The Silk Road History of Rhubarb in Zester Daily

Everything you wanted to know about rhubarb’s Silk Road history, from its origins in Tibet and early use as medicine to its adoption as a food, in Zester Daily. A great recipe for savory lamb and rhubarb stew included! Read all about it HERE.

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Yak Snack Attack

Wild Tibetan Yak
Wild Tibetan Yak

I love yaks. I have many times admired their hulking, hairy majesty on the plains and hills of Western China, Tibet, and Nepal. Yaks are survivors – free-range animals manage to survive on some of the poorest pasture the world has to offer. Yaks are beautiful – from their natural flowing-haired glory of the wild to their domesticated cousins adorned by their humans with colorful blankets, saddles, or bells and ribbons on their tails or horns. Yaks command respect – you try staring down a line of cars on the Karakorum highway and see if they simply wait until you decide to move off the road. Not counting the successful modern Russian effort to domesticate foxes (as companion animals), yaks are also the last mammal to be domesticated by humans.  This was accomplished about 4500 years ago by the Qiang on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Brave people, those Qiang.

Yak of Tartary - Stubbs
Yak of Tartary – Stubbs

Yaks were ‘discovered’ in a big way by westerners in the late 18th Century when British Captain, Samuel Turner admired them in Bhutan and sent a pair back to his cousin Warren Hastings in England.  One of the bulls died, but the other survived to sire several calves with Hasting’s cows and was dubbed, The Yak of Tartary before he was painted by George Stubbs in 1791. Almost 100 years later, the first yak arrived in North America for exhibition at New York’s Central Park Zoo, and by the turn of the twentieth Century, the National Zoo in Washington DC had several healthy yak on display. In the next couple of decades, yaks moved from the curiosity and educational circuit to the agricultural chain and small herds were established in the American and Canadian west. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s farmers and researchers experimented with yak breeding and meat quality, until several thriving ranches in the US and Canada now sell yak meat to consumers who enjoy their sweet, flavorful meat.

Tibetan Drinking Yak-Butter Tea
Tibetan Drinking Yak-Butter Tea

In Asia, I have enjoyed yak meat in stir fries, stews, curries and kebabs and found it a delicious, lean and sweet meat. Depending on the cut and the age of the meat, yak can be tough and tenderizing or marinating is a must. One of my favorite recipes is a stew I had again last year in Tashkorgan in which Yak meat is paired with bell peppers, onions, lots of garlic and chilies, and cooked in a ginger and star-anise rich sauce. Served on a bed of rice, the dish is pretty because of the strips of multicolor peppers, savory, a bit hot, and delicately sweet all at the same time.

In contrast to the sweetness of the yak meat, yak dairy lends a sour blast to beverages and dishes that produces a delicious pucker. Yak butter or cream in tea is a survival standard throughout the Himalayas and Pamirs, and the cheese, sometimes made as a wind-blown-in bleu, lends a unique tanginess to meat, vegetable and even fruit dishes throughout the region. I have a mind-blowingly delicious recipe from Bhutan combining tomatillos or tamarillos (or any ‘tree tomato”) with yak cheese for a salad with a real zing – but I digress.

Yak Jerky Package
Yak Jerky Package

My favorite way to enjoy yak on the fly is with yak jerky. Available fresh at markets and bazaars and processed and packaged every Chinese airport shop I’ve ever been in, yak jerky comes in three general varieties, sweet, sweet and hot with lots of chilies, and sweet and tangy with Szechuan pepper. There are a lot of variations in between, usually found in markets, but these three are the ones I’ve encountered most frequently.

The beautiful, multilingual packaging has a handle for easy portability, a description of the contents, and a picture of a few Yaks in the pasture. Inside, there are smaller, identical packages filled with the most delicious sweet and hot jerky you’ve ever had. I know there are lots of jerky afficianados out there, so I am aware of the gravity of my pronouncement that this yak jerky is the best, but I stand by it.

I have spent countless hours trying to reconstruct the recipe for both sweet, and sweet and hot yak jerky and think I finally have gotten it right. I hope you think so too.

Sweet and Hot Yak Jerky

1, 2-3 lb top or bottom round roast
4 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice
2 cups shaoxing wine
1 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 yellow (not sweet) onions, peeled and minced
6 cloves of garlic thinly sliced
¼ cup jaggery or cane sugar
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, roughly ground
1 tablespoon roasted peanuts, crushed
10 finger-hot chilies, crushed
Peel and juice of 1 orange, (dice peel)

Slice the meat crosswise in 1/8 – 1/4 inch slices. An excellent way to do this is to partially freeze the roast to make it firm and easy to cut. Trim the fat from the slices and pound lightly with the handle of the knife to thin out the meat. When slices are mildly translucent, slice again into strips for jerky and set aside.

In a non-reactive vessel, such as a plastic, glass, or ceramic bowl large enough to hold both marinade and meat, combine marinade ingredients. Place meat into marinade and make sure it is completely submerged. Cover bowl and let sit for at least 24 -48 hours in a cool or cold spot (not freezing). Check on the marinade and stir occasionally to make sure that the meat is evenly coated.

When meat is finished marinating, remove from the marinade and arrange on baking racks set into baking sheets with some space between the slices. If using a conventional oven to dehydrate the meat, line the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil and preheat to 150 – 160 degrees Fahrenheit. If you run out of baking sheets, the meat strips can be placed directly on the racks in the oven.

Place cookie sheets with meat strips in the oven and keep the oven door ajar with a wooden spoon or crushed can and cook for 2 hours. Flip strips and cook for another 2-3 hours or until done. The amount of cooking that it takes to dehydrate the meat will depend on the thickness of the slices, the amount of time marinated and the the innate moistness of the meat. To determine whether the jerky is done, take a piece or two out and let cool for 5-10 minutes then test the pliancy of the jerky. It should bend without snapping and not appear too red or raw on the inside.  When the jerky is done, remove from oven and let cool – then enjoy!  Store in a paper bag.  Keeps for several months.

Sweet and Hot Yak Jerky
Sweet and Hot Yak Jerky

Yak is available online from a variety of ranches which will send the meat FedEx like Hoopers. There are other ranches that sell to farmer’s markets, but will do special orders for yak-by-mail like Grunniens. In case you can’t get yak to try the recipe, it works well with boar, beef or horse as well. (But the sweetness and unique flavor of yak is worth the trouble.) If you already own a dehydrater or a convection oven, please by all means use it to dry the meat. You’ll have to adapt the drying times accordingly. The marinade can also be used to flavor meat for stir fries and other dishes with delicious results!

I hope you enjoy trying yak meat, and think on their wonderful attributes while dining. Yaks are Kings of the Karakorum, Lords of Ladakh, and in Latin they are Bos mutus (wild yaks) or Bos grunniens (domesticated yaks). However you choose to name them, I just call them, “Boss”.

(Words and recipe reconstruction by Laura Kelley. Photo of Wild Tibetan yak by Kptan@Dreamstime; Photo of the Yak of Tartary by Stubbs from Google Images; Photo of Tibetan Drinking Yak Butter Tea by Rai-Mai@Flickr; Photo of Yak Jerky Package by Laura Kelley; Photo of Yak Jerky from Google images.)

For Losar: Beetroot Momos with Lamb

New Year’s Eve Night
Bright torches fly overhead
Sweeping evil far away

Losar, the Tibetan New Year begins in a couple of hours and living a very different life, I look back on my travels and remember what Losar celebrations are like.  Food and barley beer flow for days and even weeks and rituals of eschewing evil and beginning anew are performed across the Tibetan world.

If we were in Tibet, we’d be making the final preparations for a festival that mixes sacred and secular practices — prayers, ceremonies, hanging prayer flags, sacred and folk dancing, partying.

Lamas Play Tsam Mystery
Lamas Play Tsam Mystery


In the days before Losar, Tibetan households draw pictures of the sun and moon or the eight auspicious symbols on their walls with a paste made of flour and water.  In monasteries, several protector deities are honored with devotional rituals.  On the last day of the year, monasteries are elaborately decorated. In homes, cakes, candies, breads, fruits and beer are offered on family altars.

There is a wonderful and unique ritual that I love in the days preceding Losar that involves imbuing a dough effigy with the bad spirit that are afflicting family members, then carrying him out of the house to the nearest intersection – so the bad spirits leave the house and will be too confused by the intersection of streets to come back.  While this ritual is performed, guthuk noodle soup is prepared or served.  The interesting thing about the soup are the dumplings which contain often inedible objects meant to communicate a message about the person who draws them.  There are wool inclusions, those made of glass, or even coal.  You guessed it – coal is for someone who has a black heart.

