Bhutanese momo are easy to make and steam in your home kitchen

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Radhika Acharya, who was born in Bhutan and raised in a refugee camp in Nepal, grew up eating and cooking the traditional foods of her parents and grandparents.

The rich blend of history and flavors she experienced as a child continue to reflect her cultural identity as an adult in a new country.

Now a stay-at-home mother of three in Pennsylvania, she regularly prepares the flavorful Nepali chow mein, roti, potato curry and fried samosas of her youth for her own family. That they love it goes without saying.

“In our culture, our parents teach us to cook,” Acharya says.

She learned to make the rice- and dal-based dishes alongside her mother, Tila, and maternal grandmother, Madhu, using deceptively simple techniques and lots (and lots) of fresh vegetables before immigrating to Pittsburgh at age 20 in 2009.

“Cooking is my passion, and my kids enjoy it.”

Radhika Acharya mixes her dumpling filling by hand inside her home on Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Pittsburgh. (Benjamin B. Braun/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

They’re especially crazy about momo, a type of soft and pillowy steamed dumpling that’s a popular street food in cities such as Kathmandu. Home cooks also love serving it at birthday parties, holidays and other family celebrations.

Characterized by their distinctive, rose-like pleated shape, momo are thought to have come to Nepal via Tibet sometime in the 14th century. First filled with juicy yak meat (a lean protein similar in flavor to elk or bison), today they’re usually filled with minced chicken, pork or lamb (and sometimes cheese), vegetables and regional spices and herbs.

Unlike Chinese dumplings, which feature a thin and more delicate dough wrapper, momo offer a heartier bite with a thick, chewy dough. They’re typically steamed, but can also be fried.

Radhika Acharya forms dumplings by hand on Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Pittsburgh. (Benjamin B. Braun/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

The food of the landlocked country high in the Himalayas of South Asia is strongly influenced by Chinese and Indian cuisines, which explains Acharya’s penchant for chow mein and potato-filled samosas. However, the fiery dipping sauce served with momo stands in stark contrast to the soy-based sauces you typically get with Chinese dumplings.

Momo chutney is built around tomatoes and warm spices such as cumin, coriander, garlic, mustard seed and ginger, with dried chilies adding a lip-tingling kick.

“The spices really make the difference,” says Acharya, whose family recipe also includes toasted sesame seeds along with a generous pinch of turmeric — “to make it yellow.”

Many Himalayan dishes — including a spicy signature Bhutanese stew made with hot chili peppers and cheese called ema datshi — hang their flavor hat on the slow burn of chilies. “And pretty much everything is handmade,” she adds.

Because Acharya makes momo so often for her family, and in such large quantities (a single recipe makes about 48 momo), she opts for commercial wrappers rather than making the dough from scratch, as her family did in Nepal.

“Dough takes a long time! With wrappers, it’s easy,” she says with a laugh.

Radhika Acharya’s dumplings are cooked in her steamer on Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Pittsburgh. (Benjamin B. Braun/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

Per tradition, her 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter are often eager sous chefs, pinching the dough circles around the filling with a simple pierogi-like fold in seconds.

“They started when they were 5,” she says with obvious pride.

She typically uses ground chicken because she doesn’t eat pork, but any finely minced meat will do. The mix always includes lots of finely chopped green cabbage and occasionally some carrots. But really, any favorite fresh veggie can be used.

For a unique and authentic Nepali flavor, she adds one or two tablespoons of momo masala, a spicy curry powder blend that includes cumin seed, black pepper, nutmeg, fenugreek and a host of other spices. (You can find it at Nepali groceries and also on Amazon.)

The dumplings are steamed instead of fried, so they retain all the nutrients of the filling, making momo a very healthful and filling dish, says Acharya. “There’s no chemicals and we only use fresh vegetables.”

She acknowledges there is a bit of a learning curve to folding it just so. She’s content with three folds, though some cooks do up to five or six. It becomes easier if you remember to keep your thumb down and forefinger up when you’re pinching the dough. And if you just can’t master it?

“It doesn’t matter,” she says. Even if you go with a simple, half-moon pinch to keep all the savory goodness together, “it tastes the same.”

She also offers these helpful tips: Texture is important! The filling should walk the line between dry and moist and be well-seasoned. It’s also important to grate or finely chop whatever vegetables you’re using so that the wrapper doesn’t break. This is especially true for hardier ingredients such as cabbage, garlic and ginger.

