Nourishing, simple, seasonal food that heals as well as fuels: this way of eating might be popular today, but it has been traditional in Tibet for more than 8000 years. Taste Tibet, by food writer Julie Kleeman and Tibetan cook Yeshi Jampa, is a collection of more than 80 recipes — from comforting soups and stews, to hand-pulled noodles, and momo dumplings, Tibet's legendary culinary export.
Alongside the recipes, Kleeman and Jampa — who run the Taste Tibet restaurant and food stall — interweave stories of Yeshi's childhood in Tibet, and the shared love of food that brought them together. They reveal nomadic Himalayan food culture and practices, including mindful eating and communal cooking — a way of life that celebrates family, togetherness, and respect for food — while exploring the relationship between landscape and diet, evoking the simple, subtle, and unique flavours of Tibet.
Here are three recipes from the book.
(makes about 40 momos)
Yeshi's mum loves making these momos. Tibetan cheese is complex in flavour: sharp/sweet and with herbal hints, it makes for delicious dumplings. Feta is a good substitute here. It has all the sour creaminess of Tibetan cheeses and its crumbly texture means that the filling is quick to prepare. Yeshi's mother likes to pair the cheese with pak choi, picking it while it's still very young and tender, so have a go with pak choi if you can find it. Otherwise, spinach makes the momos very juicy — and the stems give a nice crunch, so don't discard these as you chop. Serve your cheesy momos with a walnut or tomato dip.
For the dough
500g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
250ml of warm water
For the filling
3 bunches of whole leaf spinach, about 500g
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cooking oil
200g feta cheese, finely diced
For the dough, put the flour into a mixing bowl. Slowly pour the warm water — a hot handwash temperature is good — into the flour with one hand, while mixing with the other. Add just enough water to make a dough — you don't want it to get too sticky. Knead until the dough forms a ball in the bowl, then cover and set aside for 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Finely chop the spinach — ideally the pieces should be as small as 5mm. Put it into a large mixing bowl, then fill the bowl with water and wash the spinach by swirling it with your hand. Leave it to stand for 2 minutes, then swirl again. Transfer the spinach to a colander in the sink and leave to drain for a minute or two. Rinse out the mixing bowl and tip the spinach back into it. Add the salt and oil and mix well by hand, then leave to stand for about 5 minutes.
Put the feta into another mixing bowl. Now transfer the spinach into the feta bowl, batch by batch. Squeeze the spinach between your hands as you lift it out, so that any excess liquid drains back into the original bowl before you add it to the feta for the filling (otherwise, the momos will be soggy and hard to wrap). Mix the spinach and feta together well.
Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it for a couple of minutes, then divide it into four equal pieces and return to the bowl. Sprinkle a little flour on to your work surface — but don't overdo it, as too much flour can stiffen the dough, making the momos harder to wrap later.
Take the first piece of dough, keeping the rest covered in the bowl to stop them from drying out. Roll out the dough into a sausage shape about 25cm long, then cut into 10 equal slices, lightly flattening each one with your hand.
Using a rolling pin, and making one wrapper at a time, push and pull the flattened piece of dough up and down quickly and firmly, holding it with your spare hand and turning it little by little as you go. The middle should end up a bit thicker than the outer edges, and it should fill the palm of your hand; it doesn't need to be a perfect circle.
When you're ready to fill, wrap and fold your momos, place a wrapper on your chopping board and spoon about a tablespoon of filling into the centre. Less is more when you are just starting out. Gently fold one side of the circle over the filling to meet the other side and, starting in the middle, use your fingertips to press the edges together into the board. (If you are using shop-bought wrappers, you'll need to wet the edges before sealing.) If the momo is not completely sealed, the juices will escape during steaming, so try to ensure there are no gaps.
For best results, steam these momos over a high heat for about 13-16 minutes, cooking them in batches according to the size of your steamer.
Yeshi says: "If you have any filling left over, it goes really well in a salad — just add some sliced red onion or avocado, for example — and off you go."
Chocolate tsampa truffles
Makes 15–20 truffles
This one is Yeshi's invention. He created it for a formal dinner he catered at a 17th-century mansion just outside Oxford. He was tasked with coming up with something to go with coffee, and this was the result. I love these truffles, and so do the punters at Taste Tibet. They have all the nuttiness of tsampa wrapped up in the warmest of chocolate embraces. They are equally delicious whether you cook them with sugar or honey, but honey makes them a bit more melt-in-the-mouth.
100g chocolate, 70 per cent cocoa
100g runny honey or caster (super-fine) sugar
100g tsampa (roasted barley flour)
Break up the chocolate and put it into a non-stick saucepan, along with the honey or sugar and the butter. Place over a low heat and stir gently using a wooden spoon. When the mixture has melted, take the pan off the heat and add the tsampa. Mix everything together, then leave to cool for a minute or two, but no longer — the mixture should still be hot to the touch.
Now reach into the pan and scoop out truffle-sized amounts, each about 15g. Squeeze them between your palms and roll into small balls. Let the truffles cool slightly before serving.
Yeshi says: "These quantities will work well if your tsampa is ground very finely. If you've used a spice/coffee grinder (rather than a flour mill) it is likely to be coarser and therefore less absorbent, so if the mixture doesn't quite come together, just add more tsampa to make it mouldable in your hands."
Tibetan meatball soup
In Tibet, the practice of brides taking several husbands from the same family has been commonplace since ancient times. Yeshi's mother married two brothers, and Yeshi and his brothers and sisters know them simply as "older father" and "younger father".
Officially this system is now forbidden under Chinese law, but in rural areas it remains normal practice. Given the specific challenges of Tibet's topography, it has advantages: with little arable land available and much labour needed to tend it, the marriage of a family's sons to one bride ensures that the land stays within the family, and that there are sufficient hands to both work in the fields and guarantee a male presence in the home. The practice also tends to reduce the number of heirs, and hence the number of mouths the land must feed.
Although Yeshi's younger father is now vegetarian, he used to enjoy meatballs way back when. Yeshi remembers that this dish would be his contribution to weddings and other major events taking place in the village. Weddings typically last two or three days and have up to 400 guests, so you can imagine how many meatballs would be needed.
350g minced beef, ideally 15-20 per cent fat content
½ small red onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
½ tsp crushed Sichuan peppercorns (yerma)
1½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
Plain white flour, for dusting
125g baby spinach leaves, washed
Coriander leaves, to garnish
Place the minced beef in a mixing bowl and crack in the egg. Mix together very well using your hand or a fork, then add the onion, garlic, Sichuan pepper, coriander and ½ tsp of salt and mix everything together thoroughly.
Sprinkle a little flour on to a chopping board. Pinch off a 2.5cm piece of the meat mixture and roll it between your palms to make a ball, then roll it through the flour on the board. Don't douse it in flour — you are aiming for a light coating. Pick up the meatball and roll it between your hands again, then give it another roll in the flour before setting aside.
Repeat with the rest of the meat mixture, adding a little more flour to the board as needed. You should end up with about 30 meatballs all told.
Measure out 1 litre of boiling water into a large wok and place over a medium heat. When the water returns to the boil, add the meatballs and stir them around gently, adding a little more water if the meatballs are not fully covered.
Add the remaining ½ tsp of salt, turn the heat up as far as it will go and simmer the meatballs for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In the final minute of cooking, add the spinach to the soup.
Just before you take the wok off the heat, check that the meatballs are cooked by fishing one out and cutting it open: it should be brown all the way through, not pink.
Serve the meatball soup in bowls, garnished with coriander.
Taste Tibet, by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa, photography by Ola O. Smith and Keiko Wong (Murdoch Books, $55).