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What to do With Mushrooms — a Bhutanese Chef Makes Meatless Dumplings

By Bianca Husodo

 
Tung Pham. Styled by Michelle Kok
 

Through a narrow rectangular slit that lets patrons of Dempsey Hill’s brightly lit COMO Cuisine peer into the kitchen, chef Tshering Lhaden’s head was visible, moving to a bobbing rhythm of her sautéing. Lhaden, who helms the restaurant’s kitchen, was readying her signature momos (pronounced with the same “o” sound as in “so-so”), Tibetan dumplings that would popularly be filled with anything from yak cheese to minced pork or chicken. And almost every Tibetan household has its own momo recipe; be it steamed or cooked in soup, there are many ways to make and serve momos. Typically, and on the menu, Lhaden would make hers steamed and with a filling of pork and garlic. But this time, she was to propose a meatless iteration: The momos were to be stuffed with shiitake and portobello mushrooms.

Lhaden has spent near to a decade working in the different kitchens of COMO’s hotels and resorts around the world before returning to her native Bhutan in 2016. Back at COMO Uma Punakha’s lodge, situated within the subtropical haven that perches on the remote western curve of Punakha Valley, Lhaden would have her staff forage for wild mushrooms around the site to bring back to the kitchen. 

Tung PhamChef Tshering Lhaden of COMO Cuisine.
Chef Tshering Lhaden of COMO Cuisine.

When raw, mushrooms smell of deep earth and decay. Then there’s the way they smell when browned, with butter and shallots, as all their juices concentrated and their texture turns soft and almost slippery. In COMO Cuisine’s kitchen, the savoury fragrance that wafted from Lhaden’s pan was a testament as to why the dark, earthy flavour of mushroom is associated more with animal products as opposed to with vegetables. 

From her sautéed mushroom filling, Lhaden milked its liquid residue, pouring it liberally into her buckwheat-mixed flour to make taut momo skin out of. After pleating the last half-moon curve of her momos, Lhaden steamed and served them alongside a bowl of ezay, a zesty Bhutanese hot pepper paste that’s made with thingey, a locally-grown peppercorn known to the rest of the world as Szechuan peppercorn; blistered onion and tomatoes; as well as sun-dried chilli powder. (Instead of Bhutanese chilli powder, Lhaden uses Korean chilli powder, which is less intense in terms of spiciness.) A tip from Tshering: Her mushroom momos are great when fried, too. Leave them to cool in the fridge until their skin is hard and fry them in sizzling sunflower oil.

Tung PhamLhaden’s mushroom momos, served alongside a ramekin of ezay paste.
Lhaden’s mushroom momos, served alongside a ramekin of ezay paste.

Mushroom Momos

Serves 10 portions of three dumplings

Mushroom Filling Ingredients

250 grams Portobello Mushrooms, Coarsely Chopped
200 grams Shiitake Mushrooms, Coarsely Chopped
200 grams Red Onion, Finely Chopped
50 grams Garlic, Minced
50 grams Coriander Leaves, Finely Chopped
100 grams Butter
40 grams Ginger
5 grams Chilli Flakes
5 grams Ground White Pepper
Adequate Sunflower Oil for Sautéing
A Pinch of Salt

Momo Dough Ingredients

200 grams All-Purpose Flour (Optional Buckwheat Mix)
Mushroom Stock
Plain Water

Tung PhamPortobello and shiitake mushrooms.
Portobello and shiitake mushrooms.
Tung PhamThe ingredients to Lhaden’s mushroom momos.
The ingredients to Lhaden’s mushroom momos.

Method

1. Sauté the mushrooms in sunflower oil till soft. Add a dash of salt.
2. Add the other ingredients and continue to sautée until cooked.
3. Strain the stock, add a little water to it and set aside for the dough.

Tung PhamLhaden sautéeing the minced mushrooms.
Lhaden sautéeing the minced mushrooms.
Tung PhamLhaden squeezes her sautéed mushroom filling for its stock.
Lhaden squeezes her sautéed mushroom filling for its stock.
Tung PhamThe sautéed mushroom filling, mixed with the rest of the ingredients.
The sautéed mushroom filling, mixed with the rest of the ingredients.

4. Mix all-purpose flour with 3/4 cup of diluted mushroom stock.
5. Knead into a smooth dough. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. 
6. Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough until it’s about 0.5-millimetre thin.

Tung PhamThe mushroom stock is then poured into the flour.
The mushroom stock is then poured into the flour.
Tung PhamLhaden kneads the dough.
Lhaden kneads the dough.
Tung PhamAfter letting the dough rest for five minutes, Lhaden flattens it with a rolling pin.
After letting the dough rest for five minutes, Lhaden flattens it with a rolling pin.

7. Cut the flat dough in circles, ideally 9 centimetres in diameter.
8. Slab the wrap with filling, leaving a thin border for pleating.
9. Using fingertips on one hand, gently pull and stretch wrapper outward before bringing it in to meet opposite fingers. Carefully fold stretched area in on itself, creating a pleat. Pinch to seal.
10. Heat water to 90–100°C and steam the dumplings for 5 to 6 minutes. When the flour isn’t sticky to the touch, the momos are ready to serve.

Tung PhamFrom the flattened dough, shape circle cut-outs, ideally with a 9-centimetre diameter to allow ample room for the filling.
From the flattened dough, shape circle cut-outs, ideally with a 9-centimetre diameter to allow ample room for the filling.
Tung PhamSlab on the filling onto the cut-out momo wrap, leaving an outlining border for pleating.
Slab on the filling onto the cut-out momo wrap, leaving an outlining border for pleating.
Tung PhamLhaden shapes a crescent of the momo, pleating and then pinching it closed.
Lhaden shapes a crescent of the momo, pleating and then pinching it closed.
Tung PhamSprinkle a little bit of flour over the momos before steaming them.
Sprinkle a little bit of flour over the momos before steaming them.

Ezay (Hot Pepper Paste) Ingredients

100 grams Red Dried Korean Chilli
200 grams Red Onion
60 grams Old Ginger, Charred
20 grams Peeled Garlic, Until Soft
250 grams Tomato, Softer
100 grams Hot Sunflower Oil
5 grams Coriander Leaves
A Pinch of Szechuan Peppercorn (According to Preference), Toasted Until Fragrant and Then Grounded

Tung PhamThe integral components to Lhaden’s ezay paste: Szechuan peppercorn and Korean chilli powder.
The integral components to Lhaden’s ezay paste: Szechuan peppercorn and Korean chilli powder.

Method

1. Skewer the vegetables and place them on a grill mesh wire. Slowly blister them on a hot fire on a stove or in an oven until the ginger is a little charred, and the garlic and tomato are soft.
2. Peel the skin and blend all the ingredients until it’s the colour of orange. The resulting paste should not be too smooth, runny or too chunky.

Tung PhamLaid on a mesh grill, the ginger, onion and the tomato are slow-roasted on a hot fire.
Laid on a mesh grill, the ginger, onion and the tomato are slow-roasted on a hot fire.
Tung PhamThe peeled tomato, ginger and onions — ready to be blendered.
The peeled tomato, ginger and onions — ready to be blendered.
Tung PhamWith a blender, mix all of the ingredients until the texture is smoothened.
With a blender, mix all of the ingredients until the texture is smoothened.
Tung PhamThe resulting ezay paste is bright orange in colour.
The resulting ezay paste is bright orange in colour.