I’m finally going to share some of the Puri magic with a recipe for vegetable samosas (Indian stuffed parcels). These alway takes me back to cooking up a storm with my wee daddy when I was younger. He was always bugging us up (one of his phrases) to learn the skills that his mother had taught him back in the village, and was forever preaching about the importance of the generations before him and learning from him. Whilst I always respected my dad, I never truly understood how important this was until my sister and I finally met his, and our, family in the ancestral home nestled in northern India’s Himalayan foothills in 2011. There was an unbeleivable level of understanding and love for people that we had never met before, and who, after 50 years of not being together, shared the same mannerisms, beliefs and attitudes. Unfortunately by the time I had the chance to meet my dad’s brother – my chacha ji (uncle) – and the rest of the family, it was too late to say thank you again for everything my dad had ever given or taught us as we were there to bury his ashes.
Despite the sombre reason for our trip, being surrounded by all our wider family in the remote village that my dad was born gave me deeper connection and insight to his life and, in an odd way, his cooking. The abundant dishes that we were fed had the most intense and mouthwatering flavours I’d had since my dad’s food. I’m very fussy at eating out for Indian cuisine, and don’t even bother trying to cook me a curry, as I know it’ll never be on par with my dad’s (or mine)! In the village, I had nothing to worry about – asides from being fed and fed and fed to standards even beyond my dad’s!
The women and children – and actually sometimes the men – of the family spend all day tending to the fields, harvesting what seems like exceptionally small quantities of mustard seeds and lentils for hours of toil. At the end of the day they will continue with their chores, the cooking, the cleaning, and amongst it all, the smiling and the laughing. It it this energy and strength that my dad also possessed, which enabled him to carry on through all the hard work he took on (including my sister and I!) and troubles that were thrown at him. I know it might sound silly, but the reason I’ve shared this story is because I feel that energy when I’m cooking up an Indian storm in my kitchen. The magical fragrances of the jeera and fresh dhania, the almost hypnotic way I can make some of the dishes he taught me, and the joy that I can spread just by cooking for others, all helps me to reconnect with what I have lost in a comforting way, but also makes me strive to create something positive. And I suppose part of that, is me doing the ‘cooking thing’. See my about page and my first blog post for more on my background and aspirations.
Ok, so if you’ve stuck with me so far, thank you. You deserve a samosa recipe!
I have done this the traditional deep-fried way – Indians don’t get those generous tummy rolls from nothing! But I have also experimented with baking which gave a surprisingly good result so will describe both options below. Now, my dad didn’t actually use quantities, and I don’t tend to either so I’ve tried my hardest to write this down [this is basically a disclaimer in case they are no good!].
- 250g chapati or wholemeal flour (you can substitute this for plain white flour if you don’t have either)
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup of room temperature water
- 1 tsp ajwain (onion) seeds – (optional)
The * items can all be substituted for garam masala i.e. 2 tsp garam masala instead of all of those.
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp for cooking
- 1 white onion, thinly diced
- 2 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed & diced
- 1/4 inch of fresh garlic, grated
- 1 green chilli, finely diced (optional)
- 2 large potatoes, peeled, cubed & parboiled
- 1 cup of peas (I use frozen)
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander*
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamon*
- 1/2 tsp ground fennel*
- 1/2 tsp amchur/mango powder*
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4-1 tsp chilli powder (your choice, also optional)
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- salt to taste
- handful of fresh coriander (optional)
- Plus vegetable oil to deep fry – the quantity of which depends on the size of your pan and samosas – you want enough to just cover them.
Dry fry the cumin seeds for 2-3 minutes on a medium heat until they give off a delicious, crisp aroma and are toasted. Stop if they start to turn black or if the smell becomes too smokey. Then add the mustard seeds and cook for a further minute or two until the seeds begin to pop.
Add 1 tbsp vegetable oil and once it’s hot add your chopped onion and cook until softened. Then add the garlic, ginger and fresh chilli if you’re using it. It’s important not to add the garlic too soon otherwise it will burn.
Add the peas and once cooked add your parboiled potatoes and all the other spices, lemon juice and coriander. Mix generously until all potatoes are coated and coloured by the spices. Mash the mixture gently with either a fork or a masher. You don’t want it completely mashed – a few chunky bits is good but do keep them small as big chunks make the folding later harder. Taste the mixture and add salt and any more of the spices to taste, if you wish.
Whilst the mixture is cooling, make the samosa pastry. It’s important that the mixture is cool as a hot mixture might make the samosas break when you cook them.
Put your flour in a large bowl, create a well in the middle, pour in the oil then add the water a little at the time. Get stuck in and use your hand to mix the dough gently, adding more water bit by bit until you have a soft, firm dough. You might not need to use all the water so please judge it yourself. The dough should be smooth but not sticky – add more flour if it’s the latter. Wrap the dough in clingfilm, or cover it in a bowl with a cloth, and leave it for at least 20 minutes. You can leave the dough for up to 24 hours making this a good thing to prep in advance.
Once you’re ready to make the samosa you’ll need a small bowl of cold water, a knife, a rolling pin and a big clean surface.
Flour a surface then knead the dough for a few minutes and split it into 6 small balls. Roll the dough into balls then flatten then down into flat circles with your hands. Before I use a rolling pin, I like to tease out and flatten the circles with my hands. In India all my aunties make the full chapatis with their hands – no rolling pin, ever! Then roll them out until a roughly 15cm diameter and at least 3mm thick. Make sure that they don’t become too thin otherwise they will break when you’re stuffing or cooking them. They don’t need to be perfect circles either. Slice each circle in half.
At this point turn on your pan of oil. You want it to be hot just before you put the samosas in otherwise they might break.
Now, the tricky bit! You may well come up with your own technique but this is how I do it. Using your fingers rub a little water along the cut edge of the samosa wrapper. Then roll it round your fingers to create a triangular cone, sealing it by slightly overlapping the two edges. You should just have a small overlap as you don’t want it to be too thick in some places.
Then hold it open in your hand like a cone and gently spoon the cooled mixture in. This is where you’ll appreciate the chunks not being too big! When it’s almost full use a bit more water on the inner edges and press together to seal tightly. For anