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.
WOW. Beautiful dough, but that filling looks pretty incredible. Works of art, those are.
You should have seen Tenzin go. He could have given an Italian nona making orecchiette a serious run for her money. I think making momos is one of those skills you learn as a Tibetan as soon as you’re old enough to see over the edge of the table. Ken
I will be coming back to this post. I would really like to try making momo’s. Uncomplicated as it may seem I imagine this challenge comes in the folding. Brilliant how you included step by step folding photographs with directions! Thank you! What a blast it must of been having Tenzin’s over…
Pretty impressive, I’ll tell you that. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have 5 Tibetans in a room making these guys – but I intend to find out, and photograph it when it happens. Glad you appreciate the directions – it was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever shot. Ken
Thanks. Of cours there was a reward afterward. :-) Ken
Those look gorgeous as does the punch! What beautiful photos! I can’t wait to try making these. My little dumpling lover will probably gladly assist and she is my pastry girl with way more patience and dexterous fingers than mine so I’m sure she’ll make them beautiful!
You’ll have a blast. If you photograph them you’ll have a memento that will make you laugh years from now, because you’re only bad at making them once. I have a shot of Roxanne sliding a pizza in the oven when the peel is taller than she is that I treasure. Ken
The momos look absolutely great. And they look similar to our gyoza more so than the momo I know from Bhutan (http://ayakomathies.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/r0021837.jpg). And cheese (I think of yak) momo is the most popular.
You’re right about the yak – we’re just a little short on yak around here. (I know a Nepalese waiter who wants to start a yak farm to supply all the immigrants who love the meat and order it from afar.). Tenzin tells me that cheese is popular, as well vegetarian ones made with greens and potatoes. There’s something so comforting about dumplings – I think that’s why you find them in so many cultures. Ken
Oh, wow! Those look amazing and I’d love to have a go (says the woman who hasn’t fully mastered Italian pasta yet). I’d never eaten Tibetan food until I was staying with friends in Washington DC – they seem to be on every corner there. Lovely grub.
Very simple food with a level of satisfaction all out of proportion to the effort involved in making them. And if you make them with other people the process becomes hilarious, especially if you recognize someone’s efforts even after the momos are cooked. Thanks. Ken
Thank you so much Ken!
This post is so rich.
I simply love the pictures and those momos, oh…so beautiful.
Your friend has golden hands!
I bookmarked the recipe, who knows maybe I’ll find the time to try it.
The filling looks scrumptious I almost feel I need to have a second dinner!
have a lovely weekend
“Ooh, second dinners – I don’t know if they know about second dinners.” With thanks to the screenwriters of The Hobbit. Ken
P.S. Thanks. They’re fun to make and tasty, especially with beer along the way. :-)
This is unbelievably beautiful. I love how you describe his hands. I always wondered how the steam baskets worked. So funny that as you were working on this post I was writing to you eating steamed dumplings. Bizarre. I love the dipping sauce too and that there’s cumin in it. My favorite picture is that last one with Tenzin and Milo. It’s beautiful. I will be coming back to this.
I saw your post and found myself hopping around to get the recipe – great minds eat alike. :-) Ken
…and equally gorgeous photographs. Ken
Divine, i would love to try this.. c
Give it a shot, Cecilia. I’m sure you’ve got at least one friend who’d love to join you. Of course as soon as you start steaming them a lot folks are going to start wandering toward the kitchen asking if there’s anything they can do. Ken
Oh yes, i know that type!.. have a lovely weekend.. c
Ha, I’ve had those thick skinned momos… Tenzin’s look way prettier than the ones I find in shops here, might be time to try making them. At least some of the shapes look similar to other varieties of dumplings or buns.
Ha! Beware the thick-skinned momo! If you make them with friends, it’s a hoot. (Five of us are planning a momo party.) Just make sure there’s enough beer! Ken
Momo party, now you’re giving me ideas!
Hi Ken, they look quite like Japanese Gyoza. I have to admit that I once owned a plastic press for forming these. They were always OK. Never any better. I doubt that my arthritic hands could manage this dexterity. As ever, fantastic photo storytelling.
Thanks, Conor. I think your problem was that you didn’t think to flavor them with one of your Texas chili concoctions. Then, with a little sour cream and guacamole for dipping, I think they’d have been way better than just OK. Ken
One of my very favorite posts! I love the work-at-home dad memories. Oh, and “this is wrong” – made me laugh out loud. I have never eaten a momo, but the flavors look delicious, all things I love. I can imagine that it takes a lot of practice to make a perfect-looking-and-tasting momo.
Hi, Shanna–Not as much practice as you might thing. Making them perfectly AND making them fast takes practice, but hey, it’s not a race, right? You guys should have a Tibetan restaurant near you, I assume (or do Tibetans not settle in AZ?). Anyway, if not, there’s plenty of instruction here (and elsewhere on the web). Seeing what you do as a regular matter of course, I can’t believe yours worn’t be brilliant–and your kids are gonna love them. :-) Thanks. Ken
Ken: Patience I have; speed and skill are works in progress. I appreciate your confidence in my cooking skills! ;-)
No Tibetans in Albuquerque, NM. This is *not* a food town, sad to say. We are moving next year and looking forward to returning to the land of great and diverse restaurants.
I will try your recipe for a special occasion; yes, you had great photos, instructions and notes! I liked when Jody said that she was reminded why she cooked. :-)
The only ingredient that may be hard to come by: bird chilis. Also, does the dough need any adjustment at high altitude? We are at around 6,000 feet ASL. Yes, kids will love them; they are great little eaters.
Gorgeous pic of Tenzin and Milo. We don’t have a Tibetan restaurant here, but at least one of the Indian places has momos. Wish I had a steamer basket full right now.
They are a nice thing to have on an informal evening. Nothing fancy. Good with beer. Turn on House of Cards. Ken
These look really beautiful and yummy and the pictures are great. I will try this recipe for sure :-)
Looking at your blog, I think we may have similar philosophies about the function of the pictures. :-) Ken
Great photos showing how to make the momos Ken. Love the step by step instructions. Such tasty little parcels.
We’re going to do a momo party in the fall. You’re welcome to come by. :-) Ken
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Yesterday I found this recipe. I have searched for Momo-recipes but found yours to the the most interesting.
The idea of garlicwater for the dow (I used special spelt-flour particular made for noodle-dow, it worked great) was the first special thing I noticed but when I read which ingredients are in the filling and sauce, I knew this is the recipe of my choice. It was a hit!
There remained one question:
For the chilli-dipping sauce you write:
“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.”
For the 2.nd part when the paste was added, I found “until aromatic” difficult. I know from Burmese curries that one fries a similar onion/garlic/cilantro+ginger paste until it browns, that would be aromatic for such curries. But here I was uncertain, I fried the mix for a few minutes but then when adding the water I found 30 seconds very short. Is that how it is meant, meaning that the sauce is “al dente”?
I cooked it a bit longer but I also had no spring-onions at hand and used shallots instead. I guess in Tibet spring-onions are not that available so I felt my modification was fine (and it was indeed). Also I had no fresh chilli so I used a special chilli-paste which is very aromatic (made out of fresh Japapenos but no seeds, so it is red, medium hot and very aromatic)