Samosas (AKA samoosa in South Africa) – what are they and where do they come from?
Simply put a samosa is a fried or baked pastry with a savory filing such as potato, peas, lentils, ground beef, lamb or chicken. They are typically shaped in a triangle and made with Indian spices.
Samosas originated in the Middle East as far back as 1,000 years ago and were adopted and refined to local tastes by Indian cuisines.
Although samosas are traditionally fried they can also be baked. The baked option is relatively popular in Western countries due to convenience and health choices. There are amazingly varied types and sizes of samosas ranging from large potato filled samosas to tiny bite sized meat or vegetable ones. Some are simply savory while others can be extremely spicy / hot! Folding the triangle pockets can be tricky but with practice it can be enjoyable and satisfying getting them perfect!
Samosas are served hot, often with fruit, mint, carrot or tamarind chutney. They are good frozen and subsequently reheated in an oven or microwave.
- Olive oil
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 2 tsp Cumin
- Optional: 2 tsp of Cumin seeds (highly recommend as it provides an authentic look and texture)
- 2 tsp Coriander
- 2 tsp Curry powder
- 1 fresh grated ginger
- Handful of fresh cilantro (or tablespoon of “fresh” cilantro paste)
- 2 tsp coarse Kosher or Sea Salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1-3 tsp Red chili powder or peri-peri (more/less for heat tolerance)
- 1 Onion finely chopped
- Rolled flour dough / pastry sheets or Phyllo (filo) dough*
- Optional: add diced boiled potatoes and peas
* Filo (Phyllo) is an unleavened, paper thin, flaky dough used for making pastries in Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines and dates back to the 13th century Ottoman Empire. More on handling Filo pastry below.
- Heat oil in a large frying pan, cook onion until browning slightly. Add ground beef and brown all over.
- Reduce heat then add spices and other ingredients. This would also the time to add potatoes (par boiled and cut into small cubes) and any other vegetables (see the vegetable samosa option at the end of this article). Stir in spices and complete cooking. Allow mixture to cool.
- Fold the pastry into a triangles (one at a time), placing the mixture inside and sealing. See below for more information on how to fold the pastry.
Types of pastry and cooking the samosas:
If you use a regular flour pastry then you have the option of either frying the samosas or baking them. Frying them provides a slightly crisper and arguably tastier shell. If, however, you use Filo pastry I recommend baking the samosas instead of frying them as the Filo pastry tends to soak up the oil excessively.
Pictured below are the two most common options i.e. a fried flour pastry shell and a baked Filo pastry shell. For flour pastry shells you can either make your own pastry sheets (flour + water + salt left to rise for 30 minutes then rolled thin and cut into rectangular sheets) or buy pre-made pastry sheets (spring roll pastry sheets also work well).
Fried Flour Shell Samosa
Baked Filo Pastry Samosa
To fry flour shell samosas:
Heat oil in frying pan or saucepan so that it covers the bottom of the samosas (roughly 1 to 2 cm or 1/4 to 1/2 inch). Quickly cook the samosas in batches until golden on both sides. Transfer immediately to a paper-towel and pat dry. Best served immediately but also good warmed up later!
To bake the samosas:
Pre heat your oven to 375 degrees. Bake one sheet / tray at a time until golden brown (approx. 20-25 minutes).
You can store samosas in the fridge for up to a week. If you are keeping them longer you should freeze them in a sealed container – separate the samosas with baking sheet (parchment paper).
Folding the pastry into triangles:
The easiest method I have found is to start with a long rectangular piece of dough. Make a plain flour & water paste to help seal the edges of the samosa. The video below of how to fold a samosa is nice and simple.
Tips that will make this process easier:
- Keep a damp kitchen towel handy to wipe fingers clean between folding and sealing.
- Keep the pastry sheets covered so they don’t dry out (at least until you are proficient and can fold quickly!). The easiest way to do this is by covering them with plastic wrap and placing your damp kitchen towel over the wrap (keeping the pastry moist).
- If you are using Filo pastry note that it tends to dry out very quickly so keep it covered from the start. You will need to use 2-3 sheets of Filo at a time as one by itself is not substantial enough to contain the samosa filling without breaking.
If your Filo pastry does dry out too much to fold (i.e. if it breaks when you fold it), try rolling some samosa filling into a roll of the Filo dough (kind of like a “samosa sausage roll”), pictured below. This is an easy, tasty and more substantial option than a regular samosa! I used a little extra peri-peri (chili) spice in these and also mixed in some Mrs Balls fruit chutney that add extra flavor and also prevents the roll from being too dry.
There are many vegetarian options for making samosas including this one by Emeril Legasse and this one by Jamie Oliver. Ingredients often include potatoes, peas, lentils, spinach, chickpeas, corn, sweet potato, pine nuts and cauliflower. Follow the same directions as above with onion, ginger, spices etc.
Another vegetarian option is using Paneer (a type of curd cheese). This is a popular filling in northern India.
Try your own vegetarian options and let us know how they went!
Bon apetite or (in Hindi) कृपया भोजन शुरू कीजियै!