Tibetan Hot Sauce: YoWangdu’s Favorite Sepen Recipe

I am not like some of my Tibetan friends who are crazy about eating super hot sauce (sepen). I like this one because it is pretty mild and when I was little, my aunt used to make a hot sauce like this quite often during the summer time, which was the time we could get fresh tomatoes.  In the last few years I have been thinking about creating this recipe. I tried so many times to make a hot sauce like my aunt’s, and finally I made this one, which is pretty close to her original recipe.  If don’t like super hot sauce but you like to eat hot sauce for the flavor, this one is for you! Yolanda and many of our American friends love it so I would love to share this with you.

Tomato based Tibetan hot sauce
Tomato-based Tibetan hot sauce (sepen) recipe.

Ingredients

  • ~9 tomatoes (1 pound 6 oz): I use Roma tomatoes but you can use any kind you like.
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 2 hot peppers (I have used both green and red Jalapeno peppers. Any pepper okay. Test amounts to suit your wish for spiciness.)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • few sprigs of cilantro
  • 1/4 cup oil (For cooking. Use any veg oil. I use Avocado or Sunflower)

Optional (very tasty!)

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground emma (erma/yerma/Schizuan pepper)
Ingredients for our sepen –Tibetan Hot Sauce
Ingredients for our sepen –Tibetan Hot Sauce

Preparation

  • Blend tomatoes, garlic, emma, and peppers in a blender or food processor.*
  • Heat oil in pot until hot
  • Add the blended tomato sauce to the pot and cook on medium high (8 out of 10 on our stove) until it starts to boil.
  • While the tomato sauce is coming to a boil, dice your celery, and add celery and salt to the sauce.
  • Let the sauce boil pretty well for about 5 minutes
  • Turn stove down to medium (5 out of 10 on our stove)
  • Cook another 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.
  • After 45 minutes, turn down a little more (4 out of 10 on our stove).
  • Cook 15 more minutes or until you like the consistency. As you see in the photo above, I like most of the liquid cooked out.
  • Just before done, add your roughly chopped cilantro.
  • Eat it up!
Food Processor

*If you don’t have a blender or food processor you can boil the tomatoes ahead of time, for about 5 minutes or until the skin loosens on the tomatoes. You can then remove the tomato skins and just chop the tomato well for your sauce.

Cooking the sauce for about an hour over medium to low heat
Cooking the sauce for about an hour over medium to low heat

This hot sauce goes well with momos, shabalep, and lots of mixed vegetable dishes. I like to add it to mixed veggies and serve over rice. 

More hot sauce recipes: 

Tibetan Home Cooking

Tibetan Home Cooking

Bring joy to the people you love by making your own delicious, authentic Tibetan meals

Updated on January 20, 2020. First published on November 11, 2017.

Your Tibet travel guides, Lobsang and Yolanda

Most people who want to go to Tibet don't know how to get there or who to trust for help. We’re Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon, and we help make Tibet travel more simple, safe and ethical so you can feel peace of mind about your trip.

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Comments

  1. erikanewsletters@yahoo.com@gmail.com says

    Sorry. but this is more like a recipe for Mexican salsa.
    We rode our bikes across China for 6 months, through Tibet for more than a month and in Nepal for another month. Never came across a hot sauce like this. Neither cilantro nor tomatoes were available where we traveled through Tibet. Jalapeňos, doubt they even heard of or have them. Avocado oil…really?

    • yowangdu says

      Thanks for the perspective Erika. This recipe is Lobsang’s attempt to recreate his Aunt’s sepen, from Lhasa, where tomatoes have been available in the summer for many decades, probably through hothouses (Lobsang doesn’t remember where they came from). The other ingredients are locally sourced from our home area in the San Francisco Bay Area, so not meant to represent traditional Tibetan recipes ingredients. It may resemble a Mexican salsa in ingredients, but definitely hits the spot for Lobsang’s nostalgia of his Aunt’s sepen 🙂 There are many, many varieties of sepen in the far-flung Tibetan communities around the world, with Indian, Nepali, Bhutanese and Chinese influences You likely experienced some of the very simplest forms in areas outside of Lhasa. In the Lhasa area, one of the simplest forms is called sepen mangdu, and is chili powder, water and salt. Perfect and delicious in itself as well! How lucky for you to be able to ride your bikes across Tibet and Nepal! The best to you.

  2. Carlos Rendon says

    I love Tibetan food and everything Tibet. I am from a small Mayan village in southern Yucatan and my mom would make this exact same salsa to go on top of eggs for breakfast. It’s simply delicious in everything. We add onions instead of celery. I can’t wait to try it on beef momos!!

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