As part of a series walking you through some of the traditions of Losar, Tibetan New Year, we are offering here a recipe for a simple type of khapse.
Khapse (or khapsey) is a beloved, deep-fried pastry eaten and offered most commonly at Losar, but also sometimes on other special occasions, like Tibetan weddings. There are a whole bunch of different kinds of khapse – from huge ones in the shape of a donkey ear (bhungu amchoe) that are placed as offerings on Losar shrines, to the large braids of mukdung, to the crispy circles of bulug, to the various little shapes of kaptog that are made only for eating, and down even to no-name little bite-sized diamonds of fried dough.
There are sweet and (slightly) salty khapse, and some khapses made in the shape of lotus flowers, or with ribbons of color threading through the twists.
In this post, Lobsang shows you his recipe for the most humble, common, and easy-to-make khapse shape – which is a nyapsha shape of kaptog or shaytog (honorific). (There is also a larger nyapsha khapse that is used more for a Losar shrine decoration.) In the coming months, as Losar approaches, a lot of our neighbors will be making much more elaborate khapse and we plan to bring you a few videos of some of the real masters at work.
For a fun and highly informative discussion of khapse, you should see the excellent piece written by Tibetan writer Jamyang Norbu called Dipping a Donkey Ear in Butter Tea: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the Preparation, Display and Appreciation of the Losar Khapsay.
Video: How to Make Khapse
*Please be very careful when cooking khapse. The hot oil is extremely dangerous and you don’t want it to splash on you. Make sure any utensils you put into the oil are free of water, as the water will pop in the hot oil.*
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sunflower oil (or any cooking oil. For softer khapse, use a little more oil.)
- 1/3 cup sugar (more sugar if you like sweeter pastries. We used turbinado raw cane sugar. Or, you can make sugar-free khapse by leaving the sugar out.)
- 1 cup milk, or “1/2 and 1/2” (Dairy product that is half milk and half cream.)
- 1 quart of sunflower oil for deep frying
- Dissolve the sugar in 1 cup of warm water
- Combine flour, oil, sugar and 1/2 and 1/2
- Mix everything together to make a smooth-ish ball of dough
- Knead the dough for several minutes
- Roll out the dough to about a 1/4 inch thickness. (When you roll it out you can put a little flour down on the rolling surface so that it won’t stick, but not much. If you put too much extra flour, it will make the dough suck up too much oil while cooking.)
- Cut the dough in strips (maybe about an inch or a little less), then cut those strips into diagonal pieces. Try to make the pieces roughly the same size, so that they can cook at the same rate. This doesn’t have to be precise, Tibetans rarely are!
- Slice a slot in the middle of each piece of dough.
- Pull one corner of the piece of dough through the slot in the middle, creating a twist. (See the video.) Pull the two ends of your nyapsha a little to even out the shape a bit.
- We do this outside on a camping stove, as the process is quite greasy and messy.
- Pour 1 quart of sunflower oil into a large, deep pot or pan.
- Heat the oil on high until it starts to smoke a tiny bit. The oil will be hot enough when you can drop one piece of dough into the oil and it pops up to the surface right away.
- Cook the bigger ones first and the smaller ones last. (We made a few larger non-nyapsha shapes too.)
- Carefully lower the khapse dough pieces into the oil. You will need to make multiple batches, and it is better if you don’t fill the pot or pan too full of dough pieces. Fewer khapses in one batch is better.
- Cook the khapse on high heat until golden brown, moving them around fairly often, and very gently, with a long-handled utensil. They cook pretty fast, in just a few minutes.
- Remove the khapse from the oil with a slotted spoon or large straining utensil, letting the oil drain over the pan. (The oil can easily splash on you at this point, so please take care.) We place the cooked khapse on paper towels to absorb as much as possible of the oil.
Eating and Storage
- You can sprinkle some powdered sugar if you like, but usually we eat these just as they are, with sweet tea or Tibetan tea.
- Store the extra khapse in an air-tight container and you can keep them quite a while, though they do of course get hard over time ;-)
- At Losar, we often eat khapse in a dish we call changkol or koenden, which is khapse together with chang and a few other ingredients. (A post on that later.)