We wanted to give you a taste of life at the nunneries by sharing details of the nuns’ meals and also send you a delicious recipe for dal, Tibetan style, that you can try at home.
You have to get up VERY early to prepare breakfast for 230 nuns. Canadian photographer Brian Harris arrived in the kitchen of Dolma Ling Nunnery at about 3 am and found the nuns already at work making hundreds of parathas, an Indian dish of potato-filled fried bread. A typical breakfast for the nuns might be a piece of flatbread, cooked mixed vegetables, and tea.
All the food is vegetarian and is prepared by the nuns themselves. The head cook is always busy and the kitchen is spotless. The nuns rotate in and out of kitchen duties so everyone participates.
Lunch is the day’s main meal and is often rice, two kinds of vegetables, dal, and sometimes fruit. According to Brian, there’s also a knock-out nunnery hot sauce. Dinner is often a noodle soup and maybe a steamed bun.
A high-pitched gong sounds 3 times a day to announce meals. The senior nuns enter the dining hall first as the younger nuns, holding their bowls, cups and spoons, wait their turn. The dining hall also doubles as a place for the nuns to memorize the scriptures.
Due to rapid inflation, rising food and fuel prices in India are putting a lot of pressure on all of the nunneries. In the last month, the price of onions has doubled. The price of cooking fuel – which was already expensive – has increased 5-fold in a year. The Tibetan Nuns Project is seeking more sponsors and supporters as we struggle to keep up with rising costs.
In July we launched a campaign to increase both donations and the number of sponsors. Thank you and welcome to our 34 new sponsors! To help with this campaign, with either a single gift or as a sponsor, please visit https://tnp.org.
Now here’s a recipe from our friends at Yowangdu Tibetan Culture for how to cook dal (or dal bhat) Tibetan style.
Dal bhat is a traditional Nepali or Indian food consisting of lentil soup (dal) served with rice (bhat), which Tibetans began to cook after coming into exile. Traditionally Tibetans in Tibet don’t cook dal, but it is a very common dish of Tibetans who live outside our country, especially those who live in India and Nepal.
Dal Bhat Recipe
Preparation time: 40 minutes (2 People)
- 1 cup red lentils (masoor dal) (other types of dal can take much longer to cook)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 small red onion, chopped small
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon turmeric*
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds*
- ½ teaspoon coriander powder*
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- ½ tablespoon butter or ghee (optional, but it gives a nice flavor)
- 2 tablespoons cilantro and/or green onion, chopped, for garnish
- water, to make soup
- basmati rice (or any kind you wish)
- Indian chutney or pickle (achar) of your choice. We love Patak’s lime pickle. You can also find Patak’s at many other large grocery stores.
- Optional: add pepper of your choice, or red pepper flakes.
- If you prefer, you can use Shan Dal Curry Mix, or garam masala instead of the turmeric, cumin and coriander.
- Wash the lentils and rinse a couple of times. Be careful to remove any stones. If you have time, soak the lentils in water as long as you can, up to overnight, before you cook. They get very soft and can cook faster.
- Begin preparing the rice any way you like so it will be ready when you’re done cooking the dal.
- Chop your onion, and mince the garlic and ginger and set aside.
- Chop the tomato and set aside.
- Wash your cilantro and or green onion. Chop for garnish and set aside.
- Heat oil on high for a minute or two.
- Add ginger, garlic and onion, and stir fry on high until the onion is a little brown on the edges, 1-2 minutes.
- Stir in cumin seeds, salt, turmeric, mustard seed and coriander powder. Turn the heat down to medium (6 out of 10 on our stove), and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often.
- Note: The stove’s temperature will remain at medium (6/10) for the rest of the cooking process, and you will stir occasionally.
- Add tomatoes and butter. Stir, cover with lid and cook for 4 minutes.
- After 4 minutes, stir in the lentils, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
- After cooking for 5 minutes, add one cup of water, cover with lid and cook for 5 more minutes.
- When the 5 minutes are up, stir in 2 more cups of water, as the water will begin to decrease as you cook.
- Continue cooking on medium for 10 minutes.
- Now your dal is ready. Turn off the stove and sprinkle the chopped cilantro and/or green onion on top.
Serve with rice. Many Tibetans like to serve the dal in a small soup bowl, beside a plate of rice. Some people like to ladle the dal over the rice and mix it up to eat. Indians and Nepalis often eat dal baht with their hands, as do some Tibetans, but many of us also use a spoon.
Add some Indian chutney or pickle (achar) or hot sauce. We can’t more highly recommend the Patak’s Lime Pickle or relish, which is just heavenly and is perfectly complementary with this dal bhat. You can get it medium or hot. Medium is more spicy in a flavorful way than a hot way The hot has some bite!
(This recipe has been slightly edited for length. To see the full recipe and photos, as well as recipes for other Tibetan dishes such as momos and thukpa, visit Yowangdu Tibetan Culture’s website.)
The Tibetan Nuns Project could not do what it does without the generous support of a caring community. Thank you again for your support.
To learn how you can help nourish the nuns bodies and minds with a single gift or as a sponsor, please visit https://tnp.org.