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Roll the dough out pretty thin (mine were a little too thick, which made the pastry-to-filling ratio too high). Cut into circular shapes. To assemble the pukacapas, drop some filling into the middle of one of the dough rounds, leaving enough space around the filling to join the two pieces of dough.

Put a little bit of the filling into the center of the dough round.

Cover the filling with another piece of dough, then moisten the edges a little with water and pinch together.

Cover with another dough round.

Now crimp the edges. At this point I was having momo dumpling flashbacks.

The original recipe did not say anything about cutting a slit in the top to vent steam, but you do need to do this (I didn't, and my pukacapas split open at the seam when baking). Just put a couple of little slits in the top like you would in a pie.

This is what happens if you don't cut slits in the tops of your pastries.

Now beat an egg and use it to brush the tops of each pastry. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden.

From a certain angle they look pretty good don't they?

Well before you put these in the oven, you should start on the fritanga, which needs to stew for a couple of hours.

First cut the pork meat up into bite sized pieces. If you have a fat-phobic husband (as I do), make sure you remove each infinitesimally tiny piece of fat from the meat, or he may use it as an excuse not to eat what you cooked.

OK yes I'm just the tiniest bit bitter about the fat thing. Because rib meat is, after all, a pretty fatty cut of pork, and I'm guessing that this recipe wouldn't have called for rib meat if the fat wasn't traditionally included in the dish. Now, I already knew that my husband is grossed out by fat, so I cut a lot of it off. So much, in fact, that I ended up with well under the 2.2 lbs of meat that this recipe called for. But I did leave some of it on because I didn't think I could do the recipe justice without it. Sigh.

Anyway, take your fat-free pork meat and put it in a pot with the cold water. Heat it to a boil and let it keep boiling until all the water is gone.

Boil the pork in the water until the water has burned off.

Now take the meat out of the pot and set it aside. Add the onions and a dash of salt and fry until translucent.

Yes, frying onions.

Then add the tomato, herbs and all the spices except for the cayenne pepper. Cook for two or three minutes until the tomato softens up a little. Now add the cayenne pepper. You'll get a really thick paste, which you should fry for another minute or two. Avoid the fumes or they might actually kill you.

If this photo fills you with fear, it should.

Add the water or broth (I just used chicken broth), followed by the pork. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for two hours, adding more stock as necessary to keep the amount of liquid in the pot at more or less the same level.

Five minutes before you are ready to serve, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the green onions.

Add the green onions ...

Add the beaten eggs, stirring quickly to keep them from scrambling. They will thicken the stew. Now serve. If possible, put on some kind of body armor to prevent your family or guests from retributively murdering you.

Look pretty innocent, doesn't it?

Finally, let's do the rice. It only takes about 30 minutes, so start making it about an hour and a half into the fritanga.

First boil the water with the salt, then add the rice and keep boiling, uncovered, until almost all of the water has been absorbed or cooked off. The rice should still be pretty wet, but without pools of water and definitely not fluffy.

Meanwhile, sauté the garlic and onions in a small amount of oil for maybe four or five minutes. Take care not to let them brown.

More frying onions, but these are red!

When the rice is nearly ready, bring the milk to a boil (warning, milk scalds easily so don't take your eyes off of it). Now add the milk, cheese and onion/garlic mixture to the rice. Cook over low heat, stirring, until all the cheese has melted.

After adding the milk and cheese.

So I already knew that this was going to be way too spicy for my children, because duh. So I made this meal just for me and Martin. Starting with the pukacapas:

They needed a few things.

First, more salt would have brought out the flavor a little. I attribute this more to the cheese substitution than anything: although most Bolivian resources seem to agree that queso fresco is a good American substitute for Bolivian cheese, I've read in at least one place that Bolivian cheese is saltier than queso fresco, which makes perfect sense since I've always thought queso fresco was really bland. So I should have used more salt in the filling.

Second, I didn't roll the dough thin enough, and the pastry (while good), overwhelmed the flavor of everything else.

Third, as I've already mentioned, I should have used jalapenos instead of bells. 

They were still pretty good, but Martin and I both thought they could have been a little better.

