Darjeeling Market Tibetan Bread
Phale is the Tibetan word for "bread." These round empanada-like filled breads are called shaphale. They're made from two flatbread dough rounds pinched together around a cooked meat filling, then skillet baked in a little oil. The edges are attractively fluted, the breads pale golden brown. We first tasted them on a damp, cold March evening in the market in Darjeeling, a hill town near the borders of Sikkim and Bhutan that has a large Tibetan population.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted ghee or butter
1 cup lukewarm water, or a little more
1/4 cup ghee or vegetable oil for frying
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup minced onion
1 tablespoon minced ginger
or ginger mashed to a paste
1 cup (about 1/2 pound) coarsely chopped boneless chicken thighs, beef or pork
1 dried red chile
or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
or to taste
generous grinding of black pepper
Place the flour and salt in a bowl or in a food processor. If working by hand, add the melted ghee or butter and blend into the flour, then add 1 cup lukewarm water. Stir with your hand or with a wooden spoon to blend the water into the flour; if the dough seems stiff, add a little more water. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, or until very smooth and elastic. If using the food processor, with the machine running, add the ghee or butter through the feed tube, then add 1 cup water. A ball of dough should form; if it doesn't, add up to another 1/4 cup water. When a ball of dough forms, process for another 15 or 20 seconds, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about a minute, until smooth.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes to 2 hours, whatever is more convenient.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling: Heat the oil in a wok or karhai or a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is well softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the meat, the chile or cayenne, coriander, salt, and pepper and stir-fry, breaking up any lumps in the meat, until it is browned and cooked through. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Remove and discard the chile if you used one. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into sixteen pieces. Flatten each piece a little, turning it over to flour it on both sides. Leaving the other pieces lightly covered, roll two pieces out to 7-inch rounds. Spread a generous 2 tablespoons filling on one bread, leaving a 1-inch margin all round. Place the other bread on top and pinch and roll the edges closed all around between your thumb and forefinger, to make a sealed fluted edge. Flatten gently under the palm of your hand.
Place a heavy skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Add about 2 teaspoons ghee or oil and spread it over the surface with a spatula. Lower the heat a little. Place the bread top-side down in the skillet, and cook for 1 minute. Turn over and cook on the second side until golden brown, then turn back to the first side to cook until well browned. While the first bread is cooking, roll out two more rounds, fill, and shape.
Remove the first bread from the skillet and serve hot, or wrap in a cotton cloth to keep warm. Grease the skillet again with about 1 teaspoon ghee or oil and cook the next bread.
Serve for lunch, with a bowl of soup or dal, and accompanied by salad or wilted greens.