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Friday, August 10, 2012


 Locally-made in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, of recycled aluminum, a chile plate with samosas and cilantro-mint chutney 

by Victoria Challancin

Note:  I've been offline for a few days due to a "down" modem.  It's nice to be blogging again!

By far my favorite snack food while travelling in India is always samosas, those small stuffed pastries, available at every roadside tea stall, filled with an assortment of goodies:  potatoes (with or without peas), minced meat, nuts and spices, and vegetables (especially cauliflower, potatoes, and peas), and more.  So much more.  In India, I would buy vegetarian versions hot out of the oil from street vendors who handed them to you in paper bags or even newspaper.  In the Middle East, where they were called sambusas or sambusak, I would buy the meat variety--or at the Indian teashops in Abu Dhabi and in Bahrain, ones with potato fillings.  I have followed the samosa trail in such widespread countries as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain, the UAE, and Kenya (dare I include Cornish pasties?)--wherever I have stumbled upon these tasty culinary treasures, I have tried them.  Whatever the filling, that burst of flavor, often served with a bracing chutney, wakes up the senses and makes the taste buds dance.

As a part of a cooking class on Indian cuisine, I recently made this incredibly tasty version with purchased puff pastry, simply because I have a good local source, and filled them with spice-scented potatoes.  To serve with them, I chose a favorite cilantro-mint chutney that changes a little every time I make it.  This combination is always a winner--something everyone seems to like, especially me, with my love of all manner of small, stuffed snack foods from all over the world--something I can't help but seek out wherever I travel.

 Mise en place...Indian spices for a cooking class featuring Indian food

Photo in public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Samosas being prepared for the Sultan of Mandu

Most of you who follow my blog know that I have been a teacher/educator most of my adult life.  In that spirit, I just can't help but try to teach you a bit about the foods and recipes I offer.  And so...

A Little History
Thought to have originated in Central Asia before the 10th century, samosas made their way to India via the ancient trade routes used by Muslim traders and soldiers.  More than a simple recipe, these filled pastries belong to a family of diversely prepared dumplings or pastries that are popular from North and East Africa right across Asia and the Middle East to West China.  Fillings vary greatly as do the actual name of the pastries, which often reflect the Persian root "sanbosag":
  • The Middle East--sambusa, sanbusak, sambusak, sanbusaq, or sanbusaj
  • India--samosa, sumosa, and other regional variations
  • East Africa--sanbuusa
  • Turkic-speaking countries--samsa and in Turkey itself, borek or burek (in Greece, bourekakia)
  • Iran--sanbusé
  • Burma--chamuça or samuza
Popular in the India Subcontinent for centuries, samosas were mentioned by an Iranian historian, Abolfazi Beyhagi in the 10th century.  Even the delightful 14th century world traveller Ibn Battuta mentions them in a description of a meal at the court of a sultan of Delhi in 1334 A.D., describing them as "minced meat cooked with almonds, pistachios, onions and spices placed inside a think envelop of wheat and deep-fried in ghee."

Easily made and readily portable, these pastries were perfect to enjoy by early Central Asian soldiers or traders around a campfire and then tucked into saddle bags for a snack the following day.  In modern times, the same ease of preparation and the convenience of their portability make them a popular snack all over the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and Southwest Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, the Horn of Africa, North Africa, and South Africa.  Such widespread enjoyment of these immensely popular treats is surely a testimony to their almost universal appeal.

In spite of this comprehensive love of these pastries, like with most things, they are not without controversy.  As recent as July of 2011, an Islamist group in Somalia banned samosas after deciding they are too Western, saying that the triangular snack resembles the Christian Holy Trinity!  In spite of this condemnation, samosas or sambusas are commonly used in certain parts of the Islamic world during the breaking of Ramadan fast.

Cook's Note:  Although I have made my own dough, I usually use purchased puff pastry, egg roll wrappers, wonton wrappers, or empanada wrappers, just because they are so easy to use.  This buttery puff pastry comes from a local bakery that uses top-grade butter.  I prefer to toast my spices first and grind them in a spice grinder rather than using pre-ground spices--the flavor is sooooo much better.  Sometimes I bake the samosas, brushed first with an egg wash, but when feeling indulgent, I fry them.  These photos show the baked version.  I also tend to make a simple triangle shape, but often they are served more like a truncated pyramid.

