Tag Archives: Tibetan food

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)

Recipe for Tibetan Hot Sauce

Tibetan hot sauce, called sepen in Tibetan, is a popular accompaniment to Tibetan momos and other dishes.

recipe for Tibetan hot sauce, sepen

Our thanks to Lobsang and Yolanda at YoWangdu Experience Tibet (www.yowangdu.com) for sharing their recipe for Tibetan Hot Sauce or tsepen.

While the nuns hand chop all their ingredients, this recipe can be made with a food processor or blender. Add this spicy sauce to anything you like, but be careful, this sepen is extremely hot! You can adjust the heat of the sauce by reducing the amount of red pepper.

Ingredients for Tibetan Hot Sauce

  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 medium tomatoes (Roma tomatoes work well)
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro
  • chopped 2 stalks of green onion
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried red peppers (see the note below)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil for cooking

NOTE: You can adjust the spiciness of this recipe by using less red pepper and/or more of the other ingredients. Continue reading

Behind the scenes at Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

Here’s a chance for you to take a trip behind the scenes at some of the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India that are supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Whether the nunnery is large or small, there are many tasks or chores that the nuns must do to ensure that they are as self-sufficient as possible and to make sure that the nunneries function smoothly and are well maintained.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns chores

Collage of some of the many tasks of the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India, in addition to their studies and prayers.

In terms of regular tasks, one could view a nunnery as something like a cross between a very large household and a university or college. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of chores that need to be done each day, week, month, and year in order to keep everything running like a well-oiled machine. Continue reading

Nuns making Tibetan momos with video

If you ask someone to name their favorite Tibetan food there’s a good chance they’ll say Tibetan momos. Momos are steamed savoury dumplings that are much loved by Tibetans around the world and that are often made on traditional holidays.

vegetarian Tibetan momos

Photo of vegetarian Tibetan momos and chili sauce courtesy of YoWangdu Tibetan Culture.

Momos are a bit of a delicacy because of the work involved in making them. They can be stuffed with a variety of fillings such as beef, yak meat, cheese, potatoes or vegetables.

The nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala in northern India (one of the seven nunneries in India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project) follow a vegetarian diet and make momos on special occasions such as Tibetan New Year and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday.

Here’s a lovely video that the nuns made in 2012 ago showing them preparing momos to celebrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6th. As you will see from the video, it’s no small task to make enough momos to serve over 230 nuns!

If you’d like to make momos at home, here a recipe for vegetarian momos and one for meat momos, both kindly shared by YoWangdu Tibetan Culture.

Vegetarian Momo Recipe

Tsel Momo or Vegetarian Momos: Steamed Vegetable Dumplings
Our profound thanks to Lobsang and Yolanda at YoWangdu Tibetan Culture for their support of the nuns and for sharing both this recipe and their beautiful photos. The recipe has been edited here for length. If you want to see more of their Tibetan recipes, including meat momos, visit their website at www.yowangdu.com

Tibetan momos or dumplingsTraditionally in Central Tibet, there were sha (meat) momos and eventually vegetable fillings began to appear as well. Typical vegetarian momos (tsel momos) are stuffed with a potato filling, but Lobsang at YoWangdu Tibetan Culture has created his own blend of tofu, bok choy and shiitake mushrooms to make momos that are light and delicious.

For 2 people (Makes about 25 momos)

Dough Ingredients

  • 2 cups white all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup water

If you don’t have time to make them yourself, look for dumpling wrappers, wonton, potsticker, gyoza or shu mai wrappers in many major grocery stores. These will taste a bit different than the kind we make, but they will work.

Filling Ingredients for Vegetarian Momos

  • 1/2 large onion (we use red onion)
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup minced cilantro
  • 1 cup baby bok choy (about 2 clusters) or cabbage
  • 5 ounces super firm tofu
  • 2 stalks green onion
  • 6 largish shiitake mushrooms (you can substitute white mushrooms)
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to your taste
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon vegetable bouillon
  • 1/4 cup of cooking oil (we use Canola)

Prepare the Dough

  • Mix the flour and water very well by hand; knead until you make a smooth, flexible ball of dough (About 5 minutes)
  • Leave your dough in a pot with the lid on, or in a plastic bag, while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. You should not let the dough dry out or it will be hard to work with.

ingredients for veggie momosPrepare the Filling for Vegetarian Momos

  • Chop the onion, ginger, garlic, cilantro, bok choy, tofu, green onions and mushrooms into very small pieces.
  • Heat 1/4 cup of cooking oil in a pan to high and add chopped tofu. Cook on medium high for 2 minutes, until the edges are brown (cooking all water out).
  • Add chopped mushroom and cook another 3-4 minutes. Cool completely (very important) and add to filling mix.

making Tibetan momosMaking the Momo Dough Circles

When your dough and filling are both ready, it is time for the tricky part of making the dumpling shapes.

  • Place the dough on a chopping board and use a rolling pin to roll it out thinly, about 1/8 inch thick. It should not be so thin that you can see through it when you pick it up.
  • Cutting the dough into circles: Turn a small cup or glass upside down and cut out circles about the size of your palm. Pinch the edges of each circle to thin them.

Shaping a Half-Moon Momo

(To do this, you might want to also watch this video showing how the two traditional shapes are made.)

  • Prepare a non-stick surface and a damp cloth or lid to keep the momos you’ve made from drying out while you’re finishing the others (lightly-greased trays of steamer with lid or wax paper and a damp cloth).
  • Hold a dough circle in your left hand, slightly cupping it. Put about a tablespoon of your veggie filling in the center of the dough. Start with a small amount, try to not overfill.
  • Starting on one edge and moving to the other, pinch the two sides of the dough together, creating a curved crescent shape. The bottom side of the momo will stay relatively flat, whereas the pinched edge has folds to allow for the bulk of the filling.  Be sure to close all gaps so that you don’t lose juice while cooking.

making Tibetan momos

Cook Your Momos!

  • Finally, you should boil water in a large steamer. (Tibetans often use a double-decker steamer, to make many momos at one time.)
  • Oil the steamer surface lightly.
  • Once the water is boiling, place the momos a little distance apart in the steamer as they will expand a little bit when they cook.
  • Steam the momos for 10-12 minutes, with the water boiling continuously.
  • Momos are done once the dough is cooked.

cooked Tibetan momosServing

  • Serve the momos right off the stove, with the dipping sauce of your choice. At home, we mix together soy sauce and Patak’s Lime Relish, which we get in Indian stores, or the Asian section of supermarkets. Tibetan hot sauce is also very good.
  • Be careful when you take the first bite of the hot momos since the juice is very, very hot, and can burn you easily.

Enjoy!

A taste of life at Dolma Ling Nunnery – with dal recipe

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.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns making breakfast at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Tibetan Nuns Project

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 flat bread, cooked mixed vegetable and tea. Continue reading