When I was living in Pune, India, I posted about my attempt to make samosas there. They turned out quite nicely with a good flavor, although my clumsy shaping ensured they were clearly not “desi” by birth. I used some ingredients there that are sort-of, but not quite parallel to what I can find in US supermarkets here in the US.
For example – flour. Wheat flour in Northern India is a huge staple. Many people buy grain in bulk and grind it themselves, or bring it to a mill to grind. Even the Western style supermarket I frequented offered bulk wheat purchase, with in-store milling to the fineness desired. But I generally bought pre-milled bagged flour, of two types – attah and maida. Maida is white flour; attah is whole wheat. Both are much higher protein than US all purpose flour, and attah especially is often augmented by other grains or vitamin enrichment.
Another example are potatoes. Here we are blessed with many kinds. In India the potatoes were halfway between flaky white Idaho or Maine style potatoes, and the Yukon Gold yellow or waxy red russet types favored for boiling rather than baking. They cooked up a bit firmer than whites, but were not as fine textured as the yellows or reds. I take advantage of US abundance and use a combo, relying on the yellows for texture and the whites for the substrate of the filling. If you use just one type, an all purpose white potato will serve.
Spices. There is no comparison, so I have tried to punch up the US version to reach the flavor levels of what we found in India. There I was lucky enough to have received jars of “family masala” from our friends as gifts. Every one was different, fiercely tasty, and oh, so good. Pre-made garam masala here in the US is quite anemic by comparison. The best of them that I’ve found was at Atlantic Spice in Truro. Penzey’s is ok, but bland. Kashmiri mirch (hot chili powder) is heavenly – fruity and complex. Cayenne is hot but not as nuanced. Some New Mexico style powdered chilis are too heavily smoked for this recipe. Try to find a less-smoked, fruity yet chili pepper powder use here.
Over the past weekend I had an occasion to make samosas again, making substitutions specific to what’s on hand here. For example, I’ve tried to make the roti style flatbreads I used to make in Pune, but with equivocal success. I suspected the flour. Especially the white flour, which is too soft. So I have made some changes to the types and proportions of flour, to get a better result. Apologies for not having pix of the finished samosas, post frying. They were too delicious, and did not survive long enough for photography.
Note that if you are shopping in a specialty grocery that caters to expat Indians, you will probably want to follow my original posting, and not the directions below.
One American Chick’s Sort-of-Samosas
Revised for a US kitchen
Makes 32 large snack-sized filled fried pastries
(makes filling for twice that many – extra may be frozen and used later)
1/2 cup white all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white bread flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour or whole wheat bread flour
2 1/2 Tbsp stick butter or clarified butter – MUST BE SOLID, NOT MELTED
3/4 cup water
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
Oil for deep-frying
2 medium size yellow onions, diced (roughly 2 cups)
2 Tbsp oil or clarified butter for sautéing.
8 cloves garlic, minced fine
2 cups frozen peas
2-3 fist-size white potatoes, peeled
2-3 fist-size yellow potatoes, peeled
2 Tbs whole mustard seeds, preferably black
3 Tbs garam masala spice mix (or other spices to your taste). Note that US-sold garam masala is usually quite weak. If you have a fresh home-made blend or an imported blend from an import store, use less.
2-3 Tbs hot red pepper powder. Kashmiri mirch is best, but if you can’t find import, choose a fruity and hot dried pepper rather than a heavily smoked paprika. Use less if you don’t like fiery foods.
1/2 tsp dried coriander (I added this because the US masala was weak).
1/2 tsp dried oregano (I added this because the US masala was weak).
1 Tbs cumin powder (I added this because the US masala was weak).
1 tsp tumeric powder
3 Tbs clarified butter or stick butter for flavor
Fresh cilantro leaves – about a big handful, de-stemmed and washed free of sand, then chopped roughly
3 Tbsp salt
1/2 small, sweet onion, like a Vidalia
1 clove of garlic
Large bunch of fresh cilantro leaves (the remainder of the bunch) de-stemmed and washed free of sand.
Salt to taste
1/2 Roma tomato or 6 or so cherry or grape tomatoes, seeded.
1. Peel both kinds of potatoes, chunk them into two or three pieces and set them to boil until tender. Drain the potatoes and salt them.