Recipe:  Potato Samosas
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)

3 large potatoes, boiled, peeled, and mashed
1 teaspoon freshly grated or minced ginger
1 - 2 serrano chiles, minced
1 teaspoon garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed or ground
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 talespoons cilan tro, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lime or lemon
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala (see my recipe here)
1 teaspoon chile powder
Sea salt to taste
Oil for frying

Heat 3 tablespoons oil; add ginger, green chile, garlic and coriander seeds.  Stir-fry for a minute, add onion, and sautée until lightly golden.  Add cilantro, lime juice, turmeric, salt, chile powder, and garam masala.  Stir fry for 2 minutes, or until fragrant, and add potatoes.  Cook, stirring for an additional 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of 1/4-inch or lay out pre-made wrappers.  If using puff pastry, cut into 4-inch squares or circles.  Fill each wrapper with approximately 1 tablespoon of potato filling; the amount will depend on the size of the wrappers.  Lightly paint the edges with a finger moistened with water.  Fold and press to seal, using the tines of a fork if desired.  Continue until all the dough is used.  Heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil in a skillet.  Fry the samosas in batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pan, until light brown.  Or bake, as I did here using an egg wash, on a baking sheet in a 375 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden.

Drain on a rack or on paper towels.  Serve hot with chutney.

Cook's Note:  Truthfully, left to my own devices, I don't use an actual recipe for this popular and useful chutney.  I simply make it to taste as I prefer it.  However, I wanted to give my students a recipe they could rely on, so I chose this version, by the talented Madhur Jaffrey, with whom I have been lucky enough to have classes.

Recipe:  Cilantro-Mint Chutney
(Recipe by Madhur Jaffrey)

3/4 cup chopped cilantro (coriander), firmly packed
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint, firmly packed
1 to 3 serrano chiles, minced
1 tablespoon lime juice
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

Put first 4 ingredients in a blender or food processor along with 3 tablespoons water.  Process until smooth.

Beat yogurt in a bowl until it is creamy.  Add cilantro mixture and fold in.  ADd salt to taste.

Variation:  Add 3 to 5 garlic cloves.  You can also add green apple.

Parting Shot:

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Recipes, like life, are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using photos or text.  Thanks!


Not Quite Nigella said...

I just has some "samoosas" at a South African restaurant last night! And it was really interesting how they were banned because of their shape! :o

Hotly Spiced said...

I love samosas too. Yours look amazing Victoria. So light and fluffy and with plenty of filling. I once made my own but they were a disaster. I made my own pastry from an Indian recipe and I just couldn't get it to work. But the filling was good! xx

Eha said...

You truly have made me smile today! First both of us mentioned congee as a choice for breakfast on Not Quite Nigella [possibly making some feel oh not so good and others ask 'what'?]and now reading your page: I LOVE samosas of all kinds - but have to laugh at the relationship mentioned to Cornish pasties :) ! Uhuh, and, in a way, to Russian piroshki etc! Is there anything new under the proverbial sun, but is there any more fun than doing the comparisons!! said...

Victoria...this is one of my favorite treats. I like the dip, but I usually make a tamarindo dip for mine...ove the plate also....

Joan Nova said...

Nothing yummier than a little hand-held pie, wherever it is. The deep flavors of India make this special -- and I just know that chutney was the perfect accompaniment.

Jen @ Savory Simple said...

I love samosas! These look wonderful.

Sawsan@ chef in disguise said...

Sambousek :) is one of the things that is always on my ramadan table.
I love how informative your posts are Victoria, I thought sambousek originated in India. It was interesting to know the muslim traders brought it to India not from it

Nancy said...

Mmmmm indeed! I love samosas. Now not only do I want some but I want to take a trip like the ones you describe in your travels. The chile dish is so cool:)

Lynne Daley said...

I adore samosas and have made them in the past. We once had an Indian neighbor who invited us to their family get togethers and there was vegetarian food in one room and non-vegetarian in a separate. It was fabulous and it's where I learned to eat Indian food. Your samosas look delicious and I like the puff pastry casing.The dip sounds a perfect fit. Thanks for sharing.

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I always love these little treats. I bet they are great using puffed pastry. I just used the chutney last night on grilled shrimp. By the way, when I receive your post through e-mail subscription there is no place to connect and leave a comment.

Victoria at Flavors of the Sun said...

Thanks for the heads up about the comment section on the sign-up, Karen. I'll check on it. Glad you made this chutney--it is just so good and so versatile.

Nagi@RecipeTinEats said...

I love how you include brief history in your posts. These samosas are great!

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