ARLINGTON - Nothing hits the spot on a cold winter day like a plate of momos.
true in Nepal, where these flavorful dumplings and their spicy,
addictive tomato-based sauce are a favorite cold-weather dish. And it's
just as true in the Arlington kitchen of Jeny Lalchan, 30, a native of
Nepal who has lived in this country for 10 years. On a recent Saturday
morning, Lalchan, with help from her husband, Ranjan Budhathoki, 31,
and their friend Bijay Ghising, 34, are putting together a batch of
momos while chatting about the popular specialty, which is also served
"In Nepal, it's a major dish," says Lalchan. "On every block, you'll see a momo cafe or restaurant."
our college life," adds Budhathoki, who is now a police officer at
Suffolk University, "we used to eat them every day. Especially in
winter, when spicy food is popular." They'd compete to see who could
down the most (some college experiences are universal). The tasty
dumplings are inexpensive, convenient student fare, but they're enjoyed
by Nepalese young and old, on all kinds of occasions. "They're very
versatile," says Lalchan. "They can be an appetizer, an afternoon
snack, or even a whole meal."
It's mildly ironic that Lalchan
never cooked or ate momos until she came to the United States. She was
a vegetarian at home. The filling can be chicken, lamb, pork, or - most
popular in Nepal - buffalo, but there are no meatless variations. And
she never cooked them because she went to boarding school so wasn't
around to learn kitchen skills. Once she arrived here, nostalgia
settled in, and she decided to try her hand at the cuisine of her
homeland. Nepalese friends here encouraged her efforts and a few phone
calls home to her mother, a good cook, filled in the gaps. Soon, she
had a reputation that drew friends, Nepalese and American, to her table.
this chilly Saturday, Lalchan works calmly despite the household bustle
that surrounds her (she and her husband live in the home of Robin
Schoenthaler and her two children; Lalchan calls it her "home away from
home"). Momos, she explains, aren't prepared according to a strict
formula but rather can be varied to the taste of the cook. She likes
them heavy on the ginger. But the seasonings should be added with a
free hand, since that's part of what sets them apart from other
dumplings. Spiked with garlic, cumin, turmeric, and scallions, the
filling - it's chicken today - has an almost curried flavor. To make
sure the mixture is well combined, Lalchan dons disposable rubber
gloves to get right into it with her hands.
The tricky part -
Lalchan calls this "the fun part" - is filling and sealing the
dumplings. She uses ready-made wrappers from an Asian market. In Nepal,
she says, "you have to make the dough. It tastes better but it's a lot
of work." She and Budhathoki make quick work of the characteristic
pleated seam where the edges meet; the finished momos resemble pot
stickers. A beginner would probably need a bit of practice to make
momos that look as tidy as theirs, but even imperfect momos taste good.
cook them, Lalchan layers the dumplings in a special multilevel steamer
from Nepal; a bamboo steamer or even a folding metal steamer would
work. She sprays the steamer with Pam ("this is convenient - we don't
have it in Nepal," she says) and places the momos in a single layer,
taking care that they don't touch each other to avoid sticking and
tearing. After 10 or 15 minutes over boiling water, the dumplings look
shiny, which means they're done.
A spicy tomato achar, or
chutney, is the requisite accompaniment. To make it, Lalchan toasts
sesame, mustard, and cumin seeds in a dry skillet, then does the same
with meaty plum tomatoes. Those ingredients, plus other seasonings, go
into a blender to make a sauce that's bright, fresh, and pungent with
raw garlic. The key ingredient, says Lalchan, is a spice called
Nepalese timur, or Sichuan pepper. Lalchan's stash was brought by a
friend from Nepal; it's also at Penzeys Spicesin Arlington
(781-646-7707 or penzeys.com).
has made an enormous quantity of momos, but they disappear quickly as
the household gathers around the kitchen table. It's only fitting that
there's a large group of people consuming a large number of momos:
"This is what we do in our community," says Budhathoki. "Everyone helps
make them, and then everyone eats. It's a great way to socialize at
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.