If you ask someone to name their favorite Tibetan food there’s a good chance they’ll say Tibetan momos. Momos are steamed savoury dumplings that are much loved by Tibetans around the world and that are often made on traditional holidays.
Photo of vegetarian Tibetan momos and chili sauce courtesy of YoWangdu Tibetan Culture.
Momos are a bit of a delicacy because of the work involved in making them. They can be stuffed with a variety of fillings such as beef, yak meat, cheese, potatoes or vegetables.
The nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala in northern India (one of the seven nunneries in India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project) follow a vegetarian diet and make momos on special occasions such as Tibetan New Year and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday.
Here’s a lovely video that the nuns made in 2012 ago showing them preparing momos to celebrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6th. As you will see from the video, it’s no small task to make enough momos to serve over 230 nuns!
Tsel Momo or Vegetarian Momos: Steamed Vegetable Dumplings Our profound thanks to Lobsang and Yolanda at YoWangdu Tibetan Culture for their support of the nuns and for sharing both this recipe and their beautiful photos. The recipe has been edited here for length. If you want to see more of their Tibetan recipes, including meat momos, visit their website at www.yowangdu.com
Traditionally in Central Tibet, there were sha (meat) momos and eventually vegetable fillings began to appear as well. Typical vegetarian momos (tsel momos) are stuffed with a potato filling, but Lobsang at YoWangdu Tibetan Culture has created his own blend of tofu, bok choy and shiitake mushrooms to make momos that 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 them yourself, look for dumpling wrappers, wonton, potsticker, gyoza or shu mai wrappers in many major grocery stores. These will taste a bit different than the kind we make, but they will work.
Filling Ingredients for Vegetarian Momos
1/2 large onion (we use red onion)
1 and 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup minced cilantro
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 (we use Canola)
Prepare the Dough
Mix the flour and water very well by hand; knead until you make a smooth, flexible ball of dough (About 5 minutes)
Leave your dough in a 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 for Vegetarian Momos
Chop the onion, ginger, garlic, cilantro, bok choy, tofu, green onions and mushrooms into very small pieces.
Heat 1/4 cup of cooking oil in a pan to high and add chopped tofu. Cook on medium high for 2 minutes, until the edges are brown (cooking all water out).
Add chopped mushroom and cook another 3-4 minutes. Cool completely (very important) and add to filling mix.
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 thinly, about 1/8 inch thick. It should not be so thin that you can see through it when you pick it up.
Cutting the dough into circles: Turn a small cup or glass upside down and cut out circles about the size of your palm. Pinch the edges of each circle to thin them.
Shaping a Half-Moon Momo
(To do this, you might want to also watch this video showing how the two traditional shapes are made.)
Prepare a non-stick surface and a damp cloth or lid to keep the momos you’ve made from drying out while you’re finishing the others (lightly-greased trays of steamer with lid or wax paper and a damp cloth).
Hold a dough circle in your left hand, slightly cupping it. Put about a tablespoon of your veggie filling in the center of the dough. Start with a small amount, try to not overfill.
Starting on one edge and moving to the other, pinch the two sides of the dough together, creating a curved crescent shape. The bottom side of the momo will stay relatively flat, whereas the pinched edge has folds to allow for the bulk of the filling. Be sure to close all gaps so that you don’t lose juice while cooking.
Cook 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.
Once the water is boiling, place the momos a little distance apart in the steamer as they will expand a little bit when they cook.
Steam the momos for 10-12 minutes, with the water boiling continuously.
Momos are done once the dough is cooked.
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.