Citizens! A dear friend of mine just informed she has been undergoing (very successful) hyperbaric oxygen treatments for stroke recovery. This has inspired me to write yet another recipe from the Roof of the World, where Oxygen is at a premium as you scale the Himalayan peaks to the highest altitude settlements on planet Earth. I speak, of course, of Tibet and I – the Glorious One Himself! – have decided to share my recipe for one of Tibet’s great dishes: shapale!
Before getting to the metaphoric meat of the matter-at-hand, let me share with you the glories of Tibetan hospitality culture, so you can properly honor any guests fortunate enough to be at your table when you serve these!
Friendliness, hospitality, generosity and selflessness, derived from the principles of Tibetan Buddhism, are the basis of local etiquette. Behavior which is egocentric or egoistic is regarded as inappropriate, and helping/supporting others is idealized.
Upon arriving, a guest receives a Khata – a white silk scarf – that symbolizes joy for the visit and reverence for the guest. After entering, a guest’s comfort and well-being is cared for in every way, including cooking. The guest may be offered tea, but instead of accepting immediately, the guest is culturally expected to politely decline – the guest too has to be exemplary.
Without hesitating, the host (customarily the woman of the house) immediately serves the tea. The host pours and hands over the cup with both hands as a sign of respect. In common protocol, the guest only takes a small sip before putting the cup down. The host will fill up the cup and ask the guest to drink again. This is repeated two more times before the guest empties the cup slowly.
If the guest leaves the cup filled without drinking, this is regarded as a signal of contentment. Without asking, the cup will be taken away and the guest will often be offered Chang (barley beer). At the table, expectations are that individuals sit cross-legged, and it is considered impolite to stretch one’s legs. In addition, one should never pass over body parts of another. Pastries may be served with tea. Offered a meal, the guest may politely refuse at first. Upon subsequent offering, the host may find out what the guest wants.
The goal of every host is to create a relaxed atmosphere and to give joy and pleasure.
Now as for today’s recipe: shapale (sha bag leb in Tibetan) is dough stuffed with seasoned beef and bok choy or cabbage, which is fashioned into semi-circular or circular shapes and according to regional variations are either deep-fried or pan-fried like pot stickers. It is closely related to the very similar-looking Mongolian Khuushuur, although the flavor profile is different.
In Tibet, the most common meat used in the preparation of shapale would be yak, which is a bit leaner and stronger tasting than beef. Fortunately, it is now possible to buy yak meat here in the United States and make truly-authentic shapale! You can buy frozen ground yak meat here.
As noted on firebirdfarms.com:
Yak is a delicious, primitive red meat alternative to beef. Similar in taste to quality grass fed beef and bison, yak meat has a delicate, sweet flavor. It consistently wins in taste tests over beef and is juicier than the meat of game animals, without the gamey flavor.
The factors that led yak to evolve in the adverse conditions of the Tibetan Plateau resulted in a superior meat animal. The meat has a higher iron and moisture content than beef, with a similar fat composition to that of bison or elk. However, yak steaks are juicier and more flavorful. Because of a high myoglobin level in the cells, yak meat has a darker red pigment than many other red meats.
Highly nutritious and lean, yak is an excellent option for people who are looking to diversify their diet, have sensitivities to other red meats, or simply want a lean, nutrient-rich protein source.
My version of the classic shapale filling is closely based on a version I discovered at yowangdu.com. I added a bit of cumin and garam masala to their shapale filling and also call for using my version of the spicy Tibetan dipping sauce as a condiment. I also changed the filling by mincing the ingredients instead of chopping them for a more refined bite. Lastly, I also modified the dough recipe to use garlic-flavored chicken stock instead of water.
