As I write this it is the Tibetan New Year tomorrow. Losar is a time to renew one’s resolve to practice virtue and generosity over the year ahead, as well as an excuse to have a family get together.
Momo making and eating is a big part of this for us, although in the Lhasa area it is considered better to eat momos on the second, rather than the first day of the New Year. Apparently the closed dough could signify shutting off one’s good luck for the year ahead. I was taught how to make momos by someone from the Amdo area so we have always eaten them at Losar as well as often throughout the year.
I have to admit that I have never been able to make the beautifully neat ‘professional’ momos that my instructor Dakpa showed me years ago at Samye Ling Tibetan Centre. Although slightly more rough and ready looking, mine are still delicious (if I say so myself)!
In our house we usually make spinach and cheese momos, but a more traditional filling is mutton or beef. If I am making momos with a filling that I am less familiar with I generally refer to Tsering Wangmo and Zara Houshmand’s excellent book ‘The Lhasa Moon Tibetan Cookbook’. It has detailed instructions for making them as well as other delicious Tibetan recipes.
The whole family lend a hand at stuffing the momos once the dough and the filling are prepared so they contain much love and laughter as well as delicious ingredients!
Here is my recipe for spinach and cheese momos, adapted from ‘The Lhasa Moon Tibetan Cookbook’. I use spelt flour but you can use ordinary flour if you prefer. If you are using gluten free flour you will need to ensure that you have enough xanthan gum to get a workable dough which will stay together when stuffed and steamed.
First make the dough. Two and a half cups spelt flour (I use white spelt flour for this) and three quarters of a cup of water makes enough dough to serve four people. Make double quantities if you want extra to freeze.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and mix the water in gradually so that you get a smooth dough. Add extra water as needed depending on the flour that you are using. Knead the dough well, it should be moist and a little shiny – not sticky. Leave it covered to rest while you make the filling.
Second make the filling.
Ingredients (enough for four people, again make double if you want extra momos for freezing)
1lb fresh spinach
1/4 cup oil
1.5 onions chopped
3/4 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 inches fresh ginger, finely chopped
6 spring onions, chopped
1lb feta cheese chopped
Chop the raw spinach finely. Fry the onions in the oil until transparent and add the spices. Fry briefly before adding the spinach and the chopped spring onions, mix lightly until the spinach is just wilting and then remove from the heat. Stir in the cheese.
Third fill the momos and steam them.
Knead the dough and when it is nicely elastic roll it into a long cylinder on a floured table. The cylinder should be about 1″ in diameter. Break of balls of dough about 1″ in diameter to make each momo.
Make a nice ball of dough by rolling it in your hands and then press your thumb into the centre and then flatten the sphere into a disc leaving the middle bit slightly thicker than the edges. You can do this by working it with your thumbs or you can use a rolling pin. See what works best for you. Place a tablespoon of filling in the centre of the disc and close up the momo. You will find that the dough stretches to accommodate the filling. You don’t need to moisten the edges to seal them, just pinch them closed.
I tend to make crescent shaped momos as they seem easier, but there are different shapes that you can choose and essential if you are making more than one type of filling. The main thing is to make sure they are well sealed so that the contents stay inside when being steamed.
Place the filled momos into a steamer which has been lightly oiled to prevent them sticking. Try to avoid them touching too much as they will stick to each other. Spinach and cheese momos only need to be steamed for 4 minutes. You know that they are done when the dough is no longer sticky. Just prod one with your finger and you will see what I mean.
If you make a double batch you can freeze some for another meal. To cook just place the frozen momos in a steamer and steam for around 12 minutes. Any left over cooked momos can be eaten cold as part of a packed lunch the next day.
Momos are traditionally eaten with a nice hot chilli sauce, and we serve ours with a big green salad too – although I am not sure this is a very authentic accompaniment!
Losar Tashi Delek to all!
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