Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Cheese and Chilies

Life continues to get crazier and crazier, but Bhutan and its unique cuisine do not deserve to be ignored any longer. There is a widespread deficiency amongst the college-age American population of knowledge about Bhutan. When I told several different people that I cooked Bhutanese food, they either gave me blank stares, asked me what country the "Bhutan" was from (like it was a dish and not the actual place's name), or said something like, "Bhu-what?". I am here today to put an end to Bhutanese ignorance. Bhutan is actually one of the many nations that make up our world and deserves to be recognized. Bhutanese culture lovers unite! :) Before I get too carried away here....

Bhutan is a country. There's our start. Can everyone say Bhutan. (The inner teacher is really coming out now.) It's located in Asia. Yes, China is not the only country over there no matter what the bottom of every item you have ever bought claims. If you find China on a map and go south a bit, you will find Bhutan tucked away in the Himalayas. The mostly Buddhist Bhutanese people are matrilineal (ancestry is passed down the mother's line) and archery is the national sport. The Driglam Namzha is basically Bhutan's code of etiquette. It regulates dress code during different situations depending on the formality and context. It also tells the people how to eat, bow, talk, and how to build their buildings. One minority group refused to follow the new code when it was enacted in 1990, and their whole region was exiled and no longer is recognized by the Bhutanese as being part of Bhutan. About 20% of Bhutan is currently in exile because of nonconformity. That's a high percentage, especially since Bhutan is not that big to begin with. Back to the point about how Bhutan is matrilineal, it is the Bhutanese men who generally cook, clean, and take care of the home. It's also illegal to smoke in Bhutan and has been since 2010. It was the first country to enact this law. Bhutan has some very interesting laws....

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Bhutan is home to the amazing red rice; the only rice that grows at high altitudes such as those in Bhutan. (They are in the Himalayas, after all.) Other than the staple of rice (and in some regions corn and buckwheat), yak, chicken, dried beef, and pork are popular. Chili peppers and cheese are other must-haves for a Bhutanese table. Butter tea is a common drink that literally mixes tea with butter and supposedly tastes great.

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Eze is like the salsa of Bhutan and is great served alongside your main dish and rice to spice things up. (Because you didn't think your Bhutanese food could get any spicier.)

Eze
1 small onion, quartered
1 small tomato, quartered
1 cup packed cilantro leaves
4 red serrano chilies
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns

Broil the chilies under high heat until charred. Flip them over and cook until the other side is charred as well. Wait for the chilies to cool before peeling and seeding them. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until a nice paste has formed.

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Ema Datshi is the national dish of Bhutan, and consists of chili, "Ema", and cheese, "Datshi". It's spicy and good served over a nice heaping portion of red rice. Be careful when you cook the chilies because they will smoke you out if not covered properly.

Ema Datshi
8 ounces feta cheese (the creamy block kind, not crumbled)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cups green chilies, seeded and sliced into long strips
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp oil
1 tomato, pureed in a blender
a few leaves of cilantro
salt, to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan with a lid. (Trust me; you’ll want the lid unless you enjoy hot chili smoke in your eyes and throat.) Add the garlic, onion, and chilies to the saucepan, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally and do not allow them to brown, only caramelize. Add in about a cup of water along with the tomato. Simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the cheese. Stir until creamy, adjusting the water as needed. It should be a creamy sauce. Last of all, stir in the cilantro and cook for 2 minutes. Season to taste and serve with red rice.

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Minced chicken and (even more) chilies come together to make the meat dish called Jasha Maroo. It's also good over rice and topped with cilantro.
 
Jasha Maroo
1 pound chicken breast, cubed
1 tomato, chopped
6 tbsp finely chopped green chilies
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tbs oil
salt, to taste
cilantro, to garnish

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic, and chilies. Cook for about 5 minutes before adding the chicken. Allow the chicken to brown for a couple of minutes before pouring in the water along with the tomato, and ginger. Simmer for 30 minutes, adding more water if needed. Serve atop red rice garnished with cilantro leaves.

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The Bhutanese sure do love their cheese and chilies. Unfortunately, I was not able to get authentic cheese nor chilies like they have in Bhutan. My Ema Datshi looks a little chunky because the feta I used did not melt as nicely as I had hoped. Oh well, the chili flavor still showed through. My mouth was on fire! I also couldn't get ahold of any red rice, so I subbed black rice, which I think looks very similar. Maybe it was all the less-than-perfect substitutions or maybe I just wasn't in a spicy food kind of mood, but I wasn't completely thrilled with my Bhutanese experience. I think I just wasn't feeling it because everything tasted great and came together well. (Except for the chunky cheese.) I even stirred some of the leftover chili salsa (Eze) into soup I made a couple of days later. I wonder if my meal goes along with the mandated Driglam Namzha code. I would not want to be exiled....

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