2. While the potatoes are cooking you’ll have some time. Mix the two flours, the salt and baking powder together. If lumpy, sift. Work the hard clarified butter or stick butter into the flour mix with your fingertips or a fork, as if you were making scones or pie crust, until all the butter is incorporated, and the flour looks crumbly and grainy – past the point at which you’d stop if this was pie crust.
3. Add about half of the water to the flour/butter mix and combine. Keep adding water slowly and mixing until the dough can be gathered up and briefly worked into a smooth mass. Do not over-knead or the shells will be hard as rocks. Set the dough aside under a damp cloth or in a plastic box. The dough needs to rest and evenly hydrate for at least an hour before use.
4. Take the cooked yellow potatoes and dice them into small chunks, about 1.5 cm (1/2 inch). Precision isn’t important, you just want them to be small but noticeable bits in the stuffing. Rough mash the white potatoes with the back of a fork or large slotted spoon.
5. In a VERY large frying pan, start a couple of tablespoons of oil over a medium heat. Throw in the mustard seeds and listen/watch for them to begin popping, like mini popcorn. When they pop, sauté the onions in the oil until light golden. Add the minced garlic and sauté for a minute or two more, until the garlic is fragrant, but not brown. Sprinkle all the dried spices, salt, and dried herbs onto the onions and sauté for another minute or two, until everything is very uniform and paste like spice coats the onion bits, smelling wonderful. Toss in the potato cubes and let them get coated with the oily spicy oniony garlicky mix. Then toss in the mashed potatoes and the remaining butter and stir all together to distribute the butter as it melts. When incorporated, stir in the peas. Taste it and add more salt if needed. Let the stuffing heat on low for another ten minutes for the peas to thaw and cook, and for the flavors to meld. Stir occasionally to scrape up any yummy bits from the bottom back into the filling, and to keep the potatoes from sticking to the bottom. Fold in the fresh coriander leaves. This fully cooked filling can be made way ahead and fridged until needed, although I suggest taking it out and letting it warm up before stuffing and frying the samosas, to ensure that the centers don’t remain cold.
6. To assemble – have your filling ready. Have a small rolling-pin ready. Take the rested dough and divide it into 16 equal parts. Put the parts back under the damp cloth towel or back into the plastic box until needed. Take the first lump of dough. Finger-flatten it into a fat pancake and pat it into some loose flour. Roll it out into a circle, as large and as thin as you can (mine was about 6 inches around, and about an eighth of an inch thick). Take a knife and cut the circle into two halves. Each half will make one samosa.
7. Try to follow this video’s folding logic. Moisten the straight edge of the half circle with water, then pat it into a cone. Hold the cone in one hand and fill it with the other hand, patting the filling in to make sure there are no air holes. Moisten the top edge, then pinch the top of the samosa closed in the center (where the cone’s seam is), then pinch the seam shut left and right of that point. Finally, fold the left and right corners of the newly formed seam together and pinch them, too. The professional samosa chef does this by plopping the thing down on the counter and using the side of his hand to make the second seal, at the same time giving his pastry a nice, flat, triangular bottom. Mine were more free-form, looking sort of like the back end of a fleeing chicken. In spite of the laughably unorthodox shape, mine did stay closed while cooking, which is what counts.
8. As the samosas are done, place them on a plate or rack, making sure that they do not DO NOT touch each other. If you are forming them ahead of time and intend to refrigerate before frying, this is an absolute necessity. You can stack them in a large plastic box, but if you do, make sure each one is separated from the others, and waxed paper or plastic wrap between layers is highly advised.
9. When the samosas are all formed they can be either baked or deep-fried three at a time in a small, deep saucepan. The oil should be quite hot, but not smoking, and the samosas should take only a minute or two each to get golden brown. I suggest letting them drain on a baking rack rather than on paper towels so that the bottoms don’t get soggy.
10. To make the dipping sauce, use a small blender, the chopping box attachment on a stick blender, or a full size food processor to buzz the onion and garlic to mush. Toss in the tomato, making sure to remove as much of the inner moisture as possible before doing so, and buzz to incorporate. Then add the cilantro leaves. Process until everything is evenly textured. Add salt to taste. You may want to pour off some excess liquid before serving – it depends on how juicy the vegetables were.
Serve the samosas hot with the dipping sauce, or cold. They are best when still crispy, but also good after they’ve cooled.
All pix courtesy of Elder Daughter, who knows her way around a camera better than I. The belan and chakla (rolling pin and platform) were hand made for me by family friend Rupesh Rocade’s father, and as you can see – are much used and appreciated!