Taste Tibet: Family recipes from the Himalayas

Taste Tibet's famous chicken curry. Picture: Supplied
Taste Tibet's famous chicken curry. Picture: Supplied

Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa met by chance when she was backpacking through India and Yeshi invited her to share a meal together. That memorable first meal, a hearty bowl of hand-pulled noodle soup, was the start of their culinary journey. Fast-forward a decade and Yeshi and Julie are now married with two young kids, sharing their love of Nepalese cooking and flavours through their Taste Tibet restaurant in Oxford, England.

Alongside more than 80 recipes, are stories of Yeshi's childhood in Tibet, and the shared love of food that brought them together. They reveal nomadic Himalayan food culture and practices, including mindful eating and communal cooking - a way of life that celebrates family, togetherness, and respect for food - while exploring the relationship between landscape and diet, evoking the simple, subtle, and unique flavors of Tibet.

  • Taste Tibet, by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa. Murdoch Books, $49.99.

Famous chicken curry

If you take momos out of the equation, then Taste Tibet's famous chicken curry is definitely our biggest seller. Its name did not come about without the wild appreciation for all the joy it provides to starving festival-goers across the land and to the fine, curry-loving people of Oxford. So here we are - the great reveal. We've kept nothing back, and we hope you'll enjoy making it as much as we enjoy serving it. For the full Taste Tibet experience, pair it with basmati rice or Balep (Tibetan flatbread).

Ingredients

2 tbsp cooking oil

2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2.5cm piece of ginger, washed but not peeled, thinly sliced

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced

1/4 tsp turmeric

1 tsp Bassar curry masala (or hot chilli powder)

1 1/2 tsp Madras curry powder

2 tbsp coconut milk powder

6-8 fresh curry leaves, or 10-12 dried

1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk

600g chicken breast fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 tsp salt

chopped coriander, to garnish, optional

Method

1. Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium-high heat and add the oil. When it's hot, add the garlic and ginger and let it brown for a couple of minutes, then add the onion and stir for a further two minutes. Now add the tomatoes, turmeric, curry masala and curry powder. Mix together and cook for 10-15 minutes, turning the heat down a little and adding about 50 millilitres of water if anything starts to catch, then add the coconut milk powder, curry leaves and coconut milk and mix thoroughly. Take your time here: you are making a curry paste, and it needs to be cooked through completely before you can add the chicken.

2. Now add the chicken and salt. Turn the heat back up to high, stir the chicken through the sauce and cook for eight to 10 minutes, adding a little boiling water - but only a little - if anything sticks. The pan should be quite dry to begin with, before the juices from the chicken start to be released, so wait a while before adding any water.

3. After the chicken has been in for eight minutes, check to make sure it is fully cooked. To do this, take a piece out and cut it through the middle - it should be white all the way through. If the sauce looks too thick, add a little more boiling water and stir briskly for two minutes. Garnish with coriander, if you like, then serve.

Serves 4-6.

Balep (Tibetan flatbread). Picture: Supplied

Balep (Tibetan flatbread). Picture: Supplied

Balep (Tibetan flatbread)

Balep is very easy and quick to make. It has all the best qualities of yeasted breads - crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside - without using yeast, or even an oven. With just flour, water and a stovetop, you can have fresh, aromatic bread in the space of half an hour. Enjoy this versatile bread for breakfast with butter or dipped in warm honey, as the Tibetans do, or with soups, stews or stir-fries. I've also found that it tastes great with hummus or peanut butter, does a good job of mopping up salad dressings, and works really well with curries too.

Ingredients

500g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

2 eggs

100ml whole milk

Method

1. Put the flour into a mixing bowl. Break the eggs into the bowl, and mix through the flour using one hand, while you slowly add the milk, followed by 50ml of warm water. As the dough comes together, knead it well for a few minutes until it forms a nice ball in the bowl, then cover and set aside for 10 minutes.

2. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it for two to three minutes - just a bit more muscle! - before dividing it into six equal-sized pieces and rolling each one between your palms into a ball.

3. Sprinkle some flour onto your work surface and lightly flatten one of the dough balls with your hand. Use a rolling pin to roll it up and down, turning it over frequently and sprinkling your work surface with a little more flour if needed. Mold the flatbread by shuffling it between your hands - you're aiming for a circle about 12 centimetres in diameter and with a thickness of about 1cm, perhaps a little thicker in the middle.

4. Put a frying pan over a medium heat - there's no need for any oil. When the pan is hot, carefully lay in your first flatbread. Let it cook for about one minute, or until it bubbles a little and starts to rise, then turn it over and leave to cook for another minute. (If you have a lid for your pan, you can put it on at this point to help the bread to steam and cook through.)

5. Turn down the heat to low and continue to cook the bread for a further two to three minutes, turning occasionally. When it's ready, the bread should be flecked with brown spots and will feel springy when you press it with your finger; if your finger leaves an impression, it needs a bit longer.

6. Repeat with the remaining five pieces of dough.

Makes 6.

READ MORE RECIPES:

Chocolate tsampa truffles. Picture: Supplied

Chocolate tsampa truffles. Picture: Supplied

Chocolate tsampa truffles

This one is Yeshi's invention. He created it for a formal dinner he catered at a 17th-century mansion just outside Oxford. He was tasked with coming up with something to go with coffee, and this was the result. I love these truffles, and so do the punters at Taste Tibet. They have all the nuttiness of tsampa wrapped up in the warmest of chocolate embraces. They are equally delicious whether you cook them with sugar or honey, but honey makes them a bit more melt-in-the-mouth.

Ingredients

100g chocolate, 70 per cent cocoa

100g runny honey or caster sugar

100g butter

100g Tsampa (roasted barley flour)

Method

1. Break up the chocolate and put it into a non-stick saucepan, along with the honey or sugar and the butter. Place over a low heat and stir gently using a wooden spoon. When the mixture has melted, take the pan off the heat and add the tsampa. Mix everything together, then leave to cool for a minute or two, but no longer - the mixture should still be hot to the touch.

2. Now reach into the pan and scoop out truffle-sized amounts, each about 15g. Squeeze them between your palms and roll into small balls. Let the truffles cool slightly before serving.

Tip: Yeshi says "These quantities will work well if your tsampa is ground very finely. If you've used a spice/coffee grinder (rather than a flour mill) it is likely to be coarser and therefore less absorbent, so if the mixture doesn't quite come together, just add more tsampa to make it mouldable in your hands."

Makes 15-20 truffles.

Quick lamb biryani. Picture: Supplied

Quick lamb biryani. Picture: Supplied

Quick lamb biryani

Yeshi's older brother Nyima spent many years living as a monk in the Gaden Shartse Monastery at Mundgod, in southern India's Karnataka state. The life of a Tibetan monk is not spent purely in meditation or prayer, but is actually very active, involving many hours of philosophical debate and practical work. During his time at the monastery, Nyima held the role of head chef. He was well known to all the vegetable sellers around town, and became famous for the wide variety of meals he and his team cooked for the monastery's thousands of monks. Nyima is now head chef at an Indian restaurant in New York. Yeshi's biryani recipe is mostly borrowed from Nyima, who he says makes the best of any he has tasted. This version is quick to make, unlike many traditional Indian biryanis.

Ingredients

2 tbsp cooking oil

2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 star anise

2-3 bay leaves

3-4 fresh curry leaves, or 7-8 dried

1 red onion, thinly sliced

2 tomatoes, finely diced

600g lamb shoulder, on the bone, cut into bite-sized pieces - save the bone to add to the pan

2 tsp salt

1 tsp Bassar curry masala (or hot chilli powder), or more to taste

2 tsp Madras curry powder, or more to taste

1/2 tsp turmeric

2 carrots, about 300g, washed but not peeled, finely diced

1 potato, about 150-200g, washed but not peeled, finely diced

300g basmati rice, washed

juice of 1/2 lime

coriander leaves, to garnish, optional

Method

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the garlic. After half a minute or so, add the star anise, bay leaves and curry leaves and give everything a good stir for a further minute. Now add the onion, quickly followed by the tomatoes, and stir well for four to five minutes.

2. Add the lamb to the pan, popping the bone in as well. Stir in the salt, curry masala, curry powder (add more of both of these if you like your food hot) and turmeric and cook for 10-15 minutes. The pan will seem quite dry, but you are aiming to seal the meat, so this is right - just keep stirring to make sure it doesn't stick. Turn the heat down to medium and add the carrot and potato. Stir everything well, then cover with a lid and cook for two to three minutes.

3. Now add the rice, along with 700ml of cold water. Stir well and make sure that everything in the pan is submerged, then replace the lid, turn the heat up to high and bring to the boil. When the water has been absorbed by the rice, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 10 minutes, checking every so often to make sure that nothing is sticking. You will know that the biryani is ready when the rice at the top of the pan has softened. At this point, turn the heat off and let it stand for five minutes to allow the rice to absorb all the juices.

4. Just before serving, squeeze over a little lime juice and garnish with some coriander leaves, if you like.

Tip: Yeshi says "You can try this dish with other types of meat, but lamb is a good one because it has a high fat content, which makes it super-juicy. You definitely don't want anything too lean."

Serves 4.

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This story Get a taste of Tibet with these family recipes from the Himalayas first appeared on The Canberra Times.