Samosas don't need an introduction in this part of the world. If you have been in the UAE long enough, you have probably come across and even tasted this triangular pastry snack that is stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas, and slowly deep-fried to golden-brown perfection.
That's an Indian samosa, the perfect pairing with a cup of karak tea on any day. From office tea breaks, to finger food at parties, the humble samosa has carved a special place on many menus.
While it is often thought to belong to India, food historians say its origins are in the Middle East. Originally called samsa, after the pyramids in Central Asia, the fried triangle found many names as it travelled from Egypt to Libya and eventually from Central Asia to India. Arab cookery books from the 10th to 13th century share the recipe of the snack under the names sanbusak, sanbusaq, and sanbusaj, all of which derive from the Iranian word sanbosag.
From royal kitchens to street-food
In its earliest avatars in India, the samosa was a fried tidbit served to the royals of the 13th-century Sultanate of Delhi. Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century traveller, and explorer described a meal at a royal court, where the sambusak, a small pie stuffed with minced meat, nuts, and spices, was served before the third course of pilaf. And, the Nimmatnama-i-Nasiruddin-Shahi, a 15th-century medieval Indian cookbook from the Malwa Sultanate in central India, mentions khoya (dried evaporated milk solids), ground wheat, and deer meat as samosa fillings.
Once a food fit for royals, today, samosas are found at almost every street-food stall or tea shop on the streets of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and all across India. Northern India adopted the recipe and veganised it. The meat was replaced with a smooth mash of spiced potatoes and peas. And, the triangular pockets became bigger and found a distinct shape, different from the more flat pastries found in the Middle East.
Growing up in Noida, a city neighbouring the Indian capital of Delhi, and later studying in the capital, samosas were a part of daily life. Evening walks with friends were incomplete without stopping at the corner samosa shop. One crispy warm samosa each, sprinkled with some tangy chaat masala and dipped in some sweet red sauce and minty green chutney. The taste is so fresh in my mouth that it was probably why, when I moved to Dubai 11 years ago, it was one of the first Indian snacks that I went looking for and even tried making myself.
If you, too, have tried making samosas yourself but not succeeded, here's a fool-proof step-by-step guide by Dubai-based chef Aakash Patial, who works at Kulfiholic - The Mumbai Gully, a cozy, colourful restaurant nestled in an old lane in Dubai's Oud Metha.
Patial who came to the UAE just two years ago, learnt the recipe from the owner of the restaurant, Rupali Koirala who has lived in the UAE for 20 years now. From getting the dough right to folding the base of the samosa to seal the filling in, the entire process is an art in itself, and Patial has mastered it. He said: "It's not difficult once you learn the technique."
Step-by-step guide to making samosas
- Pressure cooker or pan to boil potatoes
- Bowl to knead the dough
- Wok to fry the samosas
- Skimmer (ladle to strain the samosas)
Makes: 4 big samosas or 8-10 mini samosas
For the filling:
- 3 boiled potatoes (fork tender) roughly 300gm
- 100gm fresh green peas
- ½tbsp red chili powder (depending on spice tolerance)
- ½tbsp black salt
- ½tbsp aamchur powder (dried raw mango powder)
- 5-8gm coriander seed whole
- salt to taste
- 1- ½tbsp chaat masala
- ½tbsp jeera powder
- ½tsp garam masala
- A handful of chopped coriander leaves
For the outer crust:
- 350gm plain flour
- 45ml oil for the dough
- 150ml water
- salt to taste
- Oil to fry (the chef used sunflower oil)
Mash three boiled potatoes.
In a wok, heat 2tsp of oil, and add the whole coriander seeds. After a few seconds, add the green peas and stir till sauteed on low to medium flame.
After a few seconds, add the green peas and stir till sauteed on low to medium flame. To this, add the mashed potatoes to the wok and mix to combine well. Add in the jeera powder, chili powder, black salt, aamchur powder, garam masala, salt, and the chaat masala, and continue mixing.
Add a handful of chopped coriander leaves and turn off the heat, continuing to mix until combined. Then keep the mixture aside for 15 to 20 minutes to cool.
Pro tip: Never use the filling while warm, it tends to release moisture within the samosa and ruins the texture of the filling, said Chef Patial.
To make the dough:
Take 350gm of plain flour in a deep bowl for kneading, add 45ml of oil, salt to taste, and 150 ml of water and knead thoroughly. Chef Patial added: "Some people add the water at intervals during kneading, don't do that. Add the water in at once and knead. This will give your samosa dough the right consistency."
Wrap the dough in a cling wrap (to avoid drying out) and set it aside for 10-15 minutes.
After resting the dough, unwrap the cling film, and give the dough a slight knead. Divide it into balls weighing around 90gm each. Flatten them one by one with a rolling pin and roll them out evenly. Avoid rolling the dough too thick or thin, as that can affect the taste of the samosa.
Divide the flattened dough into two pieces with a knife. Each piece will make the crust for one samosa.
Dip the tip of your finger in a bowl of water and run it along the straight edge of the dough, making it tacky enough to stick when you fold the dough into a conical shape.
Fold the dough into a cone shape, making a pocket for the filling. Ensure that the side is sealed. Fill the cone two-thirds, the filling should weigh around 80-90gm.
Again, using the tip of your fingers, rub some water along the edge of the samosa.
Using the index finger and thumb of both your hands, fold the open edge inwards and pinch and seal it.
Use a kitchen knife to trim the edges, your samosa is ready to be fried.
Chef Patial said: "Make sure the flame is on a low setting, the oil should be hot but not boiling. Your samosa will taste well only if it is slowly fried on low flame till it turns the right colour."
Don't worry, we got you covered. This is the colour your samosa needs to reach right before you strain it using a skimmer ladle. Then, transfer it onto some kitchen paper towels, to drain off the excess oil.