The greasy, deep-fried onion and ground beef samosas of Nairobi were my gateway to Indian food. But when I returned to the U.S. and began cooking in earnest for myself and housemates, I immediately took to the simple and Americanized samosas from the original Moosewood Cookbook. A bible for 80s vegetarians, I probably cooked two-thirds of that book in my first 5 years of adulting. But the samosa was the undisputed gem of the cookbook.
Frying was beyond our reach, so we improvised and brushed each samosa with our home-made ghee and baked them. We were pretty proud of our growing improvisational skills, but it was hardly rocket science. It’s an approach that was included in later editions of Moosewood, and is replicated across the web in a variety of copycat recipes.
One last thought: This is a fabulous social recipe, because the final assembly involves several steps.
And I have to give credit to my daughter, whose meticulous and crafty nature taught me something new about how to best cook these. Here’s how it happened: I was rolling out the dough and juggling a few other dishes, while she was in charge of samosa assembly. When I do samosa assembly I’m in a hurry, and I slather the oil on. It goes faster that way, and since I’m usually using olive oil, I figure there can be no harm, right? My daughter, meanwhile, used a very light touch. In the end, she used less oil and managed to more fully cover the samosas. The result was a lighter, crispier samosa.
- 2 1/2 cups flour (I prefer a mix of all purpose white and white wheat)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk or 1 cup yogurt
- ghee or olive oil for brushing the samosas before baking
- 1 cup finely chopped cauliflower
- 1 cup finely chopped parsnip, rutabaga, or turnip
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 1/2 cup onion, finely minced
- 1 carrot, grated (peeling optional)
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger, finely grated
- 2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon ajwain seeds
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Indian long pepper
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 1/2 cups green peas, uncooked (fresh or thawed from frozen)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1Prepare the dough a few hours, and as much as a day, before you’re going to create your samosas. Simply mix the flour with the salt and liquid with a large spoon or stiff spatula. Kneading is unnecessary and probably a bit counterproductive; just stir until fully mixed. Cover with saran wrap, or—to reduce plastic use—cover with a bowl. If using the latter technique, properly fitting the bowl to the dough size is more important the longer you’re letting your dough sit. You don’t want the dough to dry out, so cover with a damp cloth or other cover. A thin coating of butter or oil can be used here.
2Set a medium saucepan of water to boiling. Lightly blanch the cauliflower first, removing with a strainer. Using the same water then blanch whatever combination of parsnip, rutabaga, or turnip you’re using. (There’s an explanation for that here.)
3Heat oil for sauté in a medium to large frypan. Add the mustard and ajwain first, and when the mustard starts popping toss in the Indian long pepper, followed closely by the onion, garlic, and ginger. Add the cauliflower and root vegetables, cooking until mostly soft and the veggies are mashable. Then add the peas. (It’s not essential that these be thoroughly thawed; they’ll quickly pick up heat from the mix, and you’re also putting the finished pastry in the oven.
4Prepare your space, because you’re going to need a bit of it for this next step, especially if you have helpers. You’ll need a cookie sheet and at least 2 plates, a couple of forks, plus a small bowl of water, and another to hold the oil you need along with its pastry brush. I like a thinner and well seasoned steel sheet because it helps crisp the pastry without the expense (waste) of parchment paper.
5Flour a clean surface and roll out the dough as thin as you can. Cut a grid of three inch squares.
6Set the oven to 375 degrees.
7Remove a dough square to your work plate. Dab the outside edges with water using your fingers or a brush. (If you’ve only got one pastry brush, definitely use your fingers for the water, and the brush for the oil/ghee.) Place a tablespoon of filling ever so slightly off center, toward one corner. Fold the opposite corner over, creating a triangle. Use a fork to press the edges together.
8Transfer the filled pastry to the cookie sheet, brush lightly with oil/ghee. (For technique tips, be sure to read the last paragraph of the intro.)
9Cook until golden brown, about 25 minutes depending on your oven. About halfway through, flip using a spatula. Serve warm, with tamarind chutney.