Utterly unique and delicious, Tibetan dumplings are basically the unofficial national dish of Tibet.
If you would like to explore more of the wonderfully comforting, unusual flavors of traditional Tibetan food, please see our Tibetan Home Cooking eBook and video series.
Every Tibetan family has a slightly different momo recipe, with various theories on how to make them the most juicy and delicious, or how to keep the dough skins to the desired delicate thinness.
The variations are endless – momos can be meat, vegetarian, steamed (the most popular), fried, and cooked in soup.
Here, we show you how to cook both beef momos and Lobsang’s unique and wonderful vegetarian momos :-) You might like to try also his cheese and spinach momos recipe. And learn how many calories are in steamed veg momos.
In case you’re wondering, the word “momo” is pronounced with the same “o” sound as in “so-so.”
First of all, make the dough.
If you want to make momo dough for four people, use about 2 cups of wheat flour (we don’t use whole wheat, but rather use white, all-purpose flour) and somewhere between 3/4 cups and 1 cup of water. The amount will depend on your particular flour. (You don’t have to be very exact about these measurements — Tibetans never are!)
Mix the flour and water very well by hand and keep adding water until you make a pretty smooth ball of dough.
Then knead the dough very well until the dough is flexible.
Now leave your dough in the pot with the lid on while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
You should not let the dough dry out, or it will be hard to work with.
We make momo’s with either meat or vegetables.
In Tibet, they often use yak meat, but here in the United States, we usually use beef, or just vegetables for our vegetarian friends.
For vegetable momo filling:
Chop all the following ingredients into very, very small pieces:
- Two onions
- Two inches fresh ginger
- Two or three cloves of garlic
- A bunch of cilantro
- One pound of cabbage
- One pound of tofu*
- One quarter pound of dark brown mushrooms (I buy them dried from Asian markets)*
- Two tablespoons of soy sauce
- One teaspoon of chicken, beef or vegetable bouillon
*don’t use these if you are making meat momos
For meat momo filling, add:
One pound of ground beef: This beef replaces the mushrooms and tofu in the vegetable recipe.
If you have enough time, you can use un-ground beef and chop the meat into very small pieces.
For both kinds of momos, put all of the ingredients in a pot or big bowl, then add a teaspoon of bouillon and two tablespoons of soy sauce.
Mix everything together very well.
(If you are making meat momo’s with ground beef, you may need to use your hands to mix it up.)
Shaping the Momos
When your dough and filling are both ready, it is time for the tricky part of making the dumpling shapes.
For this, place the dough on a chopping board and use a rolling pin to roll it out quite thinly.
It should not be so thin that you can see through it when you pick it up, nor should it be quite as thick as a floppy disk for a computer (remember those? :-).
Somewhere between those two should work out.
After you have rolled out the dough, you will need to cut it into little circles for each momo.
The easiest way to do this is turn a small cup or glass upside down to cut out circles about the size of the palm of your hand.
That way, you don’t have to worry about making good circles of dough because each one will be the same size and shape.
Of course, you can also make the circles by the more traditional, and more difficult, way of pinching off a small ball of dough and rolling each ball in your palms until you have a smooth ball of dough.
Then, you can use a rolling pin to flatten out the dough into a circle, making the edges more thin than the middle. This is much harder to do, and takes more time, though many Tibetans still use this method.
Now that you have a small, flat, circular piece of dough, you are ready to add the filling and make the momo shapes.
There are many, many different choices for momo shapes, and I will teach you two of the most common, the basic round momo, and the half-moon shapes.
(Of these two, the half-moon shape is easier.)
For the Round Momo
For both shapes, you will need to put one circle of dough in your left hand, and add a tablespoonful of filling in the center of the dough. (Or reverse all of these instructions if you are left-handed :-)
With your right hand, begin to pinch the edge of the dough together.
You don’t need to pinch much dough in the first pinch — just enough to make a small fold between your thumb and forefinger.
Now you will have a little piece of dough pinched together, and you should continue pinching around the circle little by little, keeping your thumb in place, and continuing along the edge of the circle with your forefinger, grabbing the next little piece of dough, and folding and pinching it down into the original fold/pinch being held by your thumb.
Basically you will be pinching the whole edge of the circle into one spot.
Continue folding and pinching all around the edge of the circle until you come back around to where you started and then close the hole with a final pinch.
Make sure you close the hole on top of the momo. That way you don’t lose the juicy part of the momo.
For the Half-Moon Momo
The half-moon momo is very pretty.
For this style, you begin the same as with the round momo style, holding the flat circular dough in your left hand and putting a tablespoon of filling in the middle of the dough.
Then you have to fold your circle of dough in half, covering over the filling.
Now press together the two edges of the half circle so that there is no open edge in your half circle, and the filling is completely enclosed in the dough.
You will now have the basic half-moon shape, and you can make your momo pretty by pinching and folding along the curved edge of the half circle.
Start at one tip of the half-moon, and fold over a very small piece of dough, pinching it down.
Continue folding and pinching from the starting point, moving along the edge until you reach the other tip of the half-moon.
You can experiment with different folds and pinches to find the way that is easiest and nicest for you.
As you are making your momos, you will need to have a non-stick surface and a damp cloth or lid handy to keep the momo’s you’ve made from drying out while you’re finishing the others.
You can lay the momos in the lightly-greased steamer and keep the lid on them, or you can lay them on wax paper and cover them with the damp cloth.
Last Step: Steaming the Momos
Finally, you should boil water in a large steamer. (Tibetans often use double or even huge triple-decker steamers, to make many momos at one time.)
Oil the steamer surface lightly before putting the momos in, so they won’t stick to the metal, then place as many as you can without touching each other.
Add the momos after the water is already boiling.
Steam the momos for about 10 minutes, then serve them hot, with soy sauce or hot sauce of your choice to dip them in.
Tibetan hot sauce, sepen, is perfect for momos.
At home, along with homemade sepen, we use soy sauce and the spicy version of Patak’s Hot Lime Relish, which we get in Indian stores, or the Asian section of supermarkets.
Be careful when you take the first bite of the hot momos since the juice is very, very hot, and can burn you easily.
Momos are very good for your social life. When we are making momos, we chat and have a lot of fun. And they taste great!
To see momo making done by two masters, watch David Johnson’s spare, poignant short documentary, “Momo,” about two Tibetan refugees living in Dharamsala, India who make momo’s for a living.
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You can get a step-by-step video showing you how to cook steamed vegetarian and meat momos, as well as recipes and videos for almost every classic Tibetan food, in our Tibetan Home Cooking ebook and video series >>
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By Lobsang Wangdu