New Year’s Eve Night
Bright torches fly overhead
Sweeping evil far away
Losar, the Tibetan New Year begins in a couple of hours and living a very different life, I look back on my travels and remember what Losar celebrations are like. Food and barley beer flow for days and even weeks and rituals of eschewing evil and beginning anew are performed across the Tibetan world.
If we were in Tibet, we’d be making the final preparations for a festival that mixes sacred and secular practices — prayers, ceremonies, hanging prayer flags, sacred and folk dancing, partying.
In the days before Losar, Tibetan households draw pictures of the sun and moon or the eight auspicious symbols on their walls with a paste made of flour and water. In monasteries, several protector deities are honored with devotional rituals. On the last day of the year, monasteries are elaborately decorated. In homes, cakes, candies, breads, fruits and beer are offered on family altars.
There is a wonderful and unique ritual that I love in the days preceding Losar that involves imbuing a dough effigy with the bad spirit that are afflicting family members, then carrying him out of the house to the nearest intersection – so the bad spirits leave the house and will be too confused by the intersection of streets to come back. While this ritual is performed, guthuk noodle soup is prepared or served. The interesting thing about the soup are the dumplings which contain often inedible objects meant to communicate a message about the person who draws them. There are wool inclusions, those made of glass, or even coal. You guessed it – coal is for someone who has a black heart.
To begin the new year, it is also traditional to offer sprouted barley seeds and buckets of tsampa (roasted barley flour with butter) and other grains on home altars to ensure a good harvest. Laypeople visit friends to wish them Tashi Delek or “auspicious greetings”.
The second day of Losar, called King’s” Losar, is for honoring community and national leaders. Long ago, it was a day for kings to hand out gifts at public festivals.
On the third day of Losar, laypeople make special offerings to the dharma protectors. They raise prayer flags from hills, mountains and rooftops and burn juniper leaves and incense as offerings. The dharmapalas are praised in chant and song and asked for blessings.
To celebrate Losar, I want to share one of my recipes for Tibetan momos with you. Momos are traditional dumplings stuffed with a flavorful mixture of meat or vegetables and spices that are enjoyed with sauces and condiments galore. However, since I’ve recently joined the 5-Star Foodie Makeover Cooking Challenge group, I, along with the other members was given the assignment of creating a dish with beets. So to combine the tow efforts, the dish I’m going to offer today is Tibetan Momos made with beetroot flavored dough!
I like the flavor of beets a lot and cook with them often. One of my favorite snacks is beet greens sautéed in butter with a bit of nutmeg and salt and pepper. However, I was a bit worried by the assignment, because many beet dishes are notoriously difficult to photograph – the problem is the color. As you know, beets share their dark purple to magenta color most eagerly with other ingredients, making a dish like a curry, or stew or even most salads too uniform in color to photograph nicely. In the Buddhist spirit, I decided to make the problem the solution and used beets to add color and a bit of flavor to dough for my Losar momos.
Tibetan Momos in Beetroot Pastry
Momos are tiny round or moon-shaped pastries filled with vegetables or meat and vegetable mixtures that are usually eaten as a main course dish in a multi-course meal in Tibet. In the west, they can be enjoyed this way or served as appetizers or snacks. They are best when served with plenty of sauces, pickles and other condiments.
3 medium beets, roots only, washed
½ – 1 cup water
Wrap cleaned beetroots in aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 F oven for about 1 hour. When they are done, they will yield a bit if squeezed. When done, set aside until cool enough to handle.
Remove beet roots from foil and slip the skins off with your fingers. Wear clean gloves if you want to avoid stains on your fingers and nails. Chop the beets roughly and place in a food processor or heavy-duty blender. Add about ½ cup water and pulse until you have a puree. Add additional water and blend until smooth. Make sure solids are blended out or strain through cheesecloth to remove.
3 cups flour
1- 1½ cups of beet liquid.
Place flour in a bowl and add liquid a little bit at a time and mix with a fork or spoon until the dough comes together. The exact amount of liquid added will depend upon the thickness of the liquid, the fineness of the flour and the humidity etc. – so be careful not to add too much liquid all at once. Mix and add liquid until the dough is properly hydrated.
