Monday Meal Review: Nepal

THE SCENE

Slowly, slowly I fold the 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.

Photo of Nepalese woman by Tevaprapas Makklay.

This night we share dinner with our friends Annie, Scott and their daughter Bea. We eat with great relish – while the kids go crazy for the dhal baht and besan burfi, we adults fixate on the momos. They taste gingery and cabbagy 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. 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 firey pools in the sky, with not a single ray in sight. Even still, our culture is filled with so many simplifications.

All week thoughts of creativity have been mulling around in my head. And then one of our longtime readers (she found us in the very beginning, almost 2 1/2 years ago),  Jessica, 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 takes 10 months to finish and the film recounts the odyssey to bring the painting to Tibet and the celebration that ensues. Here is the trailer to the film and the web site.

Photo of Amchi, courtesy of http://www.agiftforthevillage.com There are more detailed photos of the painting on the web site.

“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 she is transcribing the life of a great man, as well as representing 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 which stand completely alone.

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.

THE FOOD

Vegetarian Momos [Recipe]

What I loved most about this dish:

The satisfaction of learning how to make momos is fantastic. While these little pockets of Nepali goodness took quite a bit of work, I felt like the results were worth the effort. I especially enjoyed “mastering” (I use this term, of course, very loosely) how to crimp the momos. The flavor was simple – mostly cabbage with a ginger, carrot, and turmeric. I loved that the turmeric gave the momos a sunrise hue, making them a little more special than ordinary dumplings.

All the adults at the table enjoyed them and there wasn’t one left at the end of the meal. Ava enjoyed the outer wrapper with a bit of the filling but didn’t really “go for it”… although the next day i cooked up some leftovers with Chinese noodles and she ate it all up. Sometimes it can be easier to feed toddlers a deconstructed meal and they are more willing to sample it.

What I loved least about this dish:

These take a bit of work, but as I described above, if you spend some time relaxed and thoughtful as you make the momos, the process will be rewarding and enjoyable. On another note, I wasn’t too sure on the cooking time. Every recipe I saw said just a few minutes but since mine were made with wonton wrappers it takes quite a bit of time for the steam to penetrate through the wrappers and cook them. You’ll just have to check them, depending on what kind of wrapper you use. The wait is worth it though!

Dhal Bhat |Vegan Spiced Yellow Split Peas [Recipe]

What I loved most about this dish:

Oh, the glories of simply spiced split peas. This is a winner – the entire family, including our guests, enjoyed the dhal. I had my doubts as to whether or not Mr Picky would go for it, but he ate it all up with gusto. The biggest hit, however, was with the children. It’s so nice to see kids loving a completely healthy (and bonus, vegan) meal.

What I loved least about this dish:

Not much. I’ll be making this again and again.

Besan Burfi [Recipe]

What I loved most about this dish:

These dense treats are sweet, floral and so out of the ordinary. Our friends loved the besan burfi so much that they joked, as they took half the leftovers home, that they’d have to fight over who gets to eat them.  Mr Picky said it best when he cried “Take this away! If you leave these here I’ll just keep eating until I’m sick.”

What I loved least about this dish:

While this is very good, I can only eat besan burfi in moderation. It is intensely sweet and needs to be served with tea. In Nepal the traditional accompaniment would be butter tea, not unlike what I made for Mongolia (minus the butter toasted millet). Ava didn’t want to try it, maybe some other time!

Ava’s Corner

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Comments

  1. Jessica Bennett says:

    The word creative can mean the ability to create. It doesn’t have to be an original idea. So, you can be creative with an ancient tradition.

    The way you describe the process of making momos reminds me of this story: http://www.bopsecrets.org/gateway/passages/chuang-tzu.htm. I’d like to try making them soon.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Oh, that was an interesting passage! I love the line “A good cook changes his knife once a year — because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month — because he hacks.” :)

      And re: the first point, I agree with you.

  2. I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now and absolutely love it. Your photography and writing are just awesome. I had to start a fan blog to chronicle a similar journey to yours! Please keep up the writing and the fabulous pictures!

  3. Great post, made me think.

  4. Thanks so much for the Besan Burfi recipe – my 12 y.o. made if for school.

    The class had to choose an Asian country to research and make a magazine about. One of the things they could do for an information presentation was cooking.

    Her first choice was momos – but she wanted to make the wrappers from scratch. She eventually chose to make mango ice cream. So glad I have a machine with the compressor (like you ‘lost’ as I read in another post).

    I found this recipe and the local Indian grocer suggested that she heat the burfi for about 20 seconds in the microwave and serve the icecream on top of them. He said that it would melt into the burfi and that it is a traditional way of serving in Nepal.

    Just loved this recipe and the way you presented it – how could we not try it!

    Thanks again from Australia.

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