Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sweet bites: Kabzey

At any time that you are invited to a Bhutanese home for tea or a meal or even a party for the whole village, you can be sure that proceedings will begin with tea and snacks.

Usually both naja (sweet milk tea) and suja (salty butter tea) are offered along with traditional snacks like crispy rice, puffed rice and pounded maize that is sometimes mixed up with blobs of butter and sugar. Sweet biscuits are sometimes shared too - and of these, the traditional kabzey are my favourites!

Kabzey are made for special occasions like when important guests are visiting, for birthdays and especially Losar (Bhutanese New Year). They are made as offerings to take to the Lhakhang (temple) and since they are time consuming to make, are an offering of time and energy (much more than just buying some biscuits from the shop).

Luckily there were homemade kabzey to buy in Chamkar this year and whenever we went I stocked up on a packet or two - they are perfect for dunking in tea (at any time of the day including breakfast time!!). I don't need a special occasion to enjoy these little biscuits!

I have been intent on collecting recipes in Bhutan as flavours and tastes are the way I capture memories of favourite places. When I'm home and yearning for Bhutan (as I'm sure I will for years to come) I can make some bagthuk or some kewa-datsi and momentarily recapture the feeling of being in this special place. Naturally I needed to complete my collection of recipes with the one for my favourite sweet treat.

Recently my friend Ms Lekden celebrated the birth of her baby daughter (after two sons) with a grand baby shower party for most of Chumey. Kabzey were served so I knew who to go to for a cooking lesson. She said that for the party they made eight kilos of biscuits and it took a whole day!

Yesterday I went to Lekden's house in the morning. She greeted me at 10am in a surprising way - with a bottle of beer at the ready! In holiday spirit we drank beer and ate dried fish while her husband got to work on the 'man's job' of making the dough.

It was difficult for me to write a recipe as Bhutanese cook by feel, intuition and memory. No measuring cups and spoons here! Below I have written a vague recipe which may not be of much use for my western readers I'm sorry - I'm hoping the memory of watching Dechen make the dough will help me recreate the recipe when we go home.

1.5 kg plain flour (this made a mountain of Kabzey suitable for a party - half this quantity would be good for personal consumption!)
Sugar - approx 1/2 cup dissolved in about 1 cup boiling water.
1 cup vegetable oil
small amount baking powder (we forgot this yesterday so I don't know the quantity and it didn't seem to matter that it was omitted)
1. Put flour in a large bowl, make a well in the middle and add oil.
2. Begin mixing with hands and continue until oil is distributed through flour.
3. Add cold water to the sugar/water mix so that it is luke warm. Unfortunately I didn't see this step and am unsure of the quantity! Add this sugar mix to the flour and oil. The amount of liquid in the mix is small. If too much is added the dough will be wet and sticky and will not work.
4. The dough mix is very dry at the beginning  and seems like it won't come together. It was only after about 10 minutes of constant kneading that the dough finally started coming together and took about 15 minutes to be ready. This is why it is a 'man's job' as it was hard work to get the dough to come together. Keep trying and don't give up! Don't add more water if the dough appears too dry, just keep kneading!
5. Finally when the dough is ready it is glossy and firm, not sticky.
6. Roll the dough in hand-sized balls ready for rolling.
7. Take a ball and using a rolling pin, roll to a flat circle. The dough is not too thin - thicker than when I roll chapattis - similar to the thickness I would have if making gingerbread men.
8. Then the fun begins! Traditional shapes are made with the dough of which I learned four. It is hard to describe how to make the shapes, hopefully the pictures below will help.
9. Once all the dough has been made into shapes, it is time to fire up the oil to deep fry them. Add shapes in small batches and keep them moving in oil so they don't burn on one side. They are done when golden brown. It helps to put similar shapes together: some of the larger designs take a long time to cook.
10. Enjoy with a cup of tea!
The most simple shape - a slit is made in the middle of a rectangle and the end is pulled through twice to make the nice twist.

Fig 1:Trim sides of circle to make a square/rectangular shape. Fold in half and cut slits on the folded edge. This is the basis for the next few designs.
Open the shape to make a 'cylinder' with the join on the underside.
Take a loop and pinch to the left. Take the next loop and pinch to the right. Continue till all loops are done.
This pattern complete.
To make a flower: first begin as in Fig 1 with exactly 15 'arms'. Then make the dough into a circle shape. It takes 5 arms to make a 'petal'. The middle arm is left straight, the two arms on each side are curled into the middle and then the outer two arms are brought in around the curls and pinched together with the middle arm to complete the 'petal'.
Continue to make three petals.
To make a double plait, begin again as in Fig 1. Then take every second 'arm' and fold it back.
Lift an arm and open it to a loop. Insert the next arm through it. Continue on each side to create two plaits.


Completed double plait shape.
Begin a sun shape as in Fig 1 and then turn into a circle.
Take every second arm around the circle and plait as in the design above.
The finished shapes!
Thanks Ms Lekden for being my friend and teaching me how to make Kabzey. I'll miss you and your family and hope we'll meet again one day!

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