Photo by the writer
Photo by the writer

This delicious twist to the desi samosa can be found in most countries along the historic Silk Road in Central Asia such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and even Xinjiang province (home to the oppressed Uighur) in China. Traditionally made with minced lamb and seasonings, and baked in layered pastry in a tandoori oven, this crispy, flaky cousin of the samosa is comfort food at its best.

While I say the samsa is a twist on the samosa, it is mostly likely the other way around. Food historians speculate that Silk Road traders came across the popular street food on their journeys and made their own version once back at home.

Can we thank Central Asians for our crunchy samosas? While it is hard to know for sure, it is very likely. Similar versions of pastry-filled snacks can be found in nearby regions such as briouat (triangular-shaped pastry filled with minced meat, cheese, lemon and pepper) in Morocco and sambousek (crescent-shaped meat pies) in Lebanon, Syria and other parts of the Levant.

Then again, there are many cuisines around the world that feature some version of a stuffed filling in a pastry (empanada in Chile and Mexico, pasty in Britain, börek in Turkey). There’s just something — a certain je ne sais quoi — about a meat or vegetable filling in baked or fried dough that has appealed to generations of people over hundreds of years.

Like poetry and memes, good comfort food crosses borders and needs no translation.

Samsa (Makes 15-20)

This snack is ideal for a quick breakfast bite and makes a nice addition to an afternoon tea. While traditionally samsas are baked in a tandoor, these turn out just as delicious in a regular oven. The most popular filling for this Central Asian snack is minced lamb but other fillings are also popular, such as minced chicken, beef, pumpkin and potato. While the recipe below is for minced meat, feel free to play around with different combinations — such as chicken and cheese or the traditional samosa potato filling.

Ingredients

For the Dough

2 cups flour
1/3 cup ghee or butter, softened
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt

For the Filling

1 pound beef or lamb or chicken mince
2 onions, finely chopped
1 garlic, minced
2 green chilies, finely sliced (optional, add for more spice)
1 teaspoon or hasb-e-zaiqa salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon zeera powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder

Other
Sesame seeds, as needed

1 egg

Method

Make the dough. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Then, add water a little at time and keep on mixing till a crumbly texture forms. Then, add water as needed till a dough forms.

Knead dough. Roll into a ball, then flatten out dough, fold it and knead it. Repeat a few times. And then, set aside in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Once the dough has cooled in the fridge, make the pastry. Soften the butter or ghee. Divide the dough into four balls. Roll out each of the quarters into a thin layer. Roll out one layer, brush with butter or ghee, then add another rolled-out layer on top and repeat till all the dough is finished.

Roll the layered dough out. Then, roll the dough from the edge, folding into small rolls, till the entire layer has been pulled into a big roll. Cut the dough roll into one-and-a-half inch thick pieces. Place in fridge for half an hour.

Make the filling mixture while the dough cools. Add the garlic, onion, green chilies (if desired), zeera and coriander powder and the seasonings to the minced lamb/chicken/beef. Mix well and set aside. Traditionally the qeema is added raw and then cooked when baking the pastry but if you’d prefer the meat to be very well done then slightly cook the qeema before adding it in: sauté the minced garlic and onions, then add the seasonings and spices. Add the qeema and stir well. Cook for 10 minutes or so before setting aside.

Make the samsa. Press on the rolls and then flatten them out. Roll the pastries and then scoop in the minced meat filling. Fold the pastry from the three sides and press the edges together to make a triangular shape. Repeat for all the pastries. Brush the pastries with whisked egg and then sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Brush a flat baking tray with butter and dust with flour. Bake the pastries in a preheated oven at 200°C. Serve hot with tea.

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 6th, 2023

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