To begin the new year, it is also traditional to offer sprouted barley seeds and buckets of tsampa (roasted barley flour with butter) and other grains on home altars to ensure a good harvest. Laypeople visit friends to wish them Tashi Delek or “auspicious greetings”.

The second day of Losar, called King’s” Losar, is for honoring community and national leaders. Long ago, it was a day for kings to hand out gifts at public festivals.

On the third day of Losar, laypeople make special offerings to the dharma protectors. They raise prayer flags from hills, mountains and rooftops and burn juniper leaves and incense as offerings. The dharmapalas are praised in chant and song and asked for blessings.

To celebrate Losar, I want to share one of my recipes for Tibetan momos with you. Momos are traditional dumplings stuffed with a flavorful mixture of meat or vegetables and spices that are enjoyed with sauces and condiments galore.  However, since I’ve recently joined the 5-Star Foodie Makeover Cooking Challenge group,  I, along with the other members was given the assignment of creating a dish with beets. So to combine the tow efforts, the dish I’m going to offer today is Tibetan Momos made with beetroot flavored dough!

I like the flavor of beets a lot and cook with them often. One of my favorite snacks is beet greens sautéed in butter with a bit of nutmeg and salt and pepper. However, I was a bit worried by the assignment, because many beet dishes are notoriously difficult to photograph – the problem is the color. As you know, beets share their dark purple to magenta color most eagerly with other ingredients, making a dish like a curry, or stew or even most salads too uniform in color to photograph nicely. In the Buddhist spirit, I decided to make the problem the solution and used beets to add color and a bit of flavor to dough for my Losar momos.


Tibetan Momos in Beetroot Pastry
Momos are tiny round or moon-shaped pastries filled with vegetables or meat and vegetable mixtures that are usually eaten as a main course dish in a multi-course meal in Tibet. In the west, they can be enjoyed this way or served as appetizers or snacks. They are best when served with plenty of sauces, pickles and other condiments.

Beetroot Momos in the Steamer

3 medium beets, roots only, washed
½ – 1 cup water

Wrap cleaned beetroots in aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 F oven for about 1 hour. When they are done, they will yield a bit if squeezed. When done, set aside until cool enough to handle.

Remove beet roots from foil and slip the skins off with your fingers. Wear clean gloves if you want to avoid stains on your fingers and nails. Chop the beets roughly and place in a food processor or heavy-duty blender. Add about ½ cup water and pulse until you have a puree. Add additional water and blend until smooth. Make sure solids are blended out or strain through cheesecloth to remove.

3 cups flour
1- 1½ cups of beet liquid.

Place flour in a bowl and add liquid a little bit at a time and mix with a fork or spoon until the dough comes together. The exact amount of liquid added will depend upon the thickness of the liquid, the fineness of the flour and the humidity etc. – so be careful not to add too much liquid all at once. Mix and add liquid until the dough is properly hydrated.

Mix the dough with your hands until it is uniformly mixed and colored. If necessary add a couple of tablespoons more flour so that the dough doesn’t stick to your hands. Knead for 5-10 minutes until flexible and then cover and set aside briefly to rest.

Place a handful or more of the dough on a flat floured surface. Flatten it somewhat with your hands and then begin rolling it out with a rolling pin. Roll it until you can begin to see the surface below the dough, but it shouldn’t be much thinner than that, or it may not hold the filling during the steaming process.

Use a saucer or a plastic lid from a can about 4-6 inches in diameter to cut the momo dough into circles. Place cut circles aside on a small plate. I like to roll and cut all the dough before proceeding to the filling stage. The consistency of the dough with beetroot liquid in them is different and more elastic than when the dough is made with water. You may have to work harder at rolling – but keep at it, it can be done.

Tibetan Garam Masala
This Tibetan version varies from the Indian version basically by the addition of the bay leaves and the coriander seeds. Variations of this around Tibet also use seeds from black cardamom pods and nutmeg.
¼ cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
2 Tablespoons bay leaves
2 Tablespoons cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons cloves

Grind items together as grouped by consistency – i.e. cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon stick can be ground together. When all items are ground or cracked – mix them together and grind briefly just to blend further. Most flavorful when used right after grinding. Store in a jar with a good seal.

