Sasha Martin explores the world of Nepalese moon-shaped dumplings.
Slowly, slowly I fold the Nepali momos, turning them into little moons. I am relaxed. My fingers work, awkwardly at first, but gradually pick up a gentle, gliding smoothness as my muscles memorize the steps. Folding these dumplings feels like meditation. Whenever I try to rush the process, everything collapses, and the folding becomes a source of frustration instead of peace.
So I keep my movements measured and slow. I keep a towel under my elbows, to catch stray bits of filling. I continue, remembering that the process is as important as the final dish.
This night we share dinner with our friends Annie, Scott and their daughter Bea. We eat with great relish, fixating on the momos. They taste gingery and cabbage-y and bright. We dunk them in sauces and smile.
Eventually, we move outside to sit in the starlight by the flickering chiminea. Conversation turns to our children and the choices we make to give them the best chance at a happy, fulfilled life. Within this discussion comes the concept of creativity and how to best bring it out in our children.
Annie says something remarkable – that she loves her 2 1/2 year-old daughter’s drawing style, how her little hands illustrate strawberries. So simple, and in this simplicity, perfection. Annie doesn’t wish to influence her. She is hesitant to draw around her, in case it changes Bea’s free-spirited approach.
I can relate. My daughter Ava thinks of grass as green and the sun as having rays shooting out in all directions. I take care to show her pictures of yellow, brown and even purple grasses, as well as sunsets that look like fiery pools in the sky, not a single ray in sight. Even still, our culture is filled with so many simplifications.
For the next week I can’t stop thinking about what it means to be creative. And then one of my longtime Global Table Adventure readers Jessicca suggested a Nepali documentary called A Gift for the Village. This is about an artist, Vance, who is the first westerner and the first female in history granted permission to paint a Tibetan lineage painting of an accomplished Tibetan amchi. The painting, appropriately called Amchi, took her 10 months to finish, and the film recounts the odyssey to bring the painting to Tibet and the celebration that ensues.
A Gift for the Village really changed my thinking on creativity, or at least broadened my thoughts. You see, what is remarkable about this artist is that, in transcribing the life of a great man, she dutifully represents it in the traditional Tibetan style. So much of her work is essentially “copying” tradition, yet the end result shows more creativity and beauty than many paintings that stand completely alone. In fact, she even folds in little elements from her home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
What does it mean to be creative? I’m not totally sure. In many cases it is creating something new. But it might be as simple as giving a beautiful “spin” to an established tradition. As with the case of Amchi, it just might be perfecting something many have done a hundred thousand times before. Rather like folding momos.
Sasha Martin is cooking one meal for every country in the world. Her picky husband and baby girl are along for the ride. Join the adventure for recipes, reviews and more at www.globaltableadventure.com.
Cabbage & Carrot Momos (Steamed Dumplings)
1 tbsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. turmeric
2-3 tbsp. vegetable oil
5 cups diced cabbage, (about 1 small head)
2 carrots, shredded (about 2 cups)
1/2 large onion, minced (about 1 heaping cup)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 package wonton wrappers, cut into circles
Torn cilantro, if desired
To prepare the filling, cook the fresh ginger and turmeric in oil for about a minute. Add onion and cabbage, then season with salt and pepper. Cook until softened. Remove from heat, then add the carrot. Set aside to cool.
To fold the momos, first add a bit of water around the inside edge of the wrapper, add a small spoonful of stuffing and fold in half without sealing the dumpling. Next, use your fingers to pinch together a little mountain ridge on one side of the wrapper. Press that ridge down towards you, crimping together the edge. Now create a second ridge by pressing the dough together again and folding towards the first. Keep going until you have a line of beautiful, evenly spaced ridges. The momos will naturally curve like the moon as you go.
To cook, steam the momos in an oiled steamer (metal is traditional, but I used bamboo and that worked wonderfully as well) until the dough is cooked through.
Note: Mine took about 30 minutes. Depending on what wrappers you use, cooking times will most likely vary. Serve with chili sauce, achar, or even soy sauce. Makes at least 50 momos.