Hanukka samosas

These popular three-cornered fried pastries have a crunchy crust and a satisfying vegetable filling. The potato filling, which is usually studded with peas, is full of flavor from aromatic spices.

Samosas served with soup at Fifty2Fifty, a restaurant run by culinary students (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Samosas served with soup at Fifty2Fifty, a restaurant run by culinary students
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
This Hanukka we are going to prepare a different kind of fried potato specialty – samosas.
These popular three-cornered fried pastries have a crunchy crust and a satisfying vegetable filling. The potato filling, which is usually studded with peas, is full of flavor from aromatic spices.
We watched our friend Farhana Sahibzada, author of Flavorful Shortcuts to Indian/Pakistani Cooking, demonstrate an easy way to make samosas by using egg roll wrappers. (See recipe.)
Sahibzada’s delicious appetizer came together quickly and easily. She cooked and peeled the potatoes, coarsely mashed them with a fork, and stirred in cumin, crushed coriander seeds and other spices. “There’s no rule about how much spice to use,” she emphasized, “you add the amount that suits your palate.” To complete the filling, Sahibzada added chopped green onions and cilantro, as well as lightly sautéed peas and sweet peppers.
Another way to use this potato filling is to bake it as triangular pastries using phyllo dough or puff pastry. When used this way, they aren’t called samosas, said Sahibzada; they are known as patties. To Israelis they would resemble potato burekas, but would taste different because of the Indian spices in the filling.
In fact, the filling tastes so good that it can be served as a side dish on its own. When Sahibzada was growing up in Lahore, Pakistan, such a dish, called potato bharta, was a special treat. It’s made by heating the potato filling with sautéed onions and cilantro.
Like potato latkes, samosas are usually served with a simple sauce. It might be fruit-based and sweet, like plum or tamarind-date chutney, or it might be an herb sauce like fresh mint chutney.
Sahibzada turns her herb chutney into a creamy sauce by adding yogurt and sour cream. (See recipe.) The sauce has a subtle touch of sharpness from the hot pepper but the main taste comes from the fresh herbs. It’s nice as a dip with vegetables, she said.
We like it with potato latkes, too. 
Farhana Sahibzada cooks the potatoes in their jackets for the best flavor and texture. “Potatoes absorb flavors from seasonings readily while they are still warm,” she said. “It is important to add the spices and herbs to the potatoes before they cool completely.”
Sahibzada seasons the potato mixture with garam masala, a garnishing spice blend generally used to sprinkle over a curry or a vegetable dish just before serving. She prepares her own blend from five spices – cumin, black cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper (see Note 1 below), but you can use a commercial blend.
To make the filling into potato bharta, see Note 2 below.
Some cooks make their samosa fillings from ground chicken or other savory meat mixtures. Sahibzada even makes dessert samosas. In the autumn she makes samosas with apple pie filling. She also makes samosas filled with berries and chocolate chips.
Makes about 4 or 5 cups
■ 6 medium baking potatoes (russet)
■ ½ tsp. garam masala (Indian mixed spices) (see Note 1 below)
■ 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
■ ½ tsp. crushed red pepper
■ ¼ tsp. cumin seeds, plus a pinch for sautéing
■ Pinch of ajwain (see Note 3 below)
■ ¼ tsp. coarsely ground coriander seeds
■ ½ bunch cilantro (fresh coriander), chopped fine
■ 1 bunch green onion, chopped fine
■ 2 small hot green peppers, seeded and chopped fine
■ ½ cup diced sweet red or yellow peppers, or some of each (optional)
■ 1 cup frozen peas, thawed and drained of any liquid
■ 1 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
Put the potatoes in a saucepan, cover them with water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium heat until the potatoes offer no resistance when you check them with the point of a sharp knife, about 30 minutes.
Peel potatoes when they are cool enough to handle but still quite warm. Put them in a deep bowl and coarsely mash with a fork to the consistency of scrambled eggs. While the potatoes are still warm, mix in the salt, red pepper, ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed coriander seeds, ajwain and garam masala. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Set aside 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro and green onion. Mix the chopped hot peppers and remaining chopped cilantro and green onion into the potatoes.
Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the peppers and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the peas, reserved chopped cilantro and green onion, a pinch of cumin seeds and a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes. Immediately add the warm peas to the potatoes.
Note 1: To make garam masala, grind together 2 tablespoons black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon whole cloves, a 2.5- cm. (1-inch) piece of cinnamon stick, 2 black cardamoms and 6 tablespoons cumin seeds in an electric grinder for a few seconds until finely ground. Store in an airtight container.
Note 2: If you have extra potato filling, you can use it to make potato bharta: Sauté 1 onion in ¼ cup oil until it becomes light golden, add a pinch of cumin seeds, ½ cup green onion and ¼ cup chopped cilantro and sauté briefly, then add the potato filling and let it heat through to absorb the flavors.
Note 3: Ajwain seeds can be found at Indian markets. You can omit them or substitute dried thyme.
Egg-roll wrappers can be found at Asian markets. You can substitute Moroccan cigar wrappers or wrappers for making North African briks. Sahibzada cuts egg roll wrappers in three to make small samosas and uses two layers for each one so the wrapper will be sturdy enough to hold the filling.
Cut the wrappers to make the size of samosas that you prefer.
You can wrap the samosas a day ahead. Cover them with foil or plastic wrap but make a few holes in the covering material. Remove the samosas from the refrigerator 30 to 60 minutes before frying so they come to room temperature.
Ideally they should be fried just before serving, but you can fry them a couple of hours ahead and, if you like, reheat them on a baking sheet in the oven.
Makes about 30 to 35 samosas
■ 1 egg white, beaten
■ 4 to 6 tsp. plain flour
■ A 340-gr. (12-ounce) package egg roll or spring roll wrappers of about 20- x 20-cm (8- x 8-inch), thawed if frozen
■ Potato Filling (see recipe above)
■ Oil for deep frying
For sealing paste, mix 4 teaspoons flour into the egg white in a small bowl with a spoon. Mix well to consistency of a thick paste. Add more flour if needed to attain the right consistency; if it is too thin, it will not seal the wrappers properly.
Cut the square of egg roll wrappers in 3 equal rectangles of about 6.7 cm. (2.7 inch) wide. Gently remove 2 rectangles and keep them together as one thicker rectangle. Keep the remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap so they won’t dry out.
Starting at one end of this thicker rectangle, fold the strip at an angle to form a cone. Hold the cone in place and with your finger, rub it with a little sealing paste; press to seal so it holds the shape. At this point there should be a portion of the sheet sticking above the wider opening of the cone cavity. Fill the cavity with the filling, cover the top opening with the extended portion of the sheet, and seal the flap using the sealing paste. Put the filled samosa on a tray.
Continue making more samosas with the rest of the wrappers and the filling.
Heat the oil for frying to about 200°C (400°F) in a heavy saucepan; or heat oil for frying in a deep, heavy skillet, filling it by about one third. Add enough samosas to make one layer. Fry samosas, turning them occasionally with tongs, until they are crisp and pale golden.
Drain on paper towels and serve warm.
Sahibzada makes this dough either in a food processor or in a bowl.
■ 2½ cups all purpose flour
■ Pinch of salt
■ Generous pinch ajwain (see Note after potato filling recipe)
■ Generous pinch cumin seeds
■ ¼ cup vegetable oil
■ ½ cup water
■ Potato filling (see recipe above)
■ Oil for deep frying
In a bowl or food processor container, mix the dry ingredients. Add the oil and mix or process until it is well incorporated. Add half of the measured water and continue blending. Gradually add remaining water while blending. Add more water if needed, 2 tablespoons at a time and up to another ¼ cup. Process until combined. Dough should be workable but firm. Transfer dough to a work surface.
Knead dough for a few minutes, form a ball and set it in a bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let stand at room temperature for 25 to 30 minutes before using.
Divide dough into two equal portions.
Roll one portion into a log and cut the log into 8 to 10 equal portions with a knife. Using your fingers, flatten each piece slightly. With a rolling pin, roll each piece to an oval thin shape about 15 cm. (6 inches) long and 7.6 to 10 cm. (3 to 4 inches) wide at the widest part in the middle. Cut each oval piece in the middle. Each piece will make 2 samosas.
Overlap the cut end to form a cone; hold cone in place by moistening the dough at the crease. Fill cavity of cone with filling, and seal the opening by moistening the dough at the outer edge of the opening to form the samosa.
Heat oil for frying to 175°C (350°F). Deep fry the samosas in batches of 6 to 8 until they are golden on all sides. Drain on paper towels and serve warm.
“Mint chutney is one of the more popular chutneys for daily meals,” said Sahibzada, and is good with deep-fried snacks, appetizers and grilled food. It’s made of fresh mint, cilantro (fresh coriander), hot pepper, garlic, salt, sugar and lemon juice. You can keep the chutney for three or four days in an airtight container in the refrigerator, though its bright green color will become less vivid.
Although the hot pepper is added with its seeds, the lemon juice and sugar balance it so the sauce is not overly piquant; if you prefer a milder sauce, remove the seeds.
To turn this herb chutney into a yogurt sauce known as raita, you can add yogurt.
To make it richer still for serving as a dressing or dip, you can add sour cream, mayonnaise or both. You can keep the dressing in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
Makes about 2 to 2½ cups
■ ½ onion, coarsely chopped
■ ¼ cup lemon juice
■ 1 small hot green pepper, stem removed
■ ½ bunch cilantro
■ ½ bunch mint
■ 1 tsp. pomegranate seeds (optional)
■ 3 garlic cloves, peeled
■ ½ tsp. salt
■ 3 tablespoons sugar
■ 1 cup yogurt (optional)
■ ¼ cup mayonnaise or sour cream, or 2 Tbsp. of each (optional)
■ ½ tsp. toasted and then ground cumin seeds (optional)
■ 1 Tbsp. dried dill or 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill (optional)
■ Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Combine the onion, lemon juice, hot pepper, cilantro, mint, pomegranate seeds, garlic, salt and sugar in a blender or food processor. Blend for 30 to 40 seconds until blended well. Mix the herb mixture with yogurt, mayonnaise and/or sour cream, toasted cumin and dill. Blend well with a spoon. Taste the mixture for the balance of salt and sugar. Add black pepper if desired.
Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast