Last week we had a guest who’s family is from China. Over dinner we started talking about food in Europe, Mexico, India, China, and around the world. I asked him what type of food he likes to make at home, and he told us about getting together with his family over the holidays to make dumplings. He had lots of fond memories, and said that the process is in fact easy. I had never thought that it would be possible, much less easy to make dumplings at home, but now was inspired to try! There are many different kinds of dumplings, but the kind I immediately wanted to make were Tibetan momos.
Tibet in India
It was the Tibetan community that brought momos to India from the north.
Though the most famous Tibetan settlement is probably Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama resides, there are many more. Bylakuppe, in Karnataka, is actually the oldest Tibetan settlement in India. It was started in 1961 by Nehru, originally as a temporary camp, and is now the second largest Tibetan settlement in India.
Momo Wrapper Recipe
For about a cup of maida, add 1 teaspoon of oil and 1 teaspoon of salt and mix well. Then, add boiling hot water a little at a time, mixing with a fork to form a shaggy ball of dough. When it is cool enough to touch, knead it well so a soft dough forms and let it rest for at least 15 minutes.
The hot water is very important in this step. The heat destroys the proteins which form gluten in bread, making the dough less stretchy. This makes it easier to work with because it won’t shrink back, so you get the wrappers very thin. It also makes the texture in the final momo soft rather than chewy or tough to bite into.
Momo Filling Recipe
Take a cup of any grated or finely chopped vegetables and sauté it in a little bit of oil with chopped ginger, garlic, salt, pepper, red chili and lemongrass or basil (if you have on hand). Just cook until most of the moisture is gone (the filling will continue to cook inside the momo, but it would be too watery if you put it in raw). For a non-veg momo, do the above, and once cool, mix it with your ground meat (remember to over-season the vegetables to compensate for the meat not having seasoning).
I made two fillings, one with zucchini, onion and red pepper, and the other one with carrot and chicken. You can also use cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, spring onion or paneer.
Forming the Momos
Start boiling the water in your steamer. You can improvise a steamer by taking a big pot with 1 inch of water at the bottom and setting a wire strainer inside. Our guest also told us that you can simply boil them instead. Take a small ball of dough (half the diameter of what you would use for a roti), and roll it into a thin circle using a little flour if necessary. Put a spoonful of filling in the middle, and seal it shut. You can simply fold it over and press shut or, to get the restaurant look, pick up the side and make a sequence of small pleats, pressing each one to keep it in place, until you have an equal length of pleats and smooth edge. Then, just press the sides shut.
Set several momos in the steamer at the same time and keep them covered. They should be ready in 6-8 minutes, and will feel tacky but not sticky when done. Remove them from the steamer right away (otherwise they will stick).
Chili Sauce Recipe
I started with some sambal oelek, but if you don’t have that on hand, soak some red chili flakes or even dried red chilies in a little bit of hot water. Grind a 1/2 inch piece of ginger and a small garlic clove with 1 teaspoon of white vinegar and 1 tablespoon of jaggery (and the red chili if whole). Mix with an equal amount of sambal, add water to get it to the right consistency, and salt or soy sauce to taste.
Where to Find Momos
Dumplings are popular in their various forms all over the world. You get authentic momos in the north at places such as Orchard in Dehradun. Sitting in the mountains overlooking the valley, the views are breathtaking and bring a sense of peace along with the food. You can also get momos at a busy street stand in almost any city in India; in fact, I had momos on my first trip to Bangalore. But now, you can also get great momos at home!