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 this delectable treat 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 this Tibetan classic’s 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 this Tibetan classic – you will not be sorry, I promise you!
Battle on – the Generalissimo