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Tibetan Buddhist nuns’ food and delicious vegetarian recipes

Today we’re taking you behind the scenes to some of the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project. You’ll see what the Tibetan Buddhist nuns eat and how they prepare their food.

Scroll down for four recipes for delicious vegetarian food that you can cook at home.

Tibetan vegetarian recipes collage

A collage of food photos from the Tibetan Buddhist nuns, including vegetarian Tibetan momos, top right. The photo on the left is courtesy of Dustin Kujawski. The photo of Tibetan momos in the top right is courtesy of YoWangdu.

The nunneries in India follow a simple vegetarian diet. The nuns’ diet is influenced by Indian food and local ingredients. With your support, their nutrition has greatly improved over the years.

Tibetan Buddhist nun checking rice

A nun on kitchen duty checks rice. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

At Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, a typical breakfast might be a piece of flatbread, some cooked mixed vegetables, and tea. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is often rice, two kinds of vegetables, dal, and sometimes fruit. Dinner is often a noodle soup and maybe a steamed bun.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns cooking breakfast

The nuns on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute rise just past 3 a.m. to start preparing breakfast for the over 280 nuns and staff at the nunnery. In this photo by Brian Harris, a nun is making Indian-style flatbreads on a griddle.

vegetable storeroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

It takes a lot of vegetables to feed about 250 nuns. A few years ago, the kitchen at Dolma Ling was expanded and this new storage room was built. It is designed to keep birds and animals out and has a special chopping area.

For 2,500 years, since the time of the Buddha, it has been considered an act of merit to give food to monks and nuns. As Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and poet, said, “The practitioner and benefactor offering food create the cause to achieve enlightenment together.”

In the seven nunneries in northern India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, the nuns work together to prepare food for the entire nunnery. While the nunneries do their best to be self-sufficient, all of them are still heavily reliant for food support through our sponsorship program and through general donations.

young Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery eating

Young nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti sit in the warm sun and eat. The nunnery is located in the remote, high-altitude region of Spiti in northern India. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Good health and nutrition are essential for the nuns to be able to study. The majority of nuns came to India as refugees from Tibet and most arrived destitute, malnourished, and ill. As refugees without their families and traditional communities to support them, they rely more than ever on the compassion and generosity of others. Providing the nuns with a steady supply of nutritious food makes a dramatic difference in the energy they are able to devote to their studies.

Tibetan-Buddhist-nuns-roasting-tsampa

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute roast barley to make tsampa, the staple food of the Tibetan people. Once roasted, the barley is ground into flour and mixed with Tibetan tea for a high-energy meal.

Food at Remote Nunneries

The nuns in remote nunneries, such as Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti and Dorjee Zong in Zanskar, have difficult living conditions. These two nunneries are located in high-altitude, arid regions where the growing season is short. The nuns face long, harsh winters and must stock up on supplies of food and cooking fuel well before the onset of cold weather.

kitchen at Tibetan Buddhist nunnery Sherab Choeling

The simple kitchen at Sherab Choeling Nunnery is one of the warmest parts of the nunnery in winter. During the coldest months, the nuns hold their classes, prayers, and meetings in the kitchen because it is warmer and helps to save wood.

At Sherab Choeling Nunnery, the nuns work hard during the summer months to grow food for the long winter. During the summer, the nuns grow spinach, beans, peas, and wheat.

Tibetan Buddhist nun working in greenhouse in Spiti

The nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Indian Himalayas have three greenhouses where they mostly grow spinach. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Vegetarian Recipes

recipe for Tibetan noodle soup thenthuk

Tibetan noodle soup, thenthuk. This comfort food is a common noodle soup in Tibetan cuisine, especially in Amdo, Tibet.

Here are some recipes from past blog posts for typical dishes that the nuns eat.

