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Samosas the ultimate street food

Samosas are the ultimate street food. A bit of filling stuffed into dough and fried, small enough that you can eat it with your fingers, is served in one form or another by street vendors all around the world.

But it is in India that it is most popular and best known. The quintessential street food has invaded the menus of even the finest Indian restaurants around the world.

Samosas have two parts, the filling part and the dough part. Fillings can be meat or vegetarian, they can be made of seafood or cheese or nuts and raisins. The

Hillary Levin/TNS
Keema samosas are filled with ground meat. These Beef Samosas are from a Pakistan recipe.

dough can be homemade or fashioned out of an already-existing pastry, such as store-bought phyllo sheets, and it can be baked or fried.

I decided to try three different fillings, two homemade doughs and one store-bought, and I fried two and baked one. I also made the two sauces most commonly served with samosas, a spicy mint chutney and a sweet and tangy tamarind chutney.

For my first filling, I went to the best possible source: the Pakistan-born mother of a friend. She gave me a recipe for keema samosas, which are filled with ground meat – in this case, beef.

Mother, as it turns out, knows best. The filling was easy to make, and had a delicately balanced, yet just right, mix of simple, comforting flavors.

Wrapped in dough and fried, they made a delightful snack. Baked, they would be almost as good and would have fewer calories.

I next made a different kind of keema samosa, this one with ground chicken. The recipe I used for this chicken samosa came from sub-Saharan Africa, where Indian immigrants have settled in great numbers, bringing their marvelous recipes with them.

Along with garlic and ginger – a standard combination in many Indian foods – they are made with curry powder (definitely not a standard in traditional Indian foods), cayenne, paprika and cilantro, plus onions and peas. They gain additional flavor from an Asian chile sauce. I used sriracha. I’m ecumenical that way.

It was amazingly good. The heat and spice were just right to stand up to the fried dough, and also those magnificent chutneys.

Perhaps the most popular kind of samosa in this country is the one that is filled with spiced potatoes and peas, so, naturally, I decided to make a batch of those, too. These I decided to bake, and rather than make more fresh dough, I used store-bought phyllo.

The potato and pea filling was superb. It is flavored with mustard seeds, the familiar spice mix garam masala and a minced green chile.

I also used some Indian chili powder, which is made from crushed red peppers and is unrelated to the chili powder Americans use to make chili. It has a rounder, fuller flavor than cayenne pepper, and is also milder, but cayenne is close enough to use – in smaller amounts – if you don’t want to get the Indian chili powder.

Of course, samosas aren’t samosas without a mint chutney and a tamarind chutney.

The tamarind requires tamarind pulp (you can buy it frozen at an international food store) and also calls for jaggery, which is a form of cane sugar that is often used in South Asia (I substituted brown sugar).

The result was spectacular, maybe even better than the tamarind chutney you get at Indian restaurants.

The thick mint chutney was equally impressive. It is an equal mix of mint and cilantro, plus garlic, salt, lemon juice, a dash of sugar and some minced green chiles.

BEEF SAMOSAS

Yield: 12 servings (24 small samosas)

1 2/3 cups (7 ounces) all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons salt, divided

½ teaspoon ajwain (carom) seeds, optional

4 tablespoons oil, such as sunflower oil, divided, plus more for frying if desired

About 5 tablespoons water

½ medium onion, chopped

Black pepper to taste

½ teaspoon Indian chili powder or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 clove garlic, minced, or ½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 pound ground beef

1 large wedge of lemon

1½ tablespoons chopped cilantro

1½ tablespoons chopped fresh mint, optional

Make the dough: Put the flour, ½ teaspoon of the salt and ajwain seeds (if using) in a bowl and add 3 tablespoons of the oil. Use your fingers to rub the oil into the flour until it resembles coarse sand. Gradually add the water, stirring, just until the dough comes together.

Knead for a few minutes until smooth, then place in a greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rest 15 to 20 minutes.

While the dough is resting, make the filling. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper, chili powder (or cayenne) and garlic. If using fresh garlic, sauté for 30 seconds. Add ground beef, and sauté.

When the beef is almost done, squeeze the lemon over it and add cilantro and optional mint. Remove from heat when done.

Roll out the rested dough into a long cylinder. Cut the cylinder into 12 portions and use a rolling pin to roll each portion into a circle with a diameter of 4 to 5 inches. Cut each circle in half.

Take 1 semicircle of dough in the palm of your hand and brush some water along the edge. Shape it into a cone by folding it in half on the straight edge, then sticking the 2 straight edges together. Put 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture into the cone. Brush the open edge of the dough with water, and press to seal. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

If frying, heat at least 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees and fry 2 or 3 samosas at a time until golden brown on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes. If baking, heat oven to 350 degrees and brush baking sheet and samosas lightly with oil. Bake until golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

PER SERVING: 251 calories; 14 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 49 mg cholesterol; 17 g protein; 14 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 349 mg sodium; 19 mg calcium

– Filling recipe by Shahida Sultan. Dough recipe from “Chai, Chaat & Chutney,” by Chetna Mahan.

