Chile-Hot Bhutanese Cheese Curry

I’d heard of this simmered dish before I traveled to the Bhutanese border area, but I could never quite picture it. It’s called ema daji, and it’s often made very chile hot. The version here is quite hot; to make it more extreme, increase the number of cayenne chiles to twelve or add some crushed dried red chiles.

I saw Bhutanese cheese being sold in large fresh balls in the Kalimpang market. There it’s called churpi. It’s like a cross between feta and farmer’s cheese, fresh and not very salty, and it doesn’t melt when it’s heated. We substitute feta, and because the one we use is salty, we don’t add extra salt to the curry. Tomatoes give the dish color and balance the cheese nicely.

Cheese curry is rich and warming on a cool day, soupy and generous, an ideal vegetarian main dish. Leftovers are great reheated.


8 green cayenne chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped (about ⅓ cup) 1 large onion, sliced lengthwise (about 1½ cups) 1½ cups water 2 teaspoons vegetable oil 1½ cups chopped tomatoes 2 scant tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic or garlic mashed to a paste ⅓ pound feta, chopped into ½-inch cubes Salt, if needed 3 or 4 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves Freshly ground black pepper (optional)


  1. Put the chiles, onion, water, and oil in a medium pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Cover, reduce the heat slightly and cook at a strong simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and garlic and bring back to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes are melting into the liquid and the garlic has softened.
  4. Add the cheese and simmer for another 3 to 4 minutes.
  5. Stir, remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. (This is best served warm, not hot.)
  6. Taste and add a little salt if you need it.
  7. Stir in the coriander and black pepper, if using, and serve.


Serve with Bhutanese Red Rice (page 83) or another plain rice and accompany with a stir-fried green vegetable

The coconut milk sauce makes this a good dish to pair with rice, Sri Lankan or another, and a simple grill such as Grilled Marinated Beef (page 272) or Bangla-Flavored Grilled Zucchini (page 144). For extra heat, put out Red Onion Sambol (page 32) or Fresh Bean Sprout Salad (page 55).


Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent


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Chile-Hot Bhutanese Cheese Curry