Recipe for Tibetan Noodle Soup, Thenthuk

Here is a recipe for Tibetan noodle soup, called thenthuk (འཐེན་ཐུག་). This comfort food is a common noodle soup in Tibetan cuisine, especially in Amdo, Tibet. Traditionally it would be made with mutton or yak meat. Links to four other recipes, including vegetarian momos, are at the bottom of this post.

Recipe for Tibetan noodle soup, Tibetan recipes, Tibetan soup, thenthuk,

Traditionally, thenthuk would be made with meat, but the nuns in India eat a vegetarian diet. This is a meat-optional recipe. Thenthuk is one particular kind of Tibetan noodle soup. It’s name means pull-noodle soup.

Tibetan noodle soups are generally called thukpa. Thenthuk (pronounced ten-took) is one kind of thukpa. It is easy and fun to make your own noodles.

You can download a PDF of the recipe here. At the end of the blog, there are links to other recipes for Tibetan food, including vegetarian momos.

Ingredients for Thenthuk

Serves 2

Noodle Dough

1 heaping cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water, room temperature
1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp oil

Broth

2 or 3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger, finely minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped into thin strips
1 large tomato, roughly chopped
4 to 5 cups vegetable or other stock
2 green/spring onions, chopped
cilantro, a few sprigs, roughly chopped
handful of spinach
soy sauce or salt to taste

Recipe for Tibetan noodle soup, Tibetan recipes, Tibetan soup, thenthuk, ingredients for Tibetan noodle soup

Ingredients for Tibetan noodle soup, thenthuk.

Noodle Instructions

In a bowl, combine the dough ingredients, mix well and then knead for 4 minutes. Cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Roll or flatten out the dough and cut into long strips and then make the broth.

Soup Instructions

In a large pot on medium heat, sauté garlic, ginger, and onion in oil for 1 minute. Add carrots and tomato and gently sauté for one minute. Add most of the stock and bring to a boil. Adjust the amount of stock later depending on the soup to noodle ratio you prefer.

Put the noodle in the soup by draping the strips over your hand and tearing off pieces of about an inch in size, throwing them into the boiling soup. Cook for 2 minutes until the noodles are cooked and the stock is boiling. Add the chopped green onions, cilantro, and spinach and cook for about 30 seconds. Season with soy sauce or salt. Serve immediately.

Other Tibetan Recipes

We have four other Tibetan recipes on our blog:
Recipe for vegetarian momos
Recipe for Tibetan hot sauce
Recipe for Tibetan noodle soup, gyuthuk
Recipe for dal (Not a Tibetan dish, but one that is eaten often by monks and nuns in India)

Food for Thought: What Buddhist Nuns Eat

It’s just past 3 a.m. and the nuns on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India are already hard at work boiling water and heating up griddles to prepare breakfast for about 280 nuns and staff.

In the shelter of the cowshed, the nunnery’s small herd of dairy cows are still asleep. The nuns will milk them around 6:30 a.m. and carry their sweet, fresh milk in pails to the kitchen, where it will be used to make both traditional Tibetan butter tea and Indian-style sweet tea.

In this blog post we’d like to take you behind the scenes at some of the seven nunneries in northern India supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project. We offer profound thanks to our sponsors of nuns whose generosity feeds over 700 nuns every day.

Chopping vegetables for about 280 people is a big job at Dolma Ling. The nuns take turns on kitchen duty. This photo and the above kitchen photo are courtesy of Brian Harris.

For 2,500 years, since the time of the Buddha, nuns and monks have relied on the generous support of the lay community for their daily food. The practice of generosity (dana) is the first of the perfections or paramitas in both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. Offering food to monastics is a meritorious act. As Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and poet, said, “The practitioner and benefactor offering food create the cause to achieve enlightenment together.”

It’s long before dawn when the nuns assemble in the kitchen to start preparing breakfast. Meals are prepared collectively in the nunnery kitchens. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

In countries like Thailand, where Theravada Buddhism is practiced, monks and nuns go on daily alms rounds, carrying their alms bowls and accepting offerings of food from the local community. Continue reading