CHICKEN SAMOSAS

Yield: 16 servings

FOR THE FILLING:

1 to 2 tablespoons oil

½ medium onion, chopped

2 teaspoons minced garlic

Hillary Levin/TNS
Chicken Samosas are based on a recipe from sub-Saharan Africa and go well with Mint Chutney, left, and Tamarind Chutney, right.

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon curry powder

½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon pepper sauce or chili sauce, such as sriracha

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon white pepper

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ pound ground chicken, beef or turkey

1/3 cup frozen peas

2 to 3 tablespoons cilantro or parsley

Salt to taste

FOR THE DOUGH:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1½ teaspoons salt

1 cup warm water

½ cup oil or ghee (clarified butter)

For the filling: In a medium-large skillet, add oil, onions, garlic and ginger, and sauté, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add curry, pepper sauce, paprika, white pepper and cayenne; cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add ground meat and cook until done. Add peas and parsley, and season to taste with salt. Remove from heat to cool. This may be prepared up to a day in advance.

For the dough: In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar and salt. Add water and oil or ghee. Mix just until the ingredients come together. On a heavily floured surface, knead the dough until it is soft, elastic and smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes. Do not overwork the dough.

Divide dough into 8 balls. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll each ball in turn into a thin circle. Cut the circle in half. Place a generous 1 to 2 tablespoons of filing in the middle of the semi-circle and use your finger to lightly moisten the dough edges with water. Fold the end over the filling to form a triangle. Continue with the remaining dough.

If frying, heat at least 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees and fry 2 or 3 samosas at a time until golden brown on both sides, about 3 or 4 minutes. If baking, heat oven to 350 degrees and brush baking sheet and samosas lightly with oil. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

PER SERVING: 83 calories; 9 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 12 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 20 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 313 mg sodium; 9 mg calcium

– Adapted from africanbites.com

POTATO AND PEA SAMOSAS

Yield: About 20 servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, such as sunflower

1 teaspoon mustard seeds (any color)

1 green chile, finely chopped

Potato and Pea Samosas use store-bought phyllo and are baked instead of fried.

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon Indian chili powder or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon mango powder (amchur), optional

½ teaspoon garam masala

2/3 cup fresh or frozen peas

5 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed

1 package phyllo sheets, thawed, or homemade samosa dough

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds. Once they begin to pop, stir in the green chile, salt, chili powder or cayenne, optional mango powder and garam masala, and mix well.

Add the peas and cook until they are softened, 1 minute for frozen or 5 to 6 minutes for fresh. Add the mashed potatoes, mix well and cook 2 minutes until well combined. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

If using phyllo dough or you wish to bake the homemade dough, preheat oven to 350 degrees; phyllo should be baked. Take 1 sheet of phyllo, covering remaining sheets with a damp towel. Fold phyllo in thirds, lengthwise, and brush edges with water. Place 1½ to 2 tablespoons potato mixture about 1 inch from one end and fold over to form a triangle. Continue folding as you would a flag, tucking the last edge into the slot formed by the sheet.

If using homemade dough, divide dough into 10 balls. Roll out each ball into a thin circle. Cut each circle in half and moisten the edges with water, using your finger. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each semicircle and fold the dough over in half, sealing the edges.

If baking, place the samosas on a lightly greased baking sheet (brush oil over the tops of the samosas if using phyllo). Bake until golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

If frying, heat at least 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees and fry 2 or 3 samosas at a time until golden brown on both sides, about 3 or 4 minutes.

PER SERVING: 108 calories; 2 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 3 g protein; 19 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 235 mg sodium; 9 mg calcium

– Adapted from “Chai, Chaat & Chutney,” by Chetna Makan

TAMARIND CHUTNEY

Yield: 16 servings

1 cup frozen tamarind pulp, thawed, see note

½ cup dark brown sugar, packed

5 dates, pitted and chopped

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon Indian chili powder or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

Note: Tamarind pulp is available at international markets. Be sure to buy the kind that is mostly water. Otherwise, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 4 ounces of tamarind and allow to soak for 30 minutes. Pass through a strainer, pushing on the pulp to extract as much flavor as possible. Use the flavored liquid for this chutney.

Mix the tamarind pulp, dates and brown sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Stir in the salt, chili powder and cumin.

Remove from heat and strain, pressing on the dates to extract more flavor. This chutney will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 days.

PER SERVING: 61 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 15 g carbohydrate; 12 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 41 mg sodium; 14 mg calcium

– Adapted from “Chai, Chaat & Chutney,” by Chetna Makan

MINT CHUTNEY

Yield: 8 servings

1¾ ounces mint leaves

1¾ ounces cilantro leaves

1 small onion, roughly chopped

3 small green chiles

4 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

¼ cup lemon juice

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. This chutney can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.

PER SERVING: 20 calories; 1 g fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 5 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 297 mg sodium; 25 mg calcium

– Recipe from “Chai, Chaat & Chutney,” by Chetna Makan

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