Thursday, April 09, 2009
Thenthuk Soup Kitchen
Last weekend, I was rolling in the dough —150 pounds of it.
Thanks to a Buddhist friend at work, we found ourselves at a local soup kitchen, preparing Thenthuk noodle soup with visiting Tibetan monks from the Drepung Gomang monastery. The monastery was first established in Tibet in 1416. When China took over Tibet almost exactly 50 years ago, the Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India. The monastery was reestablished there in the 1960s by the few surviving monks.
It was unique to get a lesson in this history from the monks and their translator — while we were chopping 25 lbs. of onions.
Oddly enough, our experience being "honorary Brazilians" involved much onion chopping. This skill must be my diplomatic gift, and I do wonder just who I'll end up chopping onions with next. But I can only hope the conversation is as interesting as how Dalai Lamas are recognized, reincarnation, and what life is like in Tibet.
The chopping was the easy part of the cooking. What I really wanted to do was learn to make noodles. It took a couple monks to carry out the massive ball of dough. It took six people to knead the thing. And, well, I got plenty of time learning to make noodles. I never knew it was possible to get sore muscles from using a rolling pin. Next year, I am packing the marble one.
I am happy to report that my dough-rolling got the nod from a holy man. One of the monks thanked me for how easy my dough was to work with. Since they usually cook for 1500 at a time, I am taking this to be a compliment.
For this particular soup, the dough is rolled out and cut into strips, then you flatten a strip with your fingers, pinching it by pieces into the boiling water. The technique is characteristic of a given region of Tibet, and gives the soup its name, "then" meaning pull and "thuk" for noodle.
The evening ran late, and we had a kid to pick up. Thus, after cooking for 350, we left the soup kitchen hungry. When we got to our friends' house to pick up the kiddo, they were just sitting down to eat. Funny the way things go in circles in life. Dinner was some of the very fejioada we had helped prepare, defrosted and hot on the table. We pulled up a chair and ate Brazilian soup, taken in by friends and fed when we were hungry. I feel such great fortune, often, to have good friends, an open mind to all the cultures of this world, and an understanding of the importance of a shared meal.
I cut the recipe down a bit since most of us don't cook for 350 at a time. Besides, where would I keep 125 pounds of flour and two dozen eggs? I also made the tomato optional. Tomatoes are not really known in Tibet, and not a traditional part of the dish.
8 oz of flour (by weight not volume)
1/2 cup water
Some recipes do not use egg in the dough. Make a well in the center of the flour, add the egg and water, mixing to form a thick dough. Knead well until smooth and flexible, stretchy and not sticky. Let the dough rest for a half an hour. Then roll it out to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into long strips, about 1 inch wide.
1 tomato, chopped
1 large onion, diced
4 green onions, chopped, white and green parts
3 cups spinach, chopped
1 small daikon radish, peeled and sliced thinly, soak in saltwater, then rinse
1/2 pound thinly sliced beef roast, not cooked
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbs. fresh ginger, chopped
3 tbs. canola oil
1 tbs. soy sauce
32 oz. water or vegetable broth
Heat the oil. Saute the onion, garlic, ginger and tomato. Add the meat and brown it. Add the soy sauce. Add the water or broth. Bring to a boil. Add the daikon and cook for a few minutes. With the soup boiling, take a strip of dough and flatten it with your fingers, laying the long end over your wrist, feed the dough to your thumbs and pinch off 1/2-inch sections into the boiling broth. Cook for about three minutes, then add the spinach and green onions. When the noodles float up, about 6-8 minutes, the soup is ready.