Every year, ask me what I want for my birthday and you’ll get the same response each time. It’s not an expensive pair of shoes and it’s not perfume, it definitely isn’t a designer handbag or clothes. I don’t really care about those things. What I really want is my own tandoor.
The idea of having a raging-hot pit of fiery coals in my kitchen makes me go weak at the knees. Install a beautiful granite countertop and leave just enough space for a cavernous drop into a heat-proof cylinder. Pop in a clay oven and watch me go nuts with recipes galore. I’ll pretend I’m Sanjeev Kapoor or Cyrus Todiwala, reaching in with my gigantic asbestos hands. I’ll be making fresh, homemade naan with charred edges and chewy middles, kebabs of all shapes and sizes and the best baked potatoes of your life. I’d be ALL over it.
One thing I’d definitely be making are proper Tandoori Momos, the hottest Indian street food trend of the minute. Classic Nepali dumplings, slathered in Tandoori marinade and cooked under intense heat for that heavenly charcoal smokiness we all know and love.
Well, my 28th birthday just went and sadly, I didn’t get my own tandoor. I did however, have the most wonderful birthday cake baked for me by my lovely Mr. It was the first cake he’d ever baked and he totally nailed it. That was breakfast sorted for an entire week. Here’s a sneak peek.
I’m hoping one day someone will take me up on my request for a tandoor but in the meantime, I’m getting my tandoori food fix using the trusty oven. Whack it up as high as it will go and when it’s smoking hot, stow your food inside, closing the door swiftly. I do naans like this all the time and it works a charm.
Folding dumplings is one of the most cathartic things you can do. Little parcels, half moons, gyoza-style or tortellini style, the possibilities are endless. I love nothing more than a Saturday afternoon in with a cup of chai, a good movie and a marathon dumpling-making session. So after a long week at work, I did just that. Except I didn’t make just any dumplings, I made Momos. The most delicious Indian-style dumplings filled with veggies, paneer, ginger and soy sauce.
Traditionally, Momos are served with hot tomato chutney but instead, I made my own tandoori marinade (the one I use for making my Tandoori Paneer Samosas) and covered the Momos in it before popping them into the sweltering pit of fire, a.k.a, the oven.
The pastry is of course, homemade – why not when it’s just three ingredients: flour, hot water and salt. It’s worth making your own, and so much easier when it comes to folding the Momos. You can make them any shape you like but I thought the simple half moon was pretty. Check out YouTube for tips on how to fold dumplings.
You can by all means skip the Tandoori paste part entirely and just straight up fry and steam them like Japanese gyozas – but where’s the fun in that? No, I’m kidding, they’re absolutely delicious steamed too. Serve them with hot tomato and chilli chutney, adding a glug of sesame oil for good measure.
Once these are out of the oven, you’ll find yourself waiting to frantically get one into your mouth.
Don’t do that. If you’ve ever eaten a hot apple pie from McDonald’s and felt the sensation of the skin on the roof of your mouth being seared like a steak, you’ll know why.
Be patient. Tumble them onto a platter or plate, cover them with sliced red onions, lemon wedges, cooling yoghurt and fresh coriander. Think Samosa Chaat sans the chickpeas and with Momos. What’s also amazing is brushing them with butter as soon as the come out of the oven. Watch them glisten as you try your best not to go all Tasmanian Devil on them.
Serve immediately and watch them disappear faster than you can say ‘Sanjana, here’s your very own birthday tandoor.’
I can only dream.
Vegetable and Paneer Tandoori Momos
Makes 20 Momos
For the dough:
200g plain flour
½ tsp salt
120ml boiling water (just enough to bind to a firm, smooth dough)
For the filling:
25g salted butter
1 large onion, finely diced
2 tbsp grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 hot red birds eye chillies, chopped finely
60g white cabbage, finely shredded
2 carrots, grated
30g frozen peas
30g green beans, chopped finely
180g paneer, crumbled or grated
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 spring onions, chopped finely
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp light brown sugar
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, ground
1 tsp toasted fennel seeds, ground
Salt to taste
1 tsp cornflour, dissolved in cold water
For the tandoori paste:
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
8 black peppercorns
2 dried Kashmiri chillies
2 inches cinnamon
1 ½ tsp cumin seeds
1 star anise
Seeds of 4 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom
1 tsp fennel seeds
You’ll also need:
1 tbsp concentrated tomato puree
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp yoghurt
2 tsp dark brown sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp crushed garlic
Fresh coriander, chopped
Sliced red onions
1. First, make the tandoori paste. Toast all the spices in a dry pan until aromatic. Grind them in a coffee grinder until super fine. Put half the ground spices in a jar and stow away for another day.
2. With the remaining half of the masala, mix in the tomato puree, lemon juice, yoghurt, brown sugar, salt, ginger and garlic. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
3. To make the filling, heat the butter in a non-stick pan. Add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent but not browned. Add in ginger, garlic and chillies, cook for a moment and then add in the rest of the ingredients, apart from the cornflour.
4. Once the veggies and paneer have cooked down, about 10 minutes, add the cornflour and mix vigorously. The mixture should bind together. Turn out onto a plate to cool.
5. Meanwhile, make the dough. In a bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Little by little, add in the boiling water, mixing with a spoon. Once you’ve added in almost all the water, leave it for a few moments until cool enough to handle. Try to bind, checking if the rest of the water is required. Add more water if you need to. Bind to a smooth dough, kneading for around 8 minutes.
6. Allow to rest, covered for 10 minutes.
7. Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.
8. Take a grape-sized piece of dough and roll it out, 3 inches in diameter. A thin as you can. Take about 2 tsp cooled filling and place into the middle of the dough. Use your fingers to pull the dough together and pleat one side to the other, using your fingers to seal.
9. There are lots of handy YouTube video around to help show you how to fold dumplings if you’re not sure. There are so many pays to do it and you don’t have to be a pro to make amazing ones. Just make sure the filling is totally sealed in. The shape is up to you.
10. Repeat this process for all the dumplings. Put a movie on, make a cup of tea, enjoy the process.
11. Once you have a tray or two of finished dumplings, you’re ready to cook.
12. Pre-heat the oven to 220C. Boil the kettle.
13. Heat a large, flat bottomed pan (one that has a lid). Add 2 tsp oil. Arrange the dumplings in the pan – you may need to do this in batches. Allow for them to sizzle for a minute. Now very quickly and extremely carefully add hot water from the kettle to the pan – just a splash or two. Put the lid on and allow to steam for 3 minutes on a low heat.
14. Remove the lid and place the momos back onto a baking tray. Brush them with the tandoori paste you made earlier.
15. Place them in the oven for 10 minutes or until charred in places and looking delicious.
16. Tumble onto a platter and garnish with chopped coriander, sliced red onion and plain yoghurt. Serve immediately.