To celebrate Losar or Tibetan New Year, we want to share with you a vegetarian recipe for the very popular Tibetan noodle soup, called guthuk. This special soup is eaten on the night of the 29th day of the 12th month, or the eve of Losar.
We’d like to thank our friends, Lobsang and Yolanda at YoWangdu Experience Tibet (www.yowangdu.com) for sharing this recipe with us. They have many wonderful Tibetan recipes on their website.
Guthuk is the only Tibetan food that is eaten only once a year as part of a ritual of dispelling any negativities of the old year and to make way for an auspicious new one. The base of the soup is actually a common noodle soup called thukpa bhatuk, but at the end of the year, this daily favorite is transformed into a special dish that is also a bit of a game.
Guthuk gets its name from the Tibetan word gu meaning nine and thuk which refers generally to noodle soups, so guthuk is the soup eaten on the 29th day. The gu part of the name also comes from the fact that the soup traditionally has at least nine ingredients. In this vegetarian version of guthuk, the nine main ingredients are mushrooms, celery, labu (daikon radish), peas, tomato, onion, ginger, garlic, and spinach. A traditional guthuk would include meat (yak or beef) and dried cheese.
This guthuk recipe from YoWangdu is a fusion of traditional and contemporary Tibetan cooking. It has a traditional Tibetan noodle soup called thukpa bhatuk as its base, but is vegetarian and includes celery and mushrooms for a flavorful vegetarian broth.
What makes the soup extra special is that each person eating the soup receives one large dough ball with a hidden surprise inside it. Tucked inside the dough ball is a item or symbol of that item which is meant to be a playful commentary on the character of the person who gets it.
In the dough ball above, for example, is a slip of paper with the Tibetan word for salt (tsal). This is supposed to symbolize a lazy person. Traditionally, there would be an actual piece of rock salt inside the dough ball. In any case you don’t want to draw the dough ball with salt!
The objects or words placed into each large dough ball are jokingly meant to refer to the character of the person who gets it. Here’s a list of four positive and six negative objects and their Tibetan words and symbols:
- Wool (bay) means you’re kind hearted
- A thread rolled inwards (kuba nandrim) symbolizes a person who draws luck and money
- Sun (nyima) means the goodness related to light
- Moon (dawa) also means the goodness related to light
- Chili (sepen) means a sharp tongue
- Salt (tsa) means you’re lazy
- Glass (karyul) symbolizes someone who is happy when there’s fun, but disappears when there is work to do, like a good time charlie
- Coal (sola) means you’re black hearted
- A thread rolled outward (kuba chidrim) represents someone who spends or dissipates luck or money
- A small prickly ball (semarango) symbolizes a prickly person
A nice Tibetan custom is that, if any family member is absent, he or she still gets a bowl of guthuk served up, with the extra dough ball, and someone will call them to tell them what object they got.
Recipe for Vegetarian Guthuk
For 2-3 people, depending on your appetite. Double or triple this for a guthuk party.
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
- 1/3 medium onion
- 5 medium shiitake mushrooms
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce (if using regular soy sauce, leave out the salt)
- 3 cups water (first cooking) + 3 cups of water (second cooking)
- 1/3 cup raw sugar snap peas, without shells
- 2/3 of a large labu, cut into strips, see instructions below. (labu = daikon = Japanese radish)
- 5 cups spinach (measure before chopping), roughly chopped. (As long as they are clean, no need to remove the stems.)
- 1 stalk green onion, chopped
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped
Dough Ingredients for Guthuk
- 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
PREPARING THE SOUP
- Prepare the Soup Ingredients
- Mince the garlic and ginger.
- Chop the onion.
- Roughly chop the celery, mushrooms, and tomato.
Prepare the labu (daikon radish) by peeling it with a potato peeler, removing the two ends, and chopping it into thin, narrow strips about as long as your finger. Soak the chopped labu in water with about 1 tsp of salt; swish around and leave for several minutes before draining and rinsing well several times to remove the saltiness and bitterness. Tibetans say that rinsing like this gets rid of the strong radish smell.
- Chop the garnishes.
- Finely chop the cilantro.
- Chop the green onion.
- Roughly chop the spinach (or don’t chop if you like large pieces)
- Set all these aside until the soup is almost done.
- Prepare the dough by slowly adding the water to the flour.
- Mix the flour and water to form a ball and then knead for a couple of minutes. The dough will be a bit dryish and stiff. If you can’t form a ball, you can a little more water. If dough is sticky, add a tiny bit more flour. This dough does not have to rest after kneading so you can prepare it any time during the cooking process.
- Shape the dough. From this dough, you will make two different types of things – first are the bhatsa, which are the normal little gnocchi-like scoops of noodle in an everyday thukpa bhathuk, and second are the large round dough balls (one for each person eating the soup) that contain hidden items or messages which is what makes this soup a guthuk.
Making the Normal Bhatsa Noodles
- First, rub the ball of dough between your hands to make it into a thick tube of dough, and then pinch off pieces of that tube to make 4-5 chunks of dough.
- Then rub each piece of dough between your hands to form long, thin ropes of dough.
- Pinch off a piece as big as the end of your fingernail, or smaller.
- Rub the dough with one finger in the palm of your hand to cause the little piece of dough to curl up (the better to scoop up the juices in the soup). These little scooped pieces of dough are your bhatsa.
- Repeat until you’ve used up all but 1 of your ropes of dough.
- You can sprinkle a little flour around the pile of bhatsa, to keep them from sticking together.
Making the Special Dough Balls with the Hidden Items or Messages
- Pinch off a piece of dough 4-5 times as big as one of the normal bhatsa. Basically, the dough balls need to be easily distinguishable in the soup, so that we can pick out our dough ball from among the bhatsa.
- Roll it roughly into a circle between your hands, but before you finish rolling it, fold one of the pieces of papers with the special messages, and stuff it into the center of the dough ball, then re-roll it to make the ball as smooth as you can. It’s best if there are no cracks so that paper stays dry inside the dough ball when we cook it. Of course if you wish, you can add the actual items, like some salt, or coal, inside the dough ball. But these days most people outside Tibet just put a paper with a word or symbol written on it to signify the item.
- Make one dough ball for each person eating your guthuk.
Cook the Soup
- Lightly brown the ginger, garlic and onion on medium high, about 3 minutes.
- Add celery, mushrooms, tomato, soy sauce and salt and cook on high for about 7 minutes.
- Add 3 cups of water, keeping heat on high, and bring to a boil.
- When the broth starts to boil, turn down to low and simmer for 10 minutes
- After the broth has simmered for 10 minutes, add 3 more cups of water, turn heat on high and bring broth to a boil.
- After the broth begins to boil, add the prepared labu and green peas. Heat remains on high.
- After 5 minutes, add the bhatsa and the large guthuk dough balls with the special messages inside them. Heat remains on high.
- When cooked the bhatsa noodles and the large dough balls will pop up to the surface of the soup. This will take about 5 minutes. When most of them are popped up to the surface, turn off the heat but leave on the burner.
- Stir in spinach, cilantro, and green onion and serve right away. (These final ingredients do not really need to cook, and look nicer if they are fresh looking.)
- Put one big dough ball in each bowl of soup.
- Serve right away – it is best to eat hot!
- After you have enjoyed the soup for a while, each person can fish out his or her dough ball and dig out the message inside for some fun!
It is traditional that everyone saves a bit of their soup and then dumps it into a communal dish with a little dough effigy. A candle is also placed in the dish and whole thing is carried out of the house by a family member who is careful not to look back at the house. It is taken to the nearest intersection, so that the bad spirits now attached to it will get confused and not return to the home.