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‘The Passionate Foodie’

2By Lucinda Frye

Our quest is for diverse, indigenous cuisine brought by the many ethnic people to St. Maarten from all over the world. We have done well and covered many ethnic groups; not yet all by any means. Wines, high-days, holidays, individual foods, celebrations and anything to do with keeping the body and soul nourished with what is produced from good old terra firma are what make the world go round.

This week, we visit Tibet again.

Tibet cuisine

Many Tibetans live in India and Nepal and so their cuisine reflects the surrounding mountains and plateaus as well as being influenced by the neighbours. Tibet people eat oodles of noodles, goat, yak, mutton, dumplings, cheese made primarily from yak or goat milk, butter and soups. The weather is usually pretty bracing way up there in those mountains, and soups would definitely be the order of the day if I lived up there.

Plates, bowls and teacups are traditionally made from wood; sometimes clay is used and lacquered. Those who could afford it would buy high-quality porcelain bowls from other Chinese provinces. Chopsticks were made by family members or imported from the forested regions in the south. The nobility used chopsticks made from ivory with silver ornaments. Spoons are indispensable for most dishes – the poor people and children wear them around their necks to have them ready to eat at all times, so to speak.

Barley is the staple food; rice is grown on the lower slopes so is not an important part of everyone's diet. More recently, rice is imported but greenhouses are the big thing these days, so the Tibetans do get much more fruit and veg in their diet in these more modern times.

Balep (a Tibetan bread) is eaten for breakfast and lunch; they also have fried pies. Stews called Thukpa are usually eaten for dinner; these are made of vegetables, meat, and noodles of various shapes and cooked in broth.

The Tibetan's traditionally eat with bamboo chopsticks, other Himalayan country people mostly eat with their hand. Tibetans serve their soup in small soup bowls; the rich apparently have bowls made of gold and silver.

Sepen is a Tibetan hot sauce.

Yak, goat and mutton are slaughtered and then the meat is dried; this dried meat tides the people of the long harsh winters. The meat is then turned into filling stews and soups using spice and adding potatoes; the richness would come from yak butter, yoghurt and cheese. Mustard seeds are cultivated in Tibet; these add to the spice of the cuisine. Pestle and mortars made in Southern Tibet are indispensable to crush chili.

Yak Yoghurt, Yak Milk and Yak Butter

Raising yak remains a way of life for many Tibetan nomadic people. The yak yoghurt, milk and butter play a large part in the cuisine. Yak yoghurt is not sweet; it is often served with a sprinkling of sugar. Yak milk and yak butter have a cheesy taste, not at all like the fresh milk one gets from cows.

Water

There is no piped water to many places in Tibet. Tibetan women fetch water once a day in large 25-litre wooden containers. They pour the water into copper cans which are built-in and hold more than 100 litres. Cooking pots made from iron or brass are used on the stove. Tsampa, butter and cheese are stored in boxes made from wood; elaborately woven baskets with matching tops are used to store dried fruits, rice and sugar.

Tea is an elixir in Tibet; everyone appears to enjoy their daily tea and lots of it. The Tibetans also wear their tea cups; they keep the teacup in a fold of their traditional clothes. Wooden teacups made from wood grown in Bhutan and Eastern Tibet have an incredibly smooth surface, an impressive grain pattern as well as a balanced form; they are comfortable to hold, these are of course rather expensive so not too many can afford to own a wooden teacup. Nobility love their teacups that have a layer of silver inside; these can be cleaned more easily than the wooden ones. They also love the ones made of jade and pure silver. Tea called Butter Tea is the most special kind of tea, this is made in a cylinder, four litres at a time, there is a whisk that fits into a hole in the lid of the cylinder and the tea and butter are whisked vigorously until the right emulsion is reached

A visiting guest is asked if they want to drink tea; the guest at first must refuse politely and say "Lamee." However, the woman of the house will still serve the tea and hands over the cup with both hands as a sign of respect. The guest must only have a couple of short sips then put the cup down on the table. The woman will fill up the cup and ask the guest to drink again. This is repeated a couple of times before the guest then slowly empties the cup. You cannot be thirsty after a long journey in Tibet it appears! The same ritual happens with food; first, the guest refuses politely and then the hostess just carries on and offers it to the guest!

After the tea ritual, the guest is offered Chang which is beer made from barley. At the table, one sits on the floor or on cushions and one should always sit cross-legged, it is impolite to stretch one's legs.

Yak meat is not easy to get on island. Yak meat is a sweet and delicately flavoured red meat, juicier than buffalo and elk and is not gamey; it is also less fatty so is not as greasy as beef. If you do get the chance to cook with yak, try all your favourite ways of cooking it. Instead of yak recipes, I offer you the following:

Recipes:

Duck Breast – Brined and roasted. While this recipe is not one from Tibet, it is a great way of cooking duck – it has the Asian flavours.

Ingredients:

Duck breast

6 cups water

Tbl star anise

Tbl juniper berries

Tbl mustard seeds

Tbl pepper

1 cinnamon

6 tbl salt

2 medium onions chunked

Tomatoes halved if large, whole if cherry tomatoes

Method:

Prepare brine 24 hours before the dish is cooked.

Boil the water. Turn off heat, stir in salt, star anise, juniper berries, mustard seeds, pepper and cinnamon. Stir until salt dissolves. Let cool to room temperature. When cooled, pour brining solution into a ziploc bag set inside a bowl. Place rinsed duck breast into brining solution. Seal bag. Place in fridge for 24 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 400º F.

Place onions and tomatoes in a small roasting dish.

Drizzle with olive oil and salt.

Place in oven for 20 minutes.

Remove brined duck breast from the solution.

Puncture skin of duck with a fork in a couple of places.

Score the skin of the duck breasts.

Heat a deep frying pan and place breasts skin side down first.

Sear for 5-6 minutes on both sides; this makes a lot of rended duck fat; save this for roasting potatoes.

Arrange duck on tomatoes and onions.

Roast for 12-15 minutes; duck should be medium rare.

Allow duck to rest for 10 minutes before carving into thin slices.

Kung Pao Chicken for two – it is easy to double this recipe.

Ingredients:

1½ boneless, skinless chicken breasts

3 tbl roasted peanuts

6-8 seeded dried red chilies, cut in half

3 tbl oil

5 slices peeled fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

1spring onion thinly sliced on the diagonal

Marinade:

1 tbl corn starch

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tbl Chinese rice wine or sherry

1 tsp oil

Sauce:

1½ tbl soy sauce

1 tsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp sugar

¼ tsp Chinese black vinegar

2 tbl water

1 tsp corn starch

(Soy sauce brands are varied - if sauce tastes too salty, add more sugar and water; if not salty enough, add a little salt to taste.)

Method:

Cube the chicken (bite size), rinse in water, pat dry with paper towels and marinate for 30 minutes.

Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a wok and stir-fry chicken until almost cooked, set chicken aside

Clean wok, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until almost smoking.

Add ginger and garlic slices, stir for a few seconds, add chilies, sir fry until aromatic.

Return chicken meat to wok.

Stir then add roasted peanuts.

Add sauce, and stir continuously until chicken is well coated.

Add green onion, stir to combine.

Serve immediately with steamed rice.

Variation: This recipe works well with shrimp, scallop or vegetables – the large king mushrooms are particularly good.