¾ pound of ground beef or lamb*
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground Szechuan pepper
2 teaspoons Tibetan Garam Masala
2 large onions, peeled and finely diced
3 tablespoons ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon garlic, peeled and diced
A large bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
2 cups king oyster mushrooms or daikon radish, sliced or shredded
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 teaspoon beef or vegetable broth

Melt butter in a medium sauté pan and sauté ground or finely diced meat, 1 teaspoon of salt and the black pepper until it becomes opaque and starts to firm. It should be only partially cooked when removed from the heat and set aside.

Combine diced onions, grated ginger and garlic and mix well. Add sautéed meat and mix again. Add ground Szechuan pepper and Tibetan Garam Masala as well as the cilantro and mushrooms and stir well. Add soy sauce and beef or vegetable broth and mix well. Set aside to cool if necessary.

*To make vegetarian replace meat with 3-4 cups of shredded bok choy or cabbage

Making Momos
Take the dough circles and place about a tablespoon to a tablespoon and a half of filling in the center of the circle. Draw filling out a bit so it is more like a line than a circle, but be sure not to bring too close to the edges.

Plated Beetroot Momo

There are many ways to gather momos. One way is simply fold one edge of the dough over to form a half moon shape, and another is to gather the dough up into a “top knot” on top of the filling as pictured here. Pick a way to enclose the filling inside the momo. If using the half-moon shape, use a fork to seal the edges tightly and shape into a slight curve. If using the “top knot” shape, this can be done with your fingers. If you mix and match shapes, steam them separately, because one shape may take a bit longer to cook than another.

In a wok bring about 2 cups of water to a boil. As the water is boiling, wet a bamboo steamer to prepare it for use. Let sit for a few minutes and then spray the surfaces lightly with cooking oil. Place momos in steamer compartments and set time for about 10 minutes. If using a multi-tier steamer, work from the bottom up creating multiple layers of momos. When the water is boiling place steamer with momos on top of the boiling water.

As they steam the momos will begin to glisten and some may become translucent – this is desired. Cook them for about 10 minutes and remove them from the steamer as soon as possible or they may begin to stick. Move to a rack to cool. Serve room temperature or reheated with a selection of sauces, pickles and other condiments. Can also be served with soup and bread for a light meal – momos are more filling than they seem.

They are delicious, especially with the sweet and sour Tibetan tomato sauce that often accompanies momos.  Interestingly, my husband found that the beetroot not only offers color, but also a bit of flavor – especially when one eats the “top knot” of the momos that I made.  With other shapes, it will likely modulate and dampen the spicy contents just a bit to add sweet to spicy as one eats the savory treats.

(Words, photo of Beetroot Momos in the Steamer, adaptation of traditional recipe and estatic Losar verse by Laura Kelley. Photo of Lamas Play Tsam Mystery by Zzvet@

Autumn Means . . . A Bounty of Pumpkins and Squash!

I love this time of year! I love the blustery days and the chilly evenings and snuggling under blankets to keep warm. I love the cacophony of colors offered up by the deciduous trees, and of course, I love the panoply of fall produce – my favorite of which are pumpkins and squash.

They are just so beautiful – all the shapes: round, oval, flattened, tubular, and fluted like an amber bead, or goose-necked, with bumps and warts and all. And the colors – warm shades of orange, ochre, yellow and deep earthy green – some striped, some with a gradation of color fading from one into the next. Such variation in color and shape – and flavor! There are so many ways to prepare pumpkins and squash, that it seems unfortunate that we generally relegate these vegetables to pies or soup. All too often with the familiar triumvirate of spices – cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and more often than not – too much sugar.

Autumn Pumpkins

By themselves, many pumpkins and squash are already quite sweet and don’t need much sugar to make their flavors really shine. My two favorites – the Butternut and the Kabocha – are amongst the sweetest. I often use them to temper dishes with sour flavors offered by pomegranates, sour grapes, lemons, or limes.

Across the Asian continent there are a myriad of ways to prepare pumpkin and squash. As main dishes, many cultures stuff them – with rice, or a combination of meat and grains. They appear mixed with curries, stews and braised meat dishes. They are layered in casseroles, topped with sauces, curried, stir-fried and coated with spices and baked. However they are prepared, they are another gift of the New World to the Old and have been dearly embraced since their introduction only a few hundred years ago.