OK now for the fritanga.

Martin took one bite and burst out coughing, then leapt from his chair and proceeded to have a dickie fit over an unopened package of paper towels, because as you know there's nothing like a good hot spicy meal to clear your sinuses. I took one bite and about fell out of my chair. It was hot.

Now, "hot" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In the US, people (on average) tend to have a lower threshold for spicy foods. So just to put this into perspective, up until now the hottest thing I've ever eaten was a chicken vindaloo in a London curry house. It's been probably a decade since I ate that vindaloo, but I'm about 95% sure that this was hotter, which means it's most likely the hottest thing I've ever eaten.

But I did eat it, because my ego wouldn't really let me do otherwise. I will say that I did not enjoy it. I have no idea what it tasted like. I do know that the pork was wonderfully tender, in fact I don't think it would have been any more tender if it had been sitting in a crockpot for eight hours. I just wish I could have tasted it.

After his initial coughing fit was over, Martin had a few more bites and then encountered a chunk of fat. Thinking it was a potato, he ate it and was then so disgusted he threw the rest of it away. Yes, my husband has a severe over reaction to fat. I should have known this. Of course, not wanting me to think that he'd woosed out over the heat, he then poured himself a meat-free bowl of fritanga sauce and ate it with a few of the leftover pukacapas and the rice. So we were both in pain, but with egos intact.

Oh yeah, the rice. I don't have any idea what it tasted like, either, because the normal function of my mouth wasn't restored until at least 30 minutes after the meal was over.

Now I won't say that Bolivian fritanga is too spicy for you or anyone else reading this blog, because you may be one of those rare people who can not only handle ridiculously spicy food, but actually likes it for reasons other than simply preserving your honor. But if you want to cut back on the cayenne pepper by say 80%, I won't tell anyone.

Next week: Bosnia and Herzegovina.

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Recipes from Bhutan

You probably already knew this, but food and happiness are intimately connected. Bhutan, as it turns out, is the happiest nation in Asia and the eighth happiest nation in the world. So I'm pretty sure I know the reason why.

Sadly, this map is the best Wikipedia could do. I guess you can probably pick out that tiny green spot.

Located in South Asia at the eastern end of the Himalayas, Bhutan is a landlocked country of about 15,000 square miles and 700,000 people. It is bordered by India and China and its climate ranges from sub-tropical to sub-alpine. Almost everyone who lives in Bhutan (about 80 percent) is supported at least in part by the agricultural industry, which produces various grains, chilies, dairy and root crops, among other things. Bhutan has the great distinction of being the first nation in the world to ban the sale of tobacco, as well as one of the last nations in the world to introduce the television (its nationwide ban on TV and the Internet wasn't lifted until 1999). How much this has to do with the Gross National Happiness Index (and Bhutan is the only nation in the world to measure such a thing) is anyone's guess, but I personally would be pretty unhappy without Facebook and True Blood, so I'm guessing it at least helped. Mostly, though, I think it's the food. Because Bhutanese food is yummy.

Momo dumplings with ema datshi, served over Bhutanese red rice. Yum!

Recipes from Bhutan were actually not that easy to find, though, which is a shame because I would love to have a whole cookbook full of them. I was lucky enough to find a couple of recipes that looked really good, for the following reasons:

1.       Cheese
2.       Chilies
3.       Yak

OK you were probably with me up until I said "yak." But after my very positive experience eating kangaroo burgers back in Australia, I really wanted to try some yak. So I set out on a yak hunt that actually lasted several weeks.

Surprisingly, yak is not that easy to find in my area, even though it is farmed here in the US. My friends at Corti Brothers in Sacramento couldn't get it, and although I did find one Sacramento restaurant that has it on their menu I decided against calling them up to beg a pound off of them since with the price of gas the drive down there would have actually cost more than just ordering it, even with two day shipping.

The source I eventually settled on was a company called Exotic Meat Market, which (among other things) sells a lot of really weird things like crocodile, beaver, camel and lion. Yes, that's right, lion. Now in case you were thinking that a lion steak sounds like it would really hit the spot, an 8 to 12 ounce cut will actually set you back around 500 dollars. So I didn't order any lion, because I don't have 500 bucks, but also because ew. I did find ground yak meat on their site for $30 per pound plus $27 to ship. Pricey, I know, but hey, you can't put a price on new experiences. Unless it's 500 bucks for a lion steak.

