We’re continuing our series of posts on traditions relating to the Tibetan New Year – Losar – with a vegetarian recipe for the very popular guthuk soup eaten on the night before Losar’s Eve. Guthuk is the only Tibetan food that is eaten only once a year, on the day before the last day of the year, as part of a ritual of dispelling any negativities of the old year, to make way for an auspicious new one. The base of the soup is actually a common noodle soup called thukpa bhathuk, but at the end of the year, this daily favorite is transformed to a special dish. (There is some discussion among Tibetans about whether the noodle shape we use here is called gutsi rithuk or bhathuk, but for my family, bhathuk is a generic terms for a type of noodle that includes gutsi rithuk :-) So for my family, these little curved shells are both bhathuk, and more specifically, gutsi rithuk. If you want more of discussion of that, see my thukpa bhathuk recipe.)
What turns a thukpa bhatuk into a guthuk is a combination of things.
- One is the fact that it is eaten on the 29th day of the last month of the year on the Tibetan calendar. “Gu” in Tibetan means nine, and “thuk” refers generally to noodle soups, so we can say that guthuk is the soup eaten on the twenty-ninth day.
- A further significance of the “gu” is that the soup traditionally has at least nine ingredients. In this vegetarian version of guthuk, the nine main ingredients are: mushrooms, celery, labu (radish), peas, tomato, onion, ginger, garlic, and spinach. A traditional guthuk would include meat (yak or beef) and dried cheese.
- The last necessary element of a guthuk is the large dough ball which each person eating the soup receives. Tucked inside the dough ball is a item or symbol of that item which is meant to be a playful commentary on the one who gets it. In the dough ball below, for example, the message was “tsal,” which means salt in Tibetan, and refers to a lazy person. Traditionally, there would be an actual piece of rock salt inside the dough ball. In any case you don’t want to draw the dough ball with salt! :-)
This guthuk recipe is a fusion of traditional and contemporary Tibetan cooking. Lobsang uses his traditional thukpa bhatuk recipe as a base, but chose to go vegetarian instead of the traditional meat style, and added celery and mushrooms for a flavorful veg broth.
For more on the fascinating traditions relating to Losar, with more information on the guthuk traditions see our two-part Insider’s Guide to Losar Eating and the post on the nyi-shu-gu and guthuk traditions of the Eve of Losar Eve.
Recipe for Vegetarian Guthuk
For 2-3 people, depending on your appetite. Double or triple this for a guthuk party.
* See the thukpa bhatuk recipe for a meat version.
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
- 1/3 medium onion (We used red.)
- 5 medium shiitake mushrooms
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce (if regular soy sauce, leave off the salt)
- 3 cups water (first cooking) + 3 cups of water (second cooking)
- 1/3 cup raw sugar snap peas, without shells
- 2/3 of a large labu, cut into strips, see instructions below. (labu = daikon = Japanese radish)
- 5 cups spinach (measure before chopping), roughly chopped. (As long as they are clean, no need to remove the stems.)
- 1 stalk green onion, chopped
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped
Dough Ingredients for Guthuk
- 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
PREPARING THE SOUP
Prepare the Soup Ingredients
- Mince the garlic and ginger.
- Chop the onion.
- Roughly chop the celery, mushrooms, and tomato.
Prepare the Labu
- Peel the labu (a potato peeler works well) and chop off the two ends.
- Chop the labu into thin, narrow strips about as long as your finger. The strips should be about as thin and narrow as you can make them.
- Soak the chopped labu in water with ~ 1 teaspoon of salt
- Soak for a few minutes, swishing around with your hand.
- Rinse well, several times, to get rid of salt and bitterness.
- Tibetans say that rinsing like this gets rid of the strong radish smell.
Chop the Garnishes
- Finely chop the cilantro.
- Chop the green onion.
- Roughly chop the spinach (or don’t chop if you like large pieces)
- Set all these aside until the soup is almost done.
Prepare the Dough
- Slowly add the water to the flour.
- Mix to form a ball and then knead a couple of minutes. The dough will be a bit dryish and stiff. If you can’t form a ball, you can a little more water. If dough is sticky, add a tiny bit more flour.
- This dough does not have to rest after kneading so you can prepare it any time during the cooking process.
Shape the Dough
From this dough, you will make two different types of things. One is called bhatsa, and these are the normal little gnocchi-like scoops of noodle in an everyday thukpa bhathuk. The other thing we make, though, is what really makes this soup a guthuk instead of just a thukpa bhathuk, and that is the large round dough balls that contain hidden items or messages for each person eating the soup.
For the Normal Bhatsa
- First, rub the ball of dough between your hands to make it into a thick tube of dough, and then pinch off pieces of that tube to make 4-5 chunks of dough.
- Then rub each piece of dough between your hands to form long, thin ropes of dough.
- Pinch off a piece as big as the end of your fingernail, or smaller.
- Rub the dough with one finger in the palm of your hand to cause the little piece of dough to curl up (the better to scoop up the juices in the soup). These little scooped pieces of dough are your bhatsa.
- Repeat until you’ve used up all but 1 of your ropes of dough.
- You can sprinkle a little flour around the pile of bhatsa, to keep them from sticking together.
For the Special Dough Balls with the Hidden Items or Messages
- Pinch off a piece of dough 4-5 times as big as one of the normal bhatsa. Basically, the dough balls need to be easily distinguishable in the soup, so that we can pick out our dough ball from among the bhatsa.
- Roll it roughly into a circle between your hands, but before you finish rolling it, fold one of the pieces of papers with the special messages, and stuff it into the center of the dough ball, then re-roll it to make the ball as smooth as you can. It’s best if there are no cracks so that paper stays dry inside the dough ball when we cook it. Of course if you wish, you can add the actual items, like some salt, or coal, inside the dough ball. But these days most people outside Tibet just put a paper with a word or symbol written on it to signify the item.
- Make one dough ball for each person eating your guthuk.
- See the images in this post for the size and shape of the dough balls.
- See Part 1 of Your Insider’s Guide to Losar Eating for a list of the items or messages or symbols to go inside the dough balls.
- Making the dough rope for the bhatsa in guthuk. Photo © YoWangdu.
Pinching off dough and pressing the bhatsa for guthuk. Photo © YoWangdu.
Cook the Soup
- Lightly brown the ginger, garlic and onion on medium high, about 3 minutes.
- Add celery, mushrooms, tomato, soy sauce and salt and cook on high for about 7 minutes.
- Add 3 cups of water, keeping heat on high, and bring to a boil.
- When the broth starts to boil, turn down to low and simmer for 10 minutes
- After the broth has simmered for 10 minutes, add 3 more cups of water, turn heat on high and bring broth to a boil.
- After the broth begins to boil, add the labu and green peas. Heat remains on high.
- After 5 minutes, add the bhatsa and the large Guthuk dough balls with the special messages inside them. Heat remains on high.
- When cooked the bhatsa and the large dough balls will pop up to the surface of the soup. This will take about 5 minutes. When most of them are popped up to the surface, turn off the heat but leave on the burner.
- Stir in spinach, cilantro, and green onion and serve right away. (These final ingredients do not really need to cook, and look nicer if they are fresh looking.)
- Put one big dough ball in each bowl of soup.
- Serve right away – it is best to eat hot!
- After you have enjoyed the soup for a while, each person can fish out his or her dough ball and dig out the message inside for some fun :-)