Citizens, scale the highest peaks of gastronomic delight with my version of shapale, it is a true Tibetan classic – you will not be sorry, I promise you!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
- Dough Ingredients:
- 8 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 cups of ice-cold strained chicken stock that was flavored with 2 cloves of microplaned garlic
- Filling Ingredients:
- 2 pounds ground yak (strongly preferred) or use 80/20 ground beef, grass-fed
- 2 cups minced baby bok choy
- ⅓ cup minced ginger
- ¼ cup minced garlic
- 1 cup minced cilantro
- ½ cup minced green onion
- 1 ¼ cup minced red onion
- 2 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. beef bouillon powder
- ½ tsp. garam masala
- ¼ tsp. freshly-ground cumin
- 2 tbsp. cooking oil
- ½ tbsp. emma or yerma. (Also called Szechuan pepper.)
- Sepen (Chili Sauce) Ingredients:
- ½ cup onion cut into ⅛-inch dice
- 6 tablespoons scallions, sliced paper thin
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 12–16 green and red Thai bird chiles, finely minced
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons safflower oil
- 2 pinches of Himalayan pink salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon garam masala spice blend
- 1 teaspoon ground emma (erma/yerma/Sichuan peppercorns) (optional but strongly recommended)
- SEPEN – CHILI DIPPING SAUCE:
- Combine the onion, 4 tablespoons scallions, garlic and chilies in a mortar and pestle.
- Add 2 tablespoons of oil and mash everything to a paste. Add the soy sauce and mash again.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in small pan. Add the scallions and cook 1 minute. Add the paste and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic. Add 4 tablespoons water and cook 30 seconds.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro, emma and cumin. Taste, then season with salt. Mix everything together and allow to macerate.
- Dough Preparation – start two hours before cooking.
- Mix flour and stock, forming a ball.
- Knead at least 5 minutes until dough is smooth and flexible.
- Place dough in a dish with a lid, or cover with plastic, or put in a plastic bag.
- Let rest for 2 or more hours so that the dough will be softer when shaping the shapale.
- Ultimately you want the dough to be soft enough to roll out and to stick together when you pinch together the edges of each shapale, and hard enough to form a smooth ball and not to stick to the rolling surface.
- Don’t worry too much if your dough is too hard or too soft. If too soft you can add some more flour and/or put more flour on your rolling surface. If it’s too hard, you can add more water and reknead. You don’t have to let it sit another two hours in that case.
- Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin to about ⅛-inch thickness.
- Use an inverted glass or cut out circles (diameter of the circles is approximately 3 ½ inches, or 8 centimeters.)
- Set the circles of dough aside.
- As you cut out the circles you will be left with the dough outside the circles. Pick it back up, form it into a ball and repeat rolling it out until you have nothing left.
- Prepare the Filling:
- Place the ground meat in a large mixing bowl. Mince the ginger and garlic and add to the beef in the bowl.
- Chop the bok choy, cilantro, green onion, and onion and place in the mixing bowl.
- Add the soy sauce, salt, cumin, garam masala and bouillon to the bowl. Mix everything well.
- Fill and Shape the Shapale:
- Place a heaping tablespoon or so of filling on one circle of dough, then place a second circle of dough on top of the first one.
- Pinch the edges flat together very firmly — going all around the circle. This is important as you don’t want the juices to run out.
- Then, start anywhere on the circle, fold over a small piece of the edge, and pinch it down, repeating this all around the circle. This results in a crimped, pretty edge.
- Keep the shapale you have finished on a lightly oiled flat dish or surface, to avoid the dough sticking on to the surface. If the shapale are going to be sitting for a long time, you can place a damp cloth over them to keep them from drying out.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pan until the oil is very hot and then place one layer of shapale in the pan and and lower the heat to medium. You don’t want to burn the outsides before the inside is cooked.
- Cook until golden brown on both sides, turning frequently. Cook about 6-7 minutes for each side, for a total of 12-14 minutes. The meat must cook through.
- Be prepared to turn the fan on or to open the windows as the cooking process can be quite greasy and hot.
- Serve immediately with dipping sauce.
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