In Western Asia, they can be stuffed with marigold petals or pomegranate seeds in Georgia, layered in an Armenian casserole called Ailazan; baked with eggs in an omelet called a “kuku” (after the Persian work for egg) or braised with fowl or lamb in a delectable cardamom and pomegranate sauce in Iran, used as a stuffing for pastries or prepared with tomatoes and sour grapes in Afghanistan.

In South Asia, pumpkin and squash are curried in rich ginger and garlic-laden sauces, baked and pounded into dips with or without yogurt, used in rice pilafs, mixed with pulses for dals, mixed with seed spices (such as fenugreek, onion, mustard and poppy), cumin, a handful of chili peppers and lemon juice in sweet and spicy dish, and sweetened with coconut cream.

The Central Asians use squash in casseroles like Damlyama flavored with copious amounts of cumin and black pepper, stuff them with their own pulp flavored with tarragon and lemon or nuts, sour cherries and nutmeg and pepper or baked with cinnamon and black pepper, or cooked with tamarind, fenugreek leaves and garlic.

In the Himalayas, the Bhutanese have delectable pumpkin fritters spiced with cumin and use squash or pumpkin layered in their biryani, the Nepali have their Tarkari curries with garlic, ginger and lots of cilantro, the Tibetans coat squash slices in chickpea or lentil flour spiced with chili peppers, star anise, lots of black pepper and some cinnamon and fry the slices until golden, and the Burmese have make a stew of them with shrimp and soy sauce, lime juice, ginger and garlic and lots of pungent peppers. And in the Indo Pacific, one of the most common ways to prepare them are using a tomato-based sauce flavored with sweet soy, vinegar, nutmeg and pepper.

Pumpkin Curry

In the far-east, the Korean’s have their black-peppered squash cooked with soy, ginger and garlic and garnished with sesame seeds. The Japanese cook them similarly using sweet soy or a soy-ginger sauce, and in Southern China there is fish-flavored eggplant named after the method of preparation with brown bean paste, fish sauce and rice vinegar, often used to cook fish. In Thailand, pumpkins or squash are used to flavor the rich spicy curries and are used with a variety of meats or cooked rapidly in a stir-fry with lots of spicy Thai basil, or cooked with crushed black peppercorns, lemon juice and fish sauce to form a rich sour sauce around a sweet kabocha squash. The Cambodians use squash in mixed vegetable stews and stir fries, and use them with in stews with beef, coconut milk, and their ginger-spice paste called Kroeung, the thick fish sauce tuk prahok and lots of Kaffir lime leaves. And lastly in Vietnam, squash and pumpkin are sometimes enjoyed with stir-fried with lemongrass and peanuts, and roasted and pounded into a dip with lime juice, fish sauce and basil.

Certainly not an exhaustive list of Asian pumpkin and squash recipes, but ones that reach far beyond the familiar flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and too much sugar, and all of which are available in the Silk Road Gourmet volumes already published or yet to come.

So enjoy our seasonal bounty of pumpkins and squash, but think outside the box and try an unfamiliar recipe or two. You may discover a favorite vegetable you’ve never tried before – like the Sri Lankan curry posted below. (Words by Laura Kelley. Photo of Autumn Pumpkins by Haywiremedia @; Photo of Pumpkin Curry by Sarsmis @ Recipe in Silk Road Gourmet Volume 2).


Curried Pumpkin in a Ginger-Garlic Sauce

This curry is sour, sweet, and hot due to its curry leaves, vinegar, coconut milk, sugar, and ground chili peppers. Blended together, these flavors make this dish quintessentially Sri Lankan, but it also complements a wide variety of other cuisines as well.

1 medium butternut squash or small kabocha pumpkin, peeled, sliced and seeded
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds, ground
2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
½ cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon chopped chili peppers
10 curry leaves, crushed
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 375°. Place sliced squash or pumpkin on an oiled or sprayed baking sheet and when the oven is hot, bake for 20–25 minutes. Remove from oven, cool, and slice into quarters or eighths, depending on the size of the slice.

Heat oil in a medium sauté pan and sauté onion until it softens and starts to color. Add the turmeric, cumin, coriander, and mustard and stir for a couple of seconds. Add the garlic, ginger, coconut milk,
chilies, and curry leaves.

Add the vinegar, salt, and sugar and bring slowly to a boil. Add the squash or pumpkin pieces, stir, and simmer on a low heat for 5 minutes until the pumpkin is warmed.