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Here are the secrets to cooking traditional Tibetan Momos

Updated: Feb 19



When I first travelled independently across Tibet in 1985, meals were interesting.


In Lhasa, the simple guest-house in the Barkhor just had bowls of basic vegetables, sitting around a single fire in a windowless, smokey kitchen. You pointed to what you wanted, the cook threw it into a wok, added an egg, some noodles, a dodgy sauce and breakfast, lunch or dinner was served.


If you ventured out into the Barkhor market early, before 7am, you could buy clay bowls of delicious, warm, green yogurt to supplement the diet. Other than that it was dried yak meat or watermelon.


I ate a lot of yogurt and watermelon that journey.


The bus I organised overland to Kathmandu, was a fascinating and rough experience. Our driver wasn’t the friendliest fellow in the world and independent tourists were unheard of, so no one knew what to do with us in each town, especially regarding food. In the rural communities it was usually Thukpa soup, thick home-made noodles in broth with whatever vegetables could be harvested from the fields and maybe some dried yak meat.


One day, we were abandoned in a small, unnamed village between Shigatse and Tingri, as our driver disappeared for what we presumed, was his lunch. Hungry and confused we watched in wonder, as a woman walking past stopped and lowered the wicker basket she had been carrying by a rope line across her forehead. She raised the lid, motioned to us, and there in layers of newspaper were mountains of steaming hot, traditional bread momos. Tibetan dumplings.


We had no idea why she had so many fresh momos or where she was originally taking them to, but we bought out her entire stock. Every beautifully crafted dumpling was full of a mouth watering, spiced vegetable mixture, that warmed our stomachs and prepared us for the long afternoon on the dusty, rutted road. Before our driver returned she trotted off, to again who-knows where, with her apron full of cash and a big grin on her face. Our driver couldn’t understand why we all looked so contented.


For some reason traditional momos are hard to come by, in Nepal or back at home. The vast majority from restaurants, are in a dim sum skin, steamed or pan fried.


This traditional bread momo recipe, is from Kancha, who was a cook at Kopan monastery, Kathmandu. The secret to these or any momos, is the masala and the momo sauce, and Kancha’s are amazing.

Momos are often a celebratory and communal meal. Invite your family and friends around, all squeeze into the kitchen, soak up the heady smells of the spices and enjoy a chat, some laughs and a drink, while sharing in the cooking of these delectable treats. The effort is worth it.




Recipe


Ingredients

Masala
  • 1/3 cup coriander seeds

  • ¼ cup cumin seeds

  • 10 black cardamom pods, peeled

  • 15 green cardamom pods, peeled

  • 15 cloves

  • 2 cinnamon sticks

  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Filling
  • 2 cups of finely diced, parboiled, mixed vegetables (potato, sweet potato, carrot, capsicum etc. If including spinach, add when mixture is cooling)

  • Splash of oil

  • 1 red onion, diced

  • 4 or more cloves fresh garlic, minced

  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh ginger root, grated

  • 1 tablespoon masala

  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Wrappers
  • 4 cups of flour (can mix white and wheat)

  • ½ teaspoon baking powder

  • pinch of salt

  • 2 cups water

Sauce
  • Splash of oil

  • 1 red onion, diced

  • 4 or more cloves fresh garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, grated

  • 1-2 teaspoons masala

  • ½ teaspoon turmeric

  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder

  • 4 -6 tomatoes, roughly chopped

  • Approximately 1 cup water

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons vinegar


Instructions


I never know whether to make the wrappers or the mixture first, so I just mix it up every time.


You will need to make your masala first though, unless you have some left over from your last batch. And the momo sauce is quick and easy. I usually make it while waiting for the dough to rise a bit, and the mixture to cool.


Apart from the masala, all the measurements are just a guide to get you started. Enjoy experimenting by removing or adding extra flavours, and mixing up the proportions to your taste buds.


Masala





Mix together all the spices for the masala and grind finely (but not to a powder), with a mortar and pestle or in a grinder. Store in air-tight jar.


Filling

1. Finely dice the vegetables and parboil or microwave. Leave to the side.


2. Place some oil in a wok or pan on medium heat and fry the onions until slightly golden, then add the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for another minute or so.


3. Next, mix in your masala, chilli powder and soy sauce and let cook for another ½ minute or so.


4. Then add the vegetables, mix well and cook for a few minutes before removing and setting aside to cool.


Wrappers

This dough is easy to make in a food processor, just add all the ingredients and run your processor for the same time as you would for bread dough. Cover and set dough aside in a warm place for 30 to 60 minutes.


1. If mixing by hand, make a hole in the centre of the flour and sprinkle the baking powder and salt, on top.


2. Pour half of the water into the hole, and use a circular motion with your hands to gradually work in the flour until well mixed.


3. Add the rest of the water and do the same again.


4. Knead well then cover and set dough aside in a warm place for 30 to 60 minutes.


5. After the dough has rested, knead lightly on a well-floured board.


6. Roll it out into a sausage shape, around 3cm diameter. Then cut into pieces, about the width of a finger.


7. Take your first piece, dust with flour, flatten it into a round in the palm of your hands then roll it out with a rolling pin. The centre should be a bit thicker than the edges to prevent the filling from leaking during cooking. This is easily achieved by rolling from near the centre, outwards. Don’t worry if you don’t roll out a perfect circle, momos are very forgiving.


8. Once you have a nice thin dough on the edges, spoon some mixture into the centre of your wrapper, then pull up the edges around the filling. Start on opposite sides, then work your way around the dough. Pinch the top and turn to seal.


9. As long as you don’t overfill them, they will work out just fine.


10. Place your momos in a greased steamer and steam for around 15 mins.


Serve hot with momo sauce and some maybe some rice!


Sauce

I’ve always made the momo sauce with fresh tomatoes and leave the skin on.


1. Place oil in saucepan on medium heat and fry the onions until slightly golden, then add the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for another minute or so.


2. Next, mix in your masala, turmeric and chilli powder, stir then add tomatoes and stir-fry for a few more minutes.


3. Add around 1 cup of water, bring to the boil and then let simmer until the tomatoes are soft.

4. Mash the sauce to desired texture and add soy sauce and vinegar. If you want a thinner sauce you can add up to 1 more cup. The longer the sauce sits or simmers the more intense the flavours become.



Tip

Once you have mastered making momos, be creative and play around with the fillings. One of my favourites is potato and cheese.


Ingredients

  • Splash of oil

  • ½ diced red onion

  • 2-3 cloves fresh garli

  • ½ tablespoon fresh ginger

  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

  • 2 cups mashed potato

  • Grated cheese

  • ¼ cup fresh coriander

  • 3 or 4 spring onions.


Instructions

  1. Heat the oil

  2. Add onion

  3. Add garlic and ginger

  4. Add chilli powder, soy sauce

  5. Remove from heat and combine mixture with the mashed potato.

  6. When cool add the grated cheese and coriander and spring onion.

We'd love to hear about any great filling ideas you created, and how delicious your momos were.

Peter


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