Appetizers are a crucial aspect of any holiday party and we think these Tibetan momos make stunning starters. Not unlike baozi or gyoza, momos are small purses of tender steamed dough that encases, in this case, delicious vegetable fillings. In this recipe by Eva Agha of The Curious Chickpea (adapted from YoWangdu and CookingShooking), the filling is made of cabbage, carrot, scallion, and tofu enhanced with aromatic garlic and ginger and sprigs of delicate, vibrant cilantro.
On their own, these momos are phenomenally scrumptious, but when paired with the spicy sesame tomato chutney they are sheer perfection. Aside from their show stopping flavor, the momos are visually stunning. Agha includes a video tutorial instructing how to fold the dough into idyllic pleated dumplings complete with small central openings that offer a peak at the colourful filling within. And, as these momos are vegan, they're a bite-sized dish that the vegetarians and vegans in your family can also enjoy this holiday! We also love to make folding these adorable treats a family event; although your dumplings will undoubtedly be irregular the memories you'll make carefully navigating the pleats are well worth any wonky momos!
We want to give a huge shoutout to Agha for this recipe. The amount of detail and insight she's included makes this one of the most thoughtful recipes we've tried!
These handmade Tibetan vegetable momos are served with a spicy tomato sesame chutney and make a delicious appetizer or snack!
I’m really excited to share today’s recipe with you. These Tibetan momos are a food that is as cute as the name sounds!
We’re talking dumplings, stuffed with a delicious cabbage, carrot, and onion filling. Spiced with garlic, ginger, cilantro, and a very generous amount of black pepper.
Studded with crumbled tofu and wrapped up in the cutest little round package, steamed and then served with a mouth watering spicy sesame tomato chutney.
It’s unclear whether momos have reached foodie fame because of their cute name, because they are really fun to eat, or because they’re crazy good. If you’ve never had a momo, it’s easy to fix!
You don’t need any special ingredients for this dumpling recipe, and the only “fancy” equipment you need is some steamer set up for your stove.
Momos are a great first foray into Tibetan food if you’re unfamiliar. Tibetan food is not traditionally the most vegan friendly cuisine, as the country’s high altitudes make growing crops a challenge. But vegetarian offerings are easier to find outside of Tibet, and it’s not a challenge to stuff a vegetable filling into dumpling dough!
I grew up in a college town in the Midwest, and while it was quite a diverse community with a lot of opportunities to get out of your comfort zone, it was still easy to encounter people who had little experience with foods from other cultures.
I once had a friend’s parent ask me if Thai food was like Indian food. At the time, 16 year old Eva thought that was a joke, how could two cuisines be any more different??!
But thinking back, if you’re consuming the SAD (standard American diet), a boldly flavored Thai cuisine might remind your taste buds of spicy Indian cuisine. And things get fuzzier for me when we move into areas that are bordering one another.
So if you asked me if Tibetan food was like Indian or Nepalese or Chinese food, well, not exactly as it’s its own thing.. but you do start to see overlap of flavors and types of dishes when countries border each other. There’s also the matter that India and China are big and diverse countries themselves with many different cuisines within them.
I guess all I’m trying to say here is that if you enjoy foods and flavors from Asian cuisines and haven’t ventured into Tibetan cooking or restaurants give it a go! Tibetan momos are a cute and familiar food, with variations of dumplings found across the Asian continent (and around the world).
HOW TO MAKE MOMO:
As complicated as they look, momo are actually really simple to make. Essentially, you mix together a 4-ingredient dough then let it rest while you pull together the filling. Next, roll out the dough, cut it into circles, add the filling, then fold and pleat the dough into your desired dumpling shape. Steam them, and eat them with chutney while hot!
Whipping up a batch of momo now takes me just 1 hour, some of that time being hands off, and then maybe 15 minutes at the end to steam all of them. Your first time might take a bit longer, and if you have a helper you can really cut that time down!
OK NOW LET’S TALK MORE DETAIL: FIRST, THE DUMPLING DOUGH.
It’s an easy recipe, using just flour, salt, water, and a little oil. The oil makes the dough more supple and helps keep it from drying out. As such I don’t recommend leaving it out for momo- and dumpling-newbies.
Mix the flour and salt to integrate the salt, then add the water and oil. Combine to create a shaggy dough, then turn the dough onto a clean and floured counter and knead the dough until it comes together to form a smooth ball. Add more flour as needed to keep it from sticking, and at the end the dough should be just barely tacky.
Usually the dough comes together in just 5 minutes, then stick it back in the bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel. The damp towel keeps the dough fresh and hydrated. Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes, but you can also make it a couple of hours in advance.
Resting the dough is essential as it gives the gluten a chance to relax and the flour a chance to absorb the water so it’s easier to handle. If you skip this step rolling the dough out thinly is going to be a probably unsuccessful nightmare.
WHILE THE DOUGH RESTS, WE WHIP UP THE VEGETABLE FILLING.
In my momo research, I came across two common ways to prepare the filling. One is to cook the filling before making the dumplings, the other is to encourage the vegetables to release their water with salt and to not cook the filling. I went with the second option, as I liked the idea of cutting out the extra step of cooking and think it leads to a juicier filling.
First shred your cabbage. I found this to be a bit of a pain on a box grater, and recommend if you do so, don’t cut the cabbage first but instead keep the entire head intact while you shred.
Alternatively you can use a food processor or chop everything up extra finely by hand. Shredding carrots is a bit easier, they can shredded by box grater, food processor (I recommend grating then switching to a S-curve blade and pulsing to chop it extra finely) or by mincing with a knife.
Add the cabbage and carrots to a large mixing bowl and toss in thinly sliced scallions. Add the 2 teaspoons of salt and toss everything to combine. Let the vegetables sit for 5-10 minutes, which gives the salt a chance to release the water in the cabbage. Then squeeze out that water.
This is easily done through a nut milk bag, muslin, a thin kitchen towel, or a few layers of cheese cloth. You don’t need to squeeze out every last drop of moisture, just give it a few good squeezes so you don’t get a watery momo filling.
Next we add the remaining ingredients to the filling: ginger, garlic, and cilantro are the only spices we need here. Well, along with a generous addition of freshly ground black pepper.
Add crumbled tofu (which sneakily means you can enjoy these Tibetan dumplings as a complete meal, as long as you eat enough to fill you up!) and a drizzle of oil. The oil adds richness to the filling and keeps it juicy. Taste the filling as you may find it needs an extra sprinkle of salt since a lot of the salt was squeezed out of it before.
At this point you can relax a little, do the dishes, twiddle your thumbs, make the chutney, or whatever you’d like while you wait for your dough to finish resting.
SHAPING THE MOMO:
There are many ways to shape momo dumplings and this is just one way, and you don’t have to do it my way if you’d prefer a different method. To start, we roll out the dough thinly. You can pull off small pieces of dough (golf ball sized-ish) and roll them into ~4-inch circles, but I find this to take a lot longer and be more challenging.
Instead, I divide the dough into two pieces and roll out a large thin sheet of dough. Then I take a biscuit cutter (but any round cookie cutter, an overturned glass, or a properly sized lid can be used) to cut out large circles. You want 3 1/2″ to 4″ circles.
You can always roll the circles out a little bit more after they’ve been cut if you’d like or if you need to get them a bit thinner. Pull away the scraps of dough after cutting and return it to the mixing bowl to cover with the damp cloth.
Next, I will try to explain the process of how I fold the dough to shape the momo, but please refer to the video at the end of the post for visuals!
Place one circle of dough in the palm of your non-dominant hand. You can leave the remaining circles of dough out as long as you aren’t super slow (otherwise cover them with a damp towel so they don’t dry out too much).
I’m able to make about a dozen at a time without the dough drying out too much while I shape, but I do flip them over so the stickier side faces up on my palm. Add about 1 tbsp of filling to center of the dough, then using the thumb and pointer finger of your dominant hand to flute the dough and pinch it together.
Your dominant hand thumb stays in place while your pointer finger and your non-dominant hand thumb help push the remaining dough to flute and seal. Once all the dough from the circumference of the circle has been used you can either leave it open as I have here, or press the last flap of dough across to seal the top for a closed dumpling.