have been talking about how India is home to some small traditionally non-Indian communities who are today very much a part of India today. Apart from the Parsis, Iranis, Jews, Chinese, India is also home to a small population of Tibetans including their leader His Holiness The Dalai Lama. The other communities I have mentioned have are very Indian today though they have retained a lot of their original customs and traditions, but the Tibetans are here through political asylum, and most of them dream of going back to a free Tibet.
Tibetans have lived in India since 1960 and being a refugee in any part of the world is not easy. Not only do you not have a home country anymore, but it is very difficult staying and making a living in another place where the language, traditions and way of life are very different.
One thing they have given India is Tibetan food. Tibetan food has not taken over India like Chinese food but wherever there are settlements of Tibetans in India, they run very popular eateries and restaurants. Momos are probably the most popular Tibetan food and there are many people who earn a living from just selling Momos from food carts or small stalls. Its not an easy life but it is an honest living.
I have lived in and visited a few places in India but I have only a faint memory of my one acquaintance with Tibetan food in the form of Momos. I’ve never seen Tibetan restaurants/ eateries in the places I’ve lived and unfortunately never got around to eating in one whenever we’ve travelled.
There is now a restaurant in my neighbourhood that serves South East Asian food but the last time we went there we didn’t have the time to wait for the Momos, so that’s for next time. Now, what that all boils down to is that if I want Momos, I have to make them. I’ll go into Momos in detail further down in the post.
Simone’s monthly photograph exercise where this month’s recipe features Asian dstyle dumplings was the prompt I needed to get me going. I’ll talk about the photography exercise first and the recipe after that.
This month she chose Mushroom Dumplings With A Ginger And Shiitake Broth from the April/ May issue (# 62) of the Donna Hay magazine. The photograph that we had to re-create/ re-interpret is styled by Steve Pearce and photographed by Chris Court.
Chris Court's photograph from the magazine (Courtesy: Simone of Junglefrog Cooking)
Working with what I had meant no metal background but a white one, and that meant I couldn’t get that lovely blue-grey. I had a lovely grey background paper, but it’s gone AWOL and I couldn’t find it.
I did have a deep soup bowl but I felt my dumplings weren’t showing to advantage in that so I used another one. And my soup spoons had a pretty blue flower in them!
Well, I did the best I could. It’s been pouring outside the past 3 days and I haven’t even seen a hint of the sun, so I worked with whatever natural light there was. I wasn’t able to get the shadow at the bottom of the bowl which would have lent a slightly “moody” nature, because I have two windows in my living/ dining area (one on the left and one on the right).
I took a couple of differently composed shots keeping with the same theme more or less also. One was with the dumplings served separately with the broth and another was vertical shot.
I shot the first photograph in this post with a 50mm f/1.8mm lens at aperture f/ 3.2, shutterspeed 2.5s (it was very overcast) and ISO 100.
Now for the Momos(Dumplings and the Gingery Broth. Donna Hay’s dumplings are filled with mushroom and galangal and served in a ginger and shiitake broth. A good thing but we don’t like mushrooms. And even if we did all we get here are fresh ones, mostly button mushrooms.
So that meant that I was going to make mushroom free dumplings, and I thought that Momos were a perfect fit. Momos are Tibetan/ Nepali dumplings made with a decoratively outer skin made from flour, and stuffed with meat or vegetables. They’re mostly steam cooked but can be pan fried after steam cooking or just deep-fried.
Momos in Tibet and similar dumplings from other parts of South Eastern and Eastern Asia probably have their origins in the Chinese Jiaozi. The word “Momo” itself means steamed bread. In Tibetan cuisine, meat Momos (Sha Momo) are traditionally filled with minced Yak meat but with minced beef these days. They are usually shaped into round pleated pouches whereas the vegetarian versions (Shamey Momo) are usually pleated half-moon shaped dumplings.
The dumplings put into soup are usually pleated and shaped to look somewhat like little mice. But there is no hard and fast rule about the shapes when you make them at home since one makes whichever one is easier (usually the half-moon shaped ones) to shape.
We don’t get readymade Momo wrappers here so I made mine from scratch which is not a bad thing because home-made is always the best! It is a bit time consuming, but like most Indians, I’m used to rolling out dough for flatbreads regularly so it wasn’t too much of an effort for me.
Shaping the Momos takes a little practise and watching some videos is one way to learn this as I found. The first couple of Momos I made were disasters but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I made mine filled with a mixture of minced cabbage, tofu and ginger seasoned with soya sauce and pepper.
My broth was a sweet, sour and gingery one garnished with coriander leaves and spring onions. The recipe for the broth is more of a guide, so please adjust the seasoning/ ingredients to suit your taste. You can also add some grated vegetable like carrot and Daikon radish for a more flavoursome broth.
This sort of a Momo soup is called Shamey Mothuk by the Tibetans, meaning “meatless Momo soup”. If this soup was served in Tibet or anywhere where temperatures tend to be on the lower side, I can see how the hot gingery broth could turn your insides toasty warm. I personally found the broth a bit of an acquired taste. I’d rather have my Momos steaming hot but with dipping sauces on the side.
Tibetan Style Momos (Dumplings) In A Gingery Broth
For the Momos (Dumplings):
For The Wrapper Dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 to 1 cup water
For The Filling:
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp crushed cumin seeds
2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp garlic paste
3 cups cabbage, minced
2 big or 3 small onions, minced
75 gm tofu, crumbled fine
1 to 2 tsp dark soya sauce
Salt and freshly crushed black pepper to taste
For The Gingery Broth:
6 cups vegetable stock
2 tbsp minced ginger
3/4 tsp garlic paste
1 tbsp dark soya sauce
1 tbsp rice wine or plain vinegar
1 tbsp powdered jaggery (or brown sugar)
2 tbsp chopped spring onions for garnishing
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander for garnishing
Some thinly sliced red chilli and chilli oil to serve
Make the wrapper dough first. Put the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and lightly whick together to mix. Make hole in the centre and pour in 3/4 cup water. Mix it in and knead into a stiff-ish dough using your fingers, adding a little more water if required. You can do this in the food processor to make it easier on your hands.
Your dough should be stiffer than bread dough but pliable when kneading. Cover and leave the dough to rest for about 30 to 45 minutes.
While the dough is resting, make the filling. Heat the oil in a wok, and stir fry the cumin seeds, ginger, garlic, onions and cabbage on high for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the soya sauce, salt and tofu. Mix well and allow to cool.
Now take the dough and make the wrapper circles. There are two ways of doing this. One is to pinch off little bits of dough and roll out each one into a 4” round. This is a good way to go if you’re a dough rolling whizz and can make evenly shaped and sized rounds very quickly.
The other way is to divide the dough into 2 or 3 pieces and then roll it out quite thin, not phyllo thin or transparent, but still thin. Then use a sharp edged glass or a 4” round cutter to cut out your circles. The advantage is that you get evenly thin and round wrappers.
Whichever way you go, dust your work surface with flour and start rolling. Once you’ve got your wrapper rounds, put a generous amount of filling in the centre of each round and shape them in to Momos. Do not skimp on the filling because the joy of eating a Momo is to bite into one and eat the warm juicy filling. On the other hand if you’re too generous, you might find it difficult to shape you Momos!
Place the momos on a flour dusted surface or plate, and cover with a towel so they do nt dry out. Now make the broth.
Place all the ingredients for the broth except the coriander leaves and the spring onions in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Turn up the heat to medium and the Momos (dumplings) to the broth. Also add grated vegetables if using. Let them cook for a few minutes until the Momos start becoming transparent and are done.
Ladle out into serving bowls, and top with coriander leaves and spring onions. Serve hot with sliced chillies or chilli oil or other condiments/ sauces of choice.
This served 4 to 6 people.