Now I did have some minor trepidation about ordering meat over the Internet, since as you know I've ordered cheese online and had it arrive warm. But my order actually came the very next day packed in a Styrofoam container and still frozen solid. So it looks like I've found my new source for weird meats.

Yak patties. I actually have two of these still in my freezer.

In case you didn't believe me ...

If you don't personally care to try yak or if you just don't want to spend a foolish amount of money in doing so, they do actually eat beef in Bhutan and beef is considered an acceptable substitute in this recipe:

MoMo Dumplings

For the dumplings:
  • 1/2 pound ground yak or beef
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 ounce xiaoshing (Chinese wine, found in most Asian grocers)
  • 2 tsp flour
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, finely minced
  • 1 package round wonton wrappers
  • A few large lettuce or cabbage leaves
For the dipping sauce:
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili oil

This is xiaoshing, also called "shaohsing," among other things.

The next recipe I chose is a fairly simple concoction of chilies, tomatoes and cheese called "ema datshi," which is not only the national dish of Bhutan but also the source of great Bhutanese pride. Traditionally, ema datshi is made with—you guessed it—yak's cheese. So I set off on my next quest.

Sadly, though, this time my quest was unsuccessful. I couldn't find yak's cheese online and I couldn't find it in any brick and mortar cheese shop. I finally emailed Eddy Sanders from Grunniens Yak Ranch in Colorado (another source for yak meat, by the way, though they were sold out by the time I was ready to place an order). Eddy told me that there isn't anyone in the US producing yak cheese at this time, mainly because regulatory requirements just don't make it practical to do so.

So I decided to cheat, because I really wanted to make this recipe. It's not like I've never cheated before, after all, and I usually try to do it the way I think a national living outside of his/her country might do it. So I poked around online and found some Bhutanese posters debating the best US substitute for yak's cheese in ema datshi, and finally settled on a 50/50 combo of feta cheese and Danish blue, which at least a few Bhutanese transplants agree is a decent substitute for the real thing.

So here is the Ema Datshi recipe, as shared by Kunzang Namgyel on "The Bhutanese Food Site," which has a small collection of authentic recipes. (My interpretations and changes are noted below).

  • 9 oz chilie peppers, sliced lengthwise into four pieces each (I used jalapenos, which are roughly the same as the peppers used in Bhutan)   
  • 1 onion, sliced*
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped*
  • 4 1/2 oz feta cheese *
  • 4 1/2 oz Danish blue cheese*
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed 
  • 3 stalks cilantro, chopped *
  • 1 cup Bhutanese red rice

(*Recipe notes: Kunzang's recipe called for onions "chopped longitudinally," which I took to mean sliced, since I've never actually seen that word used in a recipe. The recipe also didn't say what to do with the tomatoes or cilantro, so I assumed chopped. And as mentioned above, the combination of cheeses I listed in this recipe is a result of my research on Bhutanese forums. Lastly, Bhutanese red rice is imported from Bhutan and can be found at various online gourmet shops. I got mine from

And finally, I did want to try doing a dessert, though I couldn't find any referenced on any of the Bhutanese websites I found. I did find a few desserts in the Bhutanese section of Recipes Wiki, though I don't necessarily trust that they are authentic since (like all wikis) anyone can post anything on that site and call it whatever they like. But I decided to do one of them anyway, so if you are from Bhutan and know for a fact that my choice is Just Wrong, please send me a note to let me know. Here it is:

Sweet Banana Soup with Tapioca

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • 2 large bananas, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 tsp salt

The dumplings are the most time consuming of these three recipes, so let's start there:

With your hands, thoroughly mix the ground meat with the onion, garlic, xiaoshing, flour, soy sauce and jalapeno. 

The base for your momo dumplings.

Mix well with your hands.

