This recipe for Tibetan Rice, from Taste Tibet: Family Recipes from the Himalayas by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa, is a speciality of Yeshi’s older father, a dish he makes for lunch every Tibetan New Year. Unlike barley – which grows well in the high mountain climate of the Tibetan plateau – rice must be bought from farmers growing at lower attitudes, and traditionally it’s often reserved for special occasions.
This is a very simple dish of basmati rice stir-fried with ground beef, red onion, peas and spring onion with additional flavour from sizzling butter.
Find out more about this beautiful book in my full review of Taste Tibet by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa.
Dad’s Tibetan Rice
Yeshi has two fathers, and his older father makes this dish for lunch every Tibetan New Year. In Tibet, partying – and eating! – is an important part of the celebrations, but the new year is also marked with a number of religious observances, including bsang, a purification practice. People in Yeshi’s village make a big bonfire on the hill, and they then place ritual offerings of tsampa (roasted barley flour), butter, tea and chang (barley beer) on juniper leaves in the middle of the fire. These release highly fragrant smoke that is said to create a pathway or channel to the Buddha. While the rest of the family head out to make their offerings, Yeshi’s older father busies himself making this special rice dish, which is waiting for them on their return. Rice was scarce in pre-modern Tibet, which made it a food for special occasions such as New Year. If you’d like to ‘purify’ this dish by removing the meat, wild mushrooms make a great substitute. If you have a rice cooker, you can of course use that to cook the rice; leftover rice is also ideal for this dish – you’ll need 600 g (3¼ cups) of cooked rice. Note that there’s no spice or kick to this, so do serve this with some Taste Tibet sepen (see page 190) if you want that feeling of fire.
- 300 g (1½ cups) basmati rice
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 300 g (10½ oz) minced (ground) beef or pork
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 150 g (1 cup) peas (frozen is fine)
- 80 g (2¾ oz) butter
- 3 spring onions (scallions), washed and thinly sliced, including green tips
In a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, rinse the rice well, then drain. Pour in 400 ml (14 fl oz) of water, put the lid on the pan and place over a medium-high heat. When the water starts to boil turn the heat down to medium, and then, when there is no water visible on the surface of the rice, reduce the heat to as low as it will go and leave for 5–6 minutes or until the rice is cooked.
Place a wok or large frying pan over a high heat. When it’s hot, add the onion, beef and salt – there’s no need to add any oil – and stir-fry until the meat is browned and cooked through. When the meat juices start to run, turn the heat down to low, and if it looks as if the meat is starting to burn, add a little boiling water.
Once the beef is cooked, stir in the peas (from frozen if that’s how they come) and cook over a low heat for 1–2 minutes, then add the spring onions and cook for a further minute.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a separate saucepan. Tibetan people say that you know when butter has fully melted by the chirping sounds it makes in the pan – listen out for it!
Once the butter bird has sung, remove from the heat and add the melted butter to the wok or frying pan. Give everything a stir, then tip in the rice and stir through the meat. If you are using cold leftover rice, you will need to leave this for a few minutes over the heat; otherwise just turn the heat off completely, mix everything together and serve.
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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Taste Tibet: Family Recipes from the Himalayas by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa from publisher Murdoch Books. Book food photography by Ola O. Smit; Book travel photography by Keiko Wong.
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