Above all (and this goes for all varieties of dumplings), resist the urge to make the momo as fat as possible, Acharya cautions, and keep them covered under a moist paper towel until you are ready to steam them. Overstuffing the wrappers may cause the dumpling to fall apart while cooking and then, instead of a meal, you’ll just have a mess. One generous teaspoon of filling is plenty!

In addition, be sure to lightly coat the steamer tray with oil or nonstick cooking spray before adding momo one at a time. Keep them slightly apart from one another or they will stick. They’re done when the dough is translucent and doesn’t feel sticky, usually around 10 minutes.

Because momo are typically made in big batches and taste best when freshly steamed, it’s OK to stick some in the freezer before cooking. Just be sure to first freeze them apart from one another on a tray before throwing them into a bag together. Otherwise, they might stick.

Chicken Momo

Radhika Acharya’s dumplings and chutney sauce on Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Pittsburgh. (Benjamin B. Braun/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

You can find momo masala, an aromatic mix of Nepali spices, at Nepali grocery stores like Nepali Bazaar in Brentwood, as well as in Indian markets. It is also available on Amazon. Gyoza wrappers can be found in any Asian market and most larger grocery stores in the refrigerated section.

Following in the steps of her mother, Radhika Acharya eyeballs all of her ingredients, so measurements are not exact. You also can add more or less of any ingredient to taste, or substitute other favorite vegetables such as carrots.


For filling:

1 pound ground chicken or turkey
1/2 whole green cabbage, finely chopped (about 5 cups)
1/2 large red onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 green onions, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped and mashed
1-inch knob fresh peeled ginger, finely chopped and mashed
1 tomato, very finely chopped
1 or 2 heaping tablespoons momo masala (curry powder blend), or to taste
About 48 round dumpling or gyoza wrappers (about 3 1/4 inches wide)

For chutney:

2 tablespoons canola oil
Sprinkle of coriander seeds
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/4 red onion, sliced
3 dried red chilies, divided
1 teaspoon turmeric
Handful of cilantro
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 teaspoons lemon juice, or more to taste
Salt, to taste
1-inch knob of peeled ginger


Prepare filling. In a large bowl, combine ground chicken or turkey, cabbage, onion, cilantro, green onion, smashed garlic and ginger, tomato and momo masala seasoning. Using your hands, mix lightly but thoroughly.
Fill wrappers. Spoon about 2 teaspoons of filling onto the upper half of each wrapper. With a wet fingertip, moisten the edge of each wrapper and fold up and over the filling into a half-moon. Pleat the edges by making small folds in the dough, pressing them flat as you work your way along the edge. (Radhika makes three folds, but you can do more.)
Place finished dumplings on a nonstick surface and, if not cooking right away, cover lightly with damp paper towels and refrigerate. You also can freeze them for up to 3 months.
When ready to cook, boil water in the bottom of a large steamer. Lightly coat the steamer tray with oil or nonstick spray. Gently add dumplings, one at a time, making sure they do not touch. (They will expand slightly while cooking.)
Steam in batches for 10-15 minutes, or until the wrappers are slightly translucent and feel firm.
While dumplings are steaming, prepare momo chutney.
Heat oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle in a few coriander seeds and cook until they sizzle and pop, around 20 seconds. Add tomatoes, red onion, 2 red chilies, turmeric and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine, then cover and allow the vegetables to cook until they are soft, about 5 minutes.
Add cilantro and garlic clove, and stir to combine. Cook, smoothing with a wooden spoon every so often, until the cilantro is wilted and garlic softens, then cover again with lid and allow to cook another 5 minutes. Remove from frying pan to a plate and allow to cool.
In a dry skillet or frying pan over medium heat, heat raw sesame seeds until golden brown and fragrant, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, about 3-5 minutes.
Place toasted sesame seeds in a blender with the cooked vegetables, add lemon juice and a pinch of salt and give it a good whirl. Add a little water to thin the sauce and blend again. Add remaining dried chili and 1-inch knob of peeled ginger, and blend until completely smooth. You can add a little more water if it’s still too thick.
Arrange steamed dumplings on a plate and serve with chutney.

Makes about 48 dumplings.

— Radhika Acharya

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