As the work-at-home dad, I used to pick up our son Oliver from preschool. We discovered a Tibetan restaurant a short walk away, and you know what they say, If you give a mouse a Tibetan restaurant… he’s gonna want a momo to go with it. Momos are exquisite little dumplings, the go-to item on a Tibetan menu. You may order other things, but you will always order momos. For Oliver and I, and later our daughter Roxanne, momos became a regular Friday treat.
Fast forward, ten years. We continue eating momos, when we find them, but have never tried making them. Then I met Tenzin Conechok Samdo, a bartender at my wife’s restaurant, TRADE. I thought I’d get an insider’s view on who made the best momos locally. After I photographed a series of his remarkable cocktails he began asking, “Hey, when are you going to invite me over to make momos?” He knew about The Garum Factory. Make momos? At our house? Um, how about this Friday? Herewith, Tenzin’s Sha Momos with Sepen. Beef Momos with Chili Dipping Sauce.
Find Tenzin’s mixology blog here.
One of the interesting aspects of Tibetan exile culture is seeing how local traditions affect momos. While visiting his sister, who lives in Italy, Tenzin picked up an Italian trick for infusing water with garlic before making pasta dough, which he now uses for the dough of his own momos. Recently I encountered a recipe on a Tibetan website for momos with a spinach and feta filling. Who knew? Greek momos! Tenzin acknowledges that every Tibetan family tweaks the basic recipe to their own taste, but there are some lines that he considers inviolate. When I mentioned to him that the first momos I’d eaten had a puffy texture and appearance, not unlike a steamed bun, he frowned. “Some people add a little yeast or baking powder to their dough.” He paused and looked me in the eye. “This is wrong.” Then he laughed. “The important thing is not to make the dough too thick or skimp on the filling. You don’t want to make momos like the Tibetan school I went to in India. The students said you had to take three bites out of the momo before you got to the filling.”
Tenzin’s hands and fingers had the same disembodied quality that you see in Puglian cooks making orecchiette or cavatelli. He held a disc of dough in one hand, spooned a dollop of filling into it, then pinched the edges of the dough together without pausing his story or bothering to look at the momo. A line of of plump Tibetan dumplings dropped from his hands onto the floured cutting boarding like so many baby pigeons loosed from a magician’s palms. I had to make him slow down just so I could photograph him at 1/200th of a second. In the recipe itself we give you brief directions on how to form half-moon momos, the simplest of the three kinds in the post. But we’ve provided galleries of photos with instructive captions for half-moon, round, and tsi tsi momos, the kind most often used in momo soup. For Tibetans, momos are as much about socializing as eating – everyone helps make them and then everyone eats them together. So speed dial some friends and make momos together. Everybody’s initial momos will be clunky. And then everyone will get better. Together. Enjoy. Ken
BEHIND THE SCENES: If you’d like to see what really goes on when we cook and take photographs, check out Ayako Mathies’s post about her visit to The Garum Factory.
Tenzin’s Beef Momos with Chili Dipping Sauce
- 1 clove garlic
- 2/3 cup water
- 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ½ pound finely minced organic 80-20 beef
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil + additional for the steamer
- 1/3 cup onion, cut into 1/8 inch dice
- 2 scallions, trimmed and sliced paper thin
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 5 teaspoons soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Mash the garlic in a mortar and pestle with a few tablespoons water. Add the remaining water and allow to steep 30 minutes.
- Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. Strain the water through a sieve into well in the flour. Use a circular motion with your fingers to incorporate the water into the flour and then knead in the bowl or on the counter for 3 minutes or so to make a stiff smooth dough. Cover and let rest 30 minutes.
- Separate the dough into 4 pieces. Roll the pieces into 1 inch ropes. Cut or break the ropes into ½ ounce pieces and then roll into balls. Dust with flour and flatten slightly. Using a small rolling pin, roll the balls into 2 inch rounds, putting pressure on the edges. You want the edges to be thinner than the center. Dust with flour and stack.
- Put all of the ingredients into a bowl and mix until blended. Cook a small piece of the mixture and taste. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
- Put a tablespoon of filling in the center of each round. To make the classic Pleat the edges to form the momo, then gently tug the ends and use your thumbs to massage the momo into a crescent–the classic half-moon shape.
- Brush an aluminum or bamboo steamer with oil to keep the momos from sticking. Set the momos in the steamer, so they aren’t touching.
- Set the steamer on top of a pot of boiling water and steam 15-20 minutes.
- The momo are ready when your fingers don’t stick to them.
- Serve immediately with Sepen dipping sauce.
Sepen – Chili Dipping Sauce
Note: This made just enough to give each momo a fiery little dip. I’d double or even triple the quantities – you’ll figure out what to do with the leftovers.
- ¼ cup onion cut into 1/8-inch dice
- 3 tablespoon scallions, sliced paper thin
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 6-8 bird chiles, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons safflower oil
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
- Combine the onion, 2 tablespoons scallions, garlic and chilis in a mortar and pestle. Add a tablespoon of oil and mash everything to a paste. Add the soy sauce and mash again.
- Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in small pan. Add the scallions and cook 1 minute. Add the paste and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic. Add 2 tablespoons water and cook 30 seconds.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro and cumin. Taste, then season with salt.
- Mix everything together and allow to macerate.
- Serve with momos.
Making momos with Tenzin reminded me of why I cook. He showed me how to make the tsi tsi momo shape, a complicated origami-like fold. Holy shit… that’s the shape we’ve been trying to master at Rialto for the classic Sardinian curlugiones. They are the same. How does that happen? Ravioli from Sardinia and momos from Tibet? Worlds apart, yet common ground. Did the Tibetans and Sardinians each come up with the shape themselves? Or did it travel along trade routes? I still don’t know the answer.
Tenzin is elegant and exact. As you can see, his momos are perfect. It makes me want to practice and practice and practice.
How to fold half-moon momos
Oblong momos, pleated along a center ridge line, then formed into a crescent.
NOTE: Roll your mouse over the photos to see the explanatory captions. Click on the photo if the caption isn’t completely visible. You can also click on a photo to be taken step-by-step through the process.
How to fold round momos
Circular momos, pleated around the rim, pinched at a central spot.
How to fold tsi tsi momos… the tricky ones
Oblong momos, pleated along a central ridge, the pleats alternating sides.