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Tibetan food, which evolved to sustain a hardy people living at an average elevation of 16,000 feet, is like no other food in the world. Who else but Tibetans have a great time drinking salty tea and eating sweet rice in the same sitting? Or grow up on a steady diet of roasted barley flour made into a dough with tea, butter, sugar and dried cheese from the female yak (dri)? While these dishes can be an acquired taste for non-Tibetans, there is a wealth of other uniquely Tibetan flavors that inspire total devotion in food lovers around the world.
We have written Tibetan Home Cooking to share with you the most common, well-loved Tibetan foods that are cooked in Tibetan homes, both inside Tibet and around the world. Each recipe in this book is authentically Tibetan, created by Lobsang Wangdu and a small group of excellent Tibetan chefs, featuring Tsering Tamding la. Each recipe is based on the cook’s personal history with a particular well-known Tibetan dish, usually passed down in the family for hundreds of years.
— Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon
Steamed Vegetable Dumplings
One of the wonderful things about momos is that we can cook them so many ways. Traditionally in Central Tibet, there were only sha (meat) momos, but at some point in the Tibetan diaspora, vegetable fillings began to appear as well. And now, there is a wide, delicious, variety of veggie momos, including one we like at Cafe Tibet in Berkeley, California with a marscapone filling. Typical Tibetan veggie momos are stuffed with a potato filling, but Lobsang’s own blend of tofu, bok choy and shiitake mushrooms, are light and delicious.
For 2 people (makes about 25 momos)
- 2 cups white all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup water
If you don’t have time to make the dumpling wrappers yourself, you can buy round dumpling wrappers in many major grocery stores. They might also be called wonton, potsticker, gyoza or shu mai wrappers. These will taste a bit different than the kind we make, but they will work. If needed, you can also buy square wrappers and cut the corners to make them round, or just experiment with square shapes.
- 1/2 large onion (We use red onion.)
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger (Measured after mincing.)
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup cilantro (Measured after mincing.)
- 1 cup baby bok choy (about 2 clusters) or cabbage
- 5 ounces super firm tofu
- 2 stalks green onion
- 6 largish shiitake mushrooms (You can substitute white mushrooms.)
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to your taste
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon vegetable bouillon
- 1/4 cup of cooking oil
Prepare the Dough:
- Mix the white all-purpose flour and the water very well by hand and knead until you make a smooth ball of dough.
- Knead the dough very well until the dough is quite flexible. (About 5 minutes)
- Leave your dough in the pot with the lid on, or in a plastic bag, while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. You should not let the dough dry out, or it will be hard to work with.
Prepare the Filling:
- Chop the onion, ginger, garlic, cilantro, bok choy, tofu, green onions and mushrooms into very, very small pieces.
- Now, you will pre-cook the tofu and mushrooms only, with the goal of cooking the water out of them.
- Heat 1/4 cup of cooking oil in a pan to high.
- Add chopped tofu, and cook on medium high for 2 minutes, until the edges are brown.
- Add chopped mushroom and cook another 3-4 minutes on medium high.
- After mushrooms and tofu have cooled, mix them very well with all the other filling ingredients.
- Cool down the mushrooms and tofu completely. If not cooled down, the green of the other vegetables will not come out correctly.
vegetable momo filling
Making the Momo Dough Circles:
- When your dough and filling are both ready, it is time for the tricky part of making the dumpling shapes.
- Place the dough on a chopping board and use a rolling pin to roll it out quite thinly, about 1/8 inch thick. It should not be so thin that you can see through it when you pick it up.
- After you have rolled out the dough, you will need to cut it into little circles for each momo:
Method 1: The easiest way to do this is turn a small cup or glass upside down to cut out circles about the size of the palm of your hand. We use a cup 3 and 1/3 inches in diameter. That way, you don’t have to worry about making good circles of dough because each one will be the same size and shape. If you make the circles this way, you may want to thin the edges of the circle a little bit before adding the filling by pinching your way around the edge of the circle. The idea is to make the edges thinner so that when you fold the dough, there won’t be a giant glob of dough on the folded places.
Method 2: Of course, you can also make the circles by the more difficult traditional way. For this, first pinch off a small ball of dough. Next, use your palm to flatten out the ball. Then, flatten out the dough into a circle with a rolling pin, making the edges more thin than the middle. This method is much harder to do, and takes more time, though many Tibetans still use this method. In this case, the edges are pre-thinned so there is no need to thin them any more.
Now that you have a small, flat, circular piece of dough, you are ready to add the filling and make the momo shapes. There are many different choices for momo shapes, but for these veggie momos we will use a very common and pretty half-moon shape. This is one of the easier shapes to make.
Shaping a Half-Moon Momo:
- For this style, you begin by holding the flat circular dough in your left hand and putting about a tablespoon of your veggie filling in the middle of the dough. It can be challenging if you put too much, so at first you may want to start with a little less filling.
- Beginning anywhere on the circle, pinch the edge of the dough together.
- Now you will fold in a small piece of dough from the “top” edge of the circle and pinching it down against the “bottom” edge of the circle. (Where the “bottom” half of the circle is the half facing you when the momo is in your hands.)
- The “bottom” edge of the circle — the edge nearest you — stays relatively flat, and doesn’t get folded. All the folding happens only on one side of the momo.
- Continue folding and pinching from the starting point, moving along the edge until you reach the other tip of the half-moon. The important point is to close all the openings well so that you don’t lose the juice while cooking.
- As you are making your momos, you will need to have a non-stick surface and a damp cloth or lid handy to keep the momos you’ve made from drying out while you’re finishing the others. You can lay the momos in the lightly-greased trays of your steamer and keep the lid on them, or you can lay them on wax paper and cover them with the damp cloth.
Cook up Your Momos!
- Finally, you should boil water in a large steamer. (Tibetans often use a double-decker steamer, to make many momos at one time.)
- Oil the steamer surface lightly before putting the momos in, so they won’t stick to the metal. We use spray oil.
- Place the momos a little distance apart in the steamer as they will expand a little bit when they cook. They should not be touching.
- Add the momos after the water is already boiling.
- Steam the momos for 10-12 minutes, with the water boiling on high heat.
- As long as the dough is cooked, they are done, as the veggie filling really hardly needs to cook more.
Serve the momos right off the stove, with the dipping sauce of your choice. At home, we mix together soy sauce and Patak’s Lime Relish, which we get in Indian stores, or the Asian section of supermarkets. Tibetan hot sauce is also very good.
Be careful when you take the first bite of the hot momos since the juice is very, very hot, and can burn you easily.
Also from Tibetan Home Cooking:
More Tibetan dishes:
Reprinted with permission from Tibetan Home Cooking by Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon and published by YoWangdu, 2018.