Fresh off the boat from Bhutan, I now face the daunting task of processing all I have learned about Bhutanese agriculture and food. As usual, I begin with the food. Today’s morsel involves a spicy corner of the brassica family, which includes broccoli, cabbage, kale, among others.
Brassicas contain loads of vitamins and fiber and antioxidants, making them super-good for you. One corner of the Brassica family, the dragon corner, involves mustard and radishes. Both of these plants grow very well here, both are in season right now, and both are involved in one of the most popular Bhutanese dishes, phagsha pa. I have eaten this dish many times, and it is not a problem—to make or to eat.
This recipe was a breakthrough for me, especially in terms of radishes, which I have never really known what to do with. Each spring, I generally eat one or two radishes, mostly out of eagerness to be eating something fresh from the ground, since radishes are one of the first crops to come in. Beyond that, all I ever seem to do with radishes is grate a few in some salads from time to time, and then forget about them when the other crops come in. I never look forward to radishes the way I look forward to tomatoes or strawberries or garlic.
Phagsha pa consists primarily of slowly stewed pork and radishes. After a while, the radishes taste like pork, and the pork tastes like radishes, and everything tastes like hot chilies. I’ll teach you how to make it—but remember, this ain’t The Joy of Cooking. This recipe should serve more as a guideline than law. You won’t find exact measurement specifications. Trust your gut. Use the force. Here are the ingredients:
Pork: This ingredient is a little tricky, because the same cuts are not available here as in Bhutan. In Bhutan, the pork in this dish could be more accurately described as “pork fat” with maybe a trace of meat clinging to it. Fat, as I have mentioned elsewhere, is flavor. In the absence of Bhutanese cuts of pig, you could dismantle some pork chops, or use bacon. If you use bacon, I recommend uncured, thick sliced. I use Lifeline Farms uncured bacon, available at the Good Food Store and Orange Street Food Farm. And whatever you do, don’t trim the fat!
Radish: The Bhutanese use a long, white, Japanese-style radish. If you can get it, great, but I’ve done some tests with regular dinky red and white radishes from the farmer’s market, and they work excellent. Slice the radishes thin. You can also throw in a thin sliced Kohlrabi or two. I didn’t see any of that in Bhutan, but Kohlrabi will behave the same way as radishes in the pan, and Kohlrabi are in season now.
Onion and garlic: Chopped. ’Nuff said.
Hot Chilies: As much as you think you can stand, then double that amount.
Mustard Oil: This, dear reader, is the biggest obstacle in transplanting
Bhutanese cuisine to western Montana. Mustard oil is key. The only problem is, at this point you can’t get it in Missoula. I brought back a couple of bottles, but you can’t have any. So you are left with three options.
Option #1: Use a different kind of oil. This option is not an option.
Option #2: Convince your local food store to get some. Alfredo from Broadway Market claims that he might be able to get some in. Adam, a chef at the Steelhead Grill, is looking into it as well. If anyone else knows how to get mustard oil, please e-mail me.
Option #3: Make your own mustard oil. I tried the following procedure, with acceptable—but not quite ideal—results. I ground up a mixture of red and yellow mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle until it was powder. Then I poured some grape seed oil (canola would work too, just something mild) into the mix, and ground it up. Then I waited for the oil to collect on top of the mustard seed mush, and poured off the oil. It tasted basically like mustard oil, but without the same gestalt of my bottled stash. Once the food was cooking, I added a spoonful of the ground up mustard seed, and that helped. Chopped mustard greens, now in season, are very good in the mix too.
For one serving, go with two strips of bacon, four radishes, half of a small onion, a clove of garlic, twice the chili you can stand, and a tablespoon of mustard oil. Pour some mustard oil in the pan on low-medium heat. Then add your little pork pieces (if using bacon, chop it up). Let the pork start to get a little crispy, and then add everything else, and cook it slowly. Don’t let anything else get crispy. Add water if you need to, to keep everything soft. When the radishes are soft, and the pork is fully cooked, spoon it over some rice and eat it. Tashi Delek!
E-mail Chef Boy Ari: firstname.lastname@example.org.