Hot Pepper Ema Datshi burger with Bhutanese Red Rice
And, now we arrive at Bhutan. You can blame my poor education or my lack of attention span or American indifference, but I’ve never heard of Bhutan. In my defense, less than a million people live there and it is in the Himalayas, so not exactly local or easy to get to. The Bhutanese also are so protective of their land (from an ecological, nature preserve sort of way), that you can’t just go visit Bhutan. Tourists must sign up for an official tour, no random back packers climbing the local mountainside. So, those are my excuses, but now, forward on our culinary adventure! The Kindom of Bhutan is located smack dab in the middle of the Himalayas.
Ok, that’s not true, it’s actually on the far Eastern edge, but that doesn’t sound as fun. It is bordered by India and China. Bhutanese -who call themselves as the Drukpa people, have referred to their country as Druk Yul or “land of the thunder dragon.” So obviously, they are super cool. The Kingdom has a pretty nice website (amazing for such a small country) http://www.kingdomofbhutan.com. They say on their website that the country’s population is about 750k or about the same as the city of San Francisco.
The country is primarily Buddhist, which made me assume I’d be doing a vegetarian burger… Turns out that while it is against the rules for a Buddhist to kill an animal, eating meat is perfectly ok. So, the Bhutanese, who love meat, import it! I love the loophole. And, luckily for us, they like beef (or yak, but we’re not going there). The Bhutanese also love hot peppers, really love them. I read in several places that they treat chili peppers like a vegetable. The national dish is ema datshi and it is made with chili peppers (at least as hot as jalapenos, but probably not as hot as habeneros), butter, milk and cheese. They love cheese in Bhutan – my kind of folks all the way around – but the most common cheeses are yak cheese and you just can’t get that in Boston grocery stores. I looked at a lot of ema datshi recipes on the web and the most frequently cited used feta as a substitute for yak cheese, others used blue cheese, parmesan, and Monterey jack – so in other words, who knows? I decided to use farmers cheese because it was mild and would balance the peppers. If you substitute a less spicy pepper, you might want to use a more flavorful cheese.
My favorite moment in developing this recipe was shopping at Whole Foods and looking for red rice (a staple in Bhutanese cooking) and finding…gasp…Bhutanese red rice! They actually sell rice imported from a country with a population of 750k, in my local grocery store! It’s a crazy world we live in. I also decided to try Himalayan salt – it’s pink, how fun. The rice is really tasty, nutty and has firm texture that is kind of cool – it’s like the rice pops as you chew it, hard to explain, but my one year old is a huge fan now (and there is rice all over the house to prove it). The salt tastes like, well, salt…only more mild. It might be fine as a finishing salt, but I’ll stick with kosher salt for cooking.
This burger is a fork and knife meal – no pretense of “bun” here. Just rice, meat and peppers. It is HOT, HOT, HOT. My husband and I loved the ema datshi and the nuttiness of the rice helps balance the spice, but it’s a spicy dish. My mom thought it was good but too spicy and my father thought I was trying to kill him 🙂 You can try to substitute milder peppers, but pick a pepper that you really like because the pepper is the primary flavor.
Serve with milk to counter the oils of the peppers. I made the mistake of drinking Syrah with my burger, terrible choice as it accented the spice, killed the Syrah and I drank an entire glass without really realizing it. Beer would probably be a good choice, I’d go with something light and hoppy. I tried the ema datshi and the rice with a veggie burger and it was delicious so I’m putting this one in the veggie friendly column. It’s also a really easy recipe to make but the rice does take about 20-30 minutes, so plan a little ahead.
1 pound ground beef 80% lean
salt and pepper
Bhutanese Red Rice (recipe below)
Ema Datshi (recipe below)
Season meat with salt and pepper (I use about ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper). Mix and form four patties. I recommend making a fairly flat burger (indent the middle a little bit so that it will stay flat), this allows the Ema Datshi to stay on top and not just fall off. Cook to desired temperature.
Place ½ cup of Bhutanese Red Rice on each of four plates. Place the cooked burger patties on the rice. Top with Ema Datshi (I used tongs to get the peppers out then a big spoon to get some of the sauce on both the burger and the rice).
Bhutanese Red Rice
1 cup Bhutanese Red Rice (or other red rice)
1 ½ cups water
½ teaspoon kosher salt
combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes. The package will tell you 20 minutes, but I’ve found it takes about 30 minutes to absorb the water and get to a texture I like.
6 red jalapenos
6 green jalapenos
1 medium onion
2 Tablespoons ghee*
3-4 cloves minced garlic
2 cups whole milk
1 cup farmers cheese
Slice the peppers and onions lengthwise into strips. In an 11” skillet over medium heat, heat the ghee until melted. Add the peppers and onions and stir for 1-2 minutes until the vegetables are coated in the ghee. Add the garlic and stir to mix well. Add enough milk to just cover the peppers. Stir in the cheese and let mixture cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes or until peppers are just getting soft (I like my peppers to still be a little crunchy). Add salt to taste. Serve warm.
*ghee is just clarified butter, you can make it yourself, or substitute regular butter if you want.
Note: I hate mincing garlic. My wonderful mother got me the coolest gadget for Christmas and it makes mincing so easy (and no, I am not getting paid for these comments). You just crush the garlic, peel it and put in it the gadget, then twist and, voila! instant minced garlic. It’s called The Garlic Twist. Now that I have this, I’m using fresh garlic all the time instead of the jarred stuff that completely lacks flavor (yes, I hated mincing garlic that much, I was willing to use jarred minced garlic rather than risk slicing off my fingers mincing what is already a super tiny item).
© Copyright 2011, Linda Monach