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)
- Burma--chamuça or samuza
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.
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.
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
Recipes, like life, are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using photos or text. Thanks!