Lay out a few of the wonton wrappers and spoon a small amount of the filling into the center of each. Fold the wonton wrapper in two and then pinch the edges to make a tight seal. Alternately, the recipe says you can "pinch the dough into a series of tiny pleats, gathering the edge together into a tightly puckered rosette at the top." Like that's going to happen.

First drop a small amount of filling onto the center of the wonton wrapper.

Now fold in half ...

... and pinch the edges. Done! With one of them, anyway.

After you've made about four million of these things, you may take note of the fact that your bowl of filling does not appear to have diminished in the slightest. I attribute this to some strange rift in the momo dumpling space-time continuum, which you may want to ask Steven Hawking about because I do not personally have any interest in understanding it. 

So anyway, just ignore that sinking "this is never going to end" feeling and keep making dumplings. Eventually, you will reach the bottom of the bowl (I promise). In the meantime, avoid stacking your dumplings (as I did in the following picture) because they do tend to stick to each other (the wonton wrappers are tough enough that you can get them apart, but it's a little challenging). If you are making them in advance, you might want to dust your plate with a little bit of flour and just lay them down in a single layer.

My plate of dumplings. If you stack them this way, you will regret it.

When you're ready to cook the dumplings, line your steamer basket with the cabbage or lettuce leaves (the recipe says to use a bamboo steamer, but I used my electric one and it worked just fine). I'm still not sure what the exact purpose of this step is, but I suspect it's to keep the dumplings from sticking, although I think the cabbage leaves also lent a little flavor to the finished dumplings.

Put the dumplings on top of the leaves (don't let them overlap) and steam for 30 minutes. 

Steam the dumplings for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the dipping sauce ingredients. Serve the dumplings hot with the dipping sauce. 

The ema datshi comes together quickly, so you don't really need to start making it until the dumplings are underway. Here's how:

First make the red rice, which takes about 20 minutes to cook. 

This Bhutanese red rice came from

It doesn't actually look a whole lot like rice.

Add the rice and 1 1/2 cups of water to a medium sized pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. 

It still doesn't look that much like rice.

Meanwhile, put the chiles and onions into a pot with the water. Add the vegetable oil. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. 

These vegetables just need to be boiled in a little water with some vegetable oil.

Boil uncovered for 10 minutes, then add the tomato and garlic. 

Add the tomatoes and garlic ...

Continue to boil for 2 more minutes, then add the cheese and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cilantro and remove from the heat. 

Stir and cover. Let stand for two minutes before serving over the red rice. 

It's not the prettiest dish, but it is oh-so-good.

And finally the dessert, also simple:

Put the water and coconut milk into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Then add the sugar, salt and tapioca. 

Bring the water and coconut milk to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often. Add the bananas, then remove from the heat and let stand for 15 minutes. 

Tasty, and light compared to most American desserts.

You can serve this hot (as I did) or you can let it chill it for a few hours.

So I know you are dying to hear what I thought of this meal, because I didn't make it obvious enough early in the post with all that talk about food being one of the keys to happiness. So I'll say it again: we loved this meal. At least, Martin and I did. The kids really didn't care one way or another. Dylan and Natalie ate their dumplings but couldn't be convinced to go back for seconds, though they remained blissfully unaware that they were eating yak (though I really don't know the word "yak" would have actually meant anything to them anyway). They also ate the rice, though I just topped it with a little feta cheese since I thought the ema datshi would probably be too spicy for them. Henry wasn't interested in any of it, which is pretty out of character for him, and Hailey was also not interested in any of it, which is completely in character for her.

I thought everything was delicious. The yak was sweet and mild, and although I thought I could detect a little gaminess I now think it was probably just the differentness of it, since almost no one else says yak tastes gamey. The ema datshi was oh-my-god good, and the red rice was slightly nutty with a little bit of a chewy texture that was not at all unpleasant (reminiscent of brown rice, which I usually don't like). The banana soup was good, too; it was light and fruity and made a nice change from all those heavy Easter desserts we've been eating over the past week.

So yes, I have to say that overall my personal Gross Happiness Index went up a bit this week. These recipes are going into my family cookbook, which is good because I actually still have about 3.9 million momo dumplings left in my freezer.

Next week: Bolivia

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

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