To celebrate the first birthday of the “Saving Snow Leopards” blog in November 2009 I started on a journey to discover and cook a recipe from each of the 12 countries in Asia that have snow leopards. I’ve been to some of those countries over the last 30 years of travelling and discovered the people that share the harsh snow leopard habitat have wonderful food, often making creative and delicious meals out of very simple ingredients. Here are the recipes, I hope you enjoy making and eating these dishes…I certainly did.
Current estimates of the number of snow leopards in Russia vary – somewhere between 100 – 200 cats, although this number has not been confirmed for some years. The southwestern Siberian Republic of Altai has prime snow leopard habitat although poaching unfortunately is still common with hunters using helicopters for illegal shooting of the cats and their prey, the big Argali.
A quintessential Russian recipe is of course Borscht, the beetroot soup or stew. There are more Borscht recipes than there are Russian grandmothers and naturally everyone believes theirs to be the best. This one is a very simple one, evolved from one of my German grandmothers who made some great soups. Like most Borscht it can be eaten either hot or cold, although I prefer hot, the flavour being more tangy. I also like the fact that most of the vegetable in this recipe is beet, a flavour I really like and don’t get to eat too often.
You can adapt this simple recipe with other vegetables depending on what you have in your kitchen at the time. As well as Russia there are many other countries that have Borscht including Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Romania.
6-8 beetroots cut small and cubed
oil for braising (I use olive)
1 sliced onion
½ litre stock (you can use beef but I prefer chicken – homemade is always best but sometimes bought stock is more practical)
handfull of chopped cabbage
2 carrots, sliced finely (optional)
2 potatoes sliced and cubed (optional)
1 diced tomato (optional)
Salt and pepper, sour cream and parsley
Braise sliced onions in oil and add cubed beetroots and chopped cabbage, braise for a few minutes. Add stock and turn up heat until boiling. If you have any optional vegetables add them now. Turn heat down and simmer for 45 mins. Add salt and pepper to taste. When cooked through you can serve with a big dollop of sour cream and sprinkle parsley on top. Eat with crusty baguette or to be authentically Russian a big piece of black sourdough or pumpernickel!
Optional. When all ingredients are cooked and before you add the sour cream you can puree the soup with a blender. I like to do this as it makes it thick and creamy. Bon Appetit!
Mongolia has very active snow leopard conservation projects with the WWF and the Snow Leopard Trust working there. I haven’t been to Mongolia so I asked Bayarjargal (Bayara) Agvaantseren, the Executive Director and founder of the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF) in Mongolia for a suggested recipe. Bayara won the $25,000 Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the ‘Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation’. The prize goes to “a special individual who has already made a significant contribution to conserving wild cats.”
I’m a fan of Bayara’s as she started the community-based conservation program now known as Snow Leopard Enterprises (SLE) in Mongolia. SLE supports the semi-nomadic herders in Mongolia, helping them increase their income through handicraft production in exchange for their tolerance of snow leopards. Bayara began her career in snow leopard conservation as a member of Tom McCarthy’s (from the Snow Leopard Trust) snow leopard research team. She worked as a translator with herders and helps to understand human-snow leopard conflicts. She’s also been key in formulating Mongolia’s National Snow Leopard Policy and most recently played a key role in initiating the first ever long-term ecological study of snow leopards in South Gobi, Mongolia.
Bayara’s recipe is for Buuz – which is dough filled with traditionally lamb in Mongolia, but can be filled with chicken, beef or vegetables and then steamed. While I haven’t ever made them with lamb (not one of my favourites I must say) I have made them with chicken – absolutely delicious. The secret is all in the steaming method and making sure they don’t stick to the steamer which for some reason mine do all the time. Bayara suggests this recipe here.
Most researchers agree that China has the largest number of snow leopards in the wild. They are spread over remote mountain areas of Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Xingjiang and Yunnan provinces. I’ve been to Tibet a number of times over the years and although Tibetan food can be quite basic there are a couple of dishes that are sensational. This one is one of my favorites – Tibetan Khapseys. They are traditionally made and eaten for Losar – Tibetan New Year. A couple of years ago I spent Losar in Kathmandu with my dear friend Doma who spent days making these lovingly for her family and friends. They were absolutely delicious!
You’ll see from the photos that Doma shapes her Khapseys beautifully, and it takes her ages. I have given the method for making them much more quickly but you can copy her shape if you like.
1 kg white flour / 2 g salt /Vegetable fat to fry -ghee or vegetable oil / sugar
Knead flour with the salt and enough water to make a thick dough. Roll the dough into medium sized balls. Heat vegetable fat or oil in a deep pot or wok until it steams. Flatten out each of the balls until they are long and slim, about 10 cm long and give each a twist just as you dip gently into the oil. Keep them submerged in the oil and fry until the edges are toasted. Strain the oil and keep separated, preferably on the kitchen paper to get rid of excess oil. When still hot sprinkle lightly with sugar. Khapseys keep for months in airtight containers. Yum!