Small hot pockets of mashed potatoes and peas, fragrant with spices, encased in a crunchy fried pastry and dipped in a cool, tangy, yoghurt chutney... A good, homemade samosa is nothing like the cardboard lookalikes found in plastic boxes in your supermarket’s ready-to-eat aisle.
These deep fried, triangular shaped pastries are a well-known staple in Indian cuisine where they are found as a street snack in the northern part of the country. There, spicy samosas are served alongside herby chutneys or in chaat - a type of dish widely found all over the Indian subcontinent commonly consisting of potatoes (or some sort of fried dough, or samosas, in our case), yoghurt, chutney, chopped onions, coriander and chaat masala.
Its ubiquitous presence on Indian restaurant menus would leave you forgiven for thinking it was a uniquely Indian dish. The samosa, in its various shapes and forms, is also found in the cuisine of countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Burma, Indonesia, and as far as Israel in the Middle East where it is called sambusaq. Its origins lie in the ancient empires of the Iranian plateau at the dawning of civilisation. The first reference to samosas can be found in the writings of the 11th-century Persian historian Abul-Fazl Beyhaqi, who describes these delicate pastries as being eaten in the courts of the Ghaznavid empire. But as the delicacy travelled over the Himalayas to the Indian subcontinent, the influence of the various cultures it passed through eventually saw it morph into the less refined peasant fusion dish we know today.
How to Make Samosas
If the aforementioned supermarket ‘ethnic food’ samosas are your only memories of this delicious snack, then homemade samosas will be nothing short of a revelation to you and your tastebuds.
A classic samosa recipe may look like long-winded exercise. But look closely and you will find that a lot of the ingredients are different spices, many of which can be thrown in together in one step. An Indian samosa typically contains coriander seeds, garam masala and fennel seeds, but if you are a fan of Indian cuisine then you will already have these on hand. Otherwise, check any small family-run ethnic supermarkets and stock up - they will form the bases for many great, warming curries ahead.
You can fry the samosa, like the traditional recipe, or opt for baking them on lined baking sheets instead. If you choose to fry the samosas, make sure to heat the oil to the right temperature (between 355-375F / 180-190C). Lower temperatures will make the samosa absorb more oil than needed. Get them golden brown and crispy and drain them on paper towels before serving.
There are two key elements to a samosa recipe: the pastry and the filling. And here’s where you can also exercise your right to use store-bought, ready-made samosa pastry from the frozen food section. But trust us, a samosa pastry is so easy to make and once you try it yourself you won’t be looking back.
Samosa enthusiasts can be divided into two camps. There are those who prefer a flaky pastry that is light and crunchy versus those who prefer a sturdier pastry, as called for in traditional recipes. The traditional samosa pastry is a sturdy one, made to travel long distances. Just as it did so in the 13th, 14th century when it bobbed its way in the sacks of the merchants from Central Asia who brought the samosa to the Indian subcontinent.
Making the samosa pastry takes just very simple ingredients: flour, water, salt and oil (or ghee). The oil (or ghee) is rubbed into the flour mix with your hands, until the mixture forms a crumbly, breadcrumb texture. Water is added gradually, and it is kneaded into a smooth dough; this can take up to 10 minutes. Remember to rest the dough for at least 15 - 20 minutes, it will relax the gluten and make it easier to roll out.
When you are ready with the filling, get your pastry ready for assembly. Divide the dough and roll each piece into balls, and flatten into circles about 7-8 cm in diameter. Cut the circles in half, and form each semi-circle is into a cone shape. Seal the straight edge with a small amount of water brushed on the edges. Alternatively, you can roll them out into rectangles of 20cm x 10cm and cut this in half for two squares. Easily fold the squares into triangles (after placing the filling in the middle of each).
If you happen to fall into the flaky pastry camp, then there's no shame in using two sheets of filo pastry for the samosas. Use two sheets of filo pastry brushed with melted butter for a pastry with a lighter consistency but delicious nonetheless.
Unless you are going for a more elaborate filling such as our quinoa and lamb confit samosa recipe, then get started on your pastry prior to the filling. This way you can cook your filling ingredients whilst the dough is resting.
The most popular Indian samosa filling also happens to be vegetarian, and gets the bulk of its volume from boiled potatoes. They are either mashed or diced, mixed with onions and sometimes, green peas. Everything comes together with the masala spice mix in a pan on a medium high heat, with the popular addition of ginger and chillies.
Try our recipe for deep-fried vegetable samosas that replaces the classic potato filling with a lighter broccoli and green bean mix. This is a vegetarian samosa recipe - replace the ghee for vegetable oil to make it vegan.
To outsiders, Indian cuisine may seem fairly simple and homogenous, but this perspective fails to take into account the variety of the subcontinent’s different regions, as well as the many external influences. For example, tropical fish-based Southern Indian cuisine is very different from the heartier, meatier food eaten in the north. If you’re keen to try other dishes, then how about these recipes for potato pakoras with yoghurt sauce, paratha flatbreads or Mango kheer?