Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hoentay Hootenanny!

A few weeks ago I tried another recipe from the Authentic Bhutanese Cookbook by Punap Ugyen Wangchuck. The dish is called Hoentay though I've seen various spellings. Hoentay is a steamed buckwheat dumpling from the Haa Valley and is usually made during the Lomba Celebration (the region's New Year). This dish was much more time consuming than the last one I made from this cookbook but the results were much more interesting in terms of flavor.

I should also mention that the word hoentay made Matt and I both think of hootenanny, and there the title of this blog post was born.

The first step in the process was to make the dough for the dumplings. This involved mixing buckwheat flour and water. Not too difficult!

As you can probably guess, this was the box of buckwheat
flour.  It's very common in Bhutan and I was able to find
this very cheaply at a grocery store.
Dough ball! The flour had a nice nutty scent.

The next step was to boil the dried turnip leaves for 25 minutes and then strain them. I can't be 100% sure that what I purchased at the market was in fact dried turnip leaves since, unfortunately,  the cookbook did not list the Dzongkha word for them. Thus my questioning at the market was done through pantomime. 

Dried turnip leaves
Turnip leaves aboilin'.
Although the recipe has turnips in the ingredient list, turnips are never mentioned in the preparations section. (I could write a whooooole post about editing/proofreading problems in Bhutanese publications.) Anyway, having used recipes before, I figured it was best to do SOMETHING with the turnip since it was listed as an ingredient. So I peeled and diced it.

Anyone who knows vegetables well probably knows that this is a radish and
not a turnip. I am not one of these people. I figured it was a turnipy root
vegetable that I'd never seen before. Oops. We had radish dumplings instead!

"Turnip" peeled and sliced.

Diced "turnip" mixed with cheese, spring onion, butter, black mustard seeds,
ginger, garlic, chili powder, and pepper.

 While I was chopping and mixing, the turnip greens were boiling. After 25 minutes, it was time to strain them.

Action shot! Removing the turnip greens from the boiling water.

The turnip greens were then chopped and added to the rest of the mixture.
After the filling was complete, the hard part began: rolling the dough and forming the dumplings.

Dough rolled out.

After rolling out the dough, I cut rectangular pieces off to fill. This is an art that I certainly haven't mastered! Anyone who's tried to make a pie crust or anything else that requires lots of dough rolling and cutting will probably know what I am talking about.

Filling in dough. I realize now that these pieces were definitely not chopped
finely enough, which added to the struggle of forming the dumplings.

After all of the dumplings were made, it was time to steam them. As you may remember from a previous post, we don't have a proper streaming system. We have a rice cooker, which usually has a steaming basket, but alas, ours does not. We asked around at a few shops but this doesn't seem to be something that is available separately from the rice cooker. Our current solution was to get a sort of deep frying scoop (used to remove items from hot oil) and prop it up on the side of the pot to keep the dumplings in the steam but out of the water. It works pretty well as long at the pot isn't bumped.

And just to make things more interesting, right as I was beginning to steam the dumplings, the electricity went out! Good thing we have a gas stove....

Cooking my headlamp.

Luckily the power didn't stay out for very long and we were able to eat dinner without out headlamps.

Finished product. Looks just like the photo, right?

We ate the hoentay with some ema datse and red rice.

Because I had much more filling than dough, I made another batch the next day. This time I cut the dough using a small bowl (similar to how a cookie cutter is used). I also chopped the filling so it was somewhat finer. The results were much better! The circular shape was much easier to work with.

Take two - much better looking!

Our improvised steaming apparatus.

Despite the way they look (at least the first round), the dumplings actually tasted really good. They had a very mustardy flavor with a subtle bit of smokiness, likely from the turnip greens. Full recipe is below. However, you would be well-advised to use the turnip somewhere in there....

Hoentay (Dumplings from the Haa Valley)
From Authentic Bhutanese Cookbook by Punap Ugyen Wangchuck

  • Buckwheat flour (130 g)
  • 2 turnips
  • 1/2 bunch dried turnip leaves
  • Cheese (50 g)
  • Butter (30 g)
  • Black mustard seeds (50 g)
  • Ginger
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 tsp chili powder [Chili powder here means something more like cayenne.]
  • 1 tbsp wild pepper [I used regular black pepper.]
  • Walnut (optional, is mustard seeds are not available)
  • Few stalks of green onions
  • Salt to taste
[We don't have a scale so I guessed on the amounts. I've only included amounts where the recipe does. I guess the other items are up to your own discretion.]


Mix sweet buckwheat flour with water and knead to make a dough. Then put it aside. Mince the turnip leaves and cook for about 25 minutes then strain them and put aside in bowl. Chop ginger, garlic and spring onion. Mix these ingredients with the cooked turnip leaves. Then add cheese and ground black mustard seeds, followed by chili powder, salt and wild pepper to your taste. Finally, pour heated butter over all the ingredients and blend together. Keep aside to cool.

Final preparation:

Roll the dough until 2 mm thick and cut them into round shapes with dough cutter. Next, add a tablespoon of the mixed ingredients into the round dough. Shape, fold or design the dough just like you would when making dumplings. After this, steam the hoentay for about 25 minutes.


Hoentay is a specialty from the Haa Valley, usually made during the Lomba Celebration (Haa region's New Year). For contemporary taste you can change the ingredients of the filling. You can also substitute buckwheat for any other flour. This dish is enjoyed as an appetizer with chili paste or one can also enjoy it as an entire meal.


  1. Emily, if you have to roll something out like a pie crust dough, first flatten the dough with your hands. Then put down a sheet of wax paper (or similar thing) put the flattened dough in the middle of that sheet.. put another sheet of wax paper on top. Roll out the dough between the 2 sheets of wax paper..sometimes I flip it over as I roll it. Then when it is the right size, peel of the top sheet. Then you can transfer or work with it on the one sheet.. easier to handle.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Carolyn. Unfortunately, wax paper is not to be found in Bhutan. We've seen aluminum foil and saran wrap, but it's very expensive. There aren't really many ovens here (certainly not in any Bhutanese home), hence the absence of baking paraphernalia.

  3. Hey! Nice post. I had to smile a lot :)
    How many people does that recipe serve? Thanks!