Mix the dough with your hands until it is uniformly mixed and colored. If necessary add a couple of tablespoons more flour so that the dough doesn’t stick to your hands. Knead for 5-10 minutes until flexible and then cover and set aside briefly to rest.
Place a handful or more of the dough on a flat floured surface. Flatten it somewhat with your hands and then begin rolling it out with a rolling pin. Roll it until you can begin to see the surface below the dough, but it shouldn’t be much thinner than that, or it may not hold the filling during the steaming process.
Use a saucer or a plastic lid from a can about 4-6 inches in diameter to cut the momo dough into circles. Place cut circles aside on a small plate. I like to roll and cut all the dough before proceeding to the filling stage. The consistency of the dough with beetroot liquid in them is different and more elastic than when the dough is made with water. You may have to work harder at rolling – but keep at it, it can be done.
Tibetan Garam Masala
This Tibetan version varies from the Indian version basically by the addition of the bay leaves and the coriander seeds. Variations of this around Tibet also use seeds from black cardamom pods and nutmeg.
¼ cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
2 Tablespoons bay leaves
2 Tablespoons cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons cloves
Grind items together as grouped by consistency – i.e. cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon stick can be ground together. When all items are ground or cracked – mix them together and grind briefly just to blend further. Most flavorful when used right after grinding. Store in a jar with a good seal.
¾ pound of ground beef or lamb*
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground Szechuan pepper
2 teaspoons Tibetan Garam Masala
2 large onions, peeled and finely diced
3 tablespoons ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon garlic, peeled and diced
A large bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
2 cups king oyster mushrooms or daikon radish, sliced or shredded
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 teaspoon beef or vegetable broth
Melt butter in a medium sauté pan and sauté ground or finely diced meat, 1 teaspoon of salt and the black pepper until it becomes opaque and starts to firm. It should be only partially cooked when removed from the heat and set aside.
Combine diced onions, grated ginger and garlic and mix well. Add sautéed meat and mix again. Add ground Szechuan pepper and Tibetan Garam Masala as well as the cilantro and mushrooms and stir well. Add soy sauce and beef or vegetable broth and mix well. Set aside to cool if necessary.
*To make vegetarian replace meat with 3-4 cups of shredded bok choy or cabbage
Take the dough circles and place about a tablespoon to a tablespoon and a half of filling in the center of the circle. Draw filling out a bit so it is more like a line than a circle, but be sure not to bring too close to the edges.
There are many ways to gather momos. One way is simply fold one edge of the dough over to form a half moon shape, and another is to gather the dough up into a “top knot” on top of the filling as pictured here. Pick a way to enclose the filling inside the momo. If using the half-moon shape, use a fork to seal the edges tightly and shape into a slight curve. If using the “top knot” shape, this can be done with your fingers. If you mix and match shapes, steam them separately, because one shape may take a bit longer to cook than another.
In a wok bring about 2 cups of water to a boil. As the water is boiling, wet a bamboo steamer to prepare it for use. Let sit for a few minutes and then spray the surfaces lightly with cooking oil. Place momos in steamer compartments and set time for about 10 minutes. If using a multi-tier steamer, work from the bottom up creating multiple layers of momos. When the water is boiling place steamer with momos on top of the boiling water.
As they steam the momos will begin to glisten and some may become translucent – this is desired. Cook them for about 10 minutes and remove them from the steamer as soon as possible or they may begin to stick. Move to a rack to cool. Serve room temperature or reheated with a selection of sauces, pickles and other condiments. Can also be served with soup and bread for a light meal – momos are more filling than they seem.
They are delicious, especially with the sweet and sour Tibetan tomato sauce that often accompanies momos. Interestingly, my husband found that the beetroot not only offers color, but also a bit of flavor – especially when one eats the “top knot” of the momos that I made. With other shapes, it will likely modulate and dampen the spicy contents just a bit to add sweet to spicy as one eats the savory treats.
(Words, photo of Beetroot Momos in the Steamer, adaptation of traditional recipe and estatic Losar verse by Laura Kelley. Photo of Lamas Play Tsam Mystery by Zzvet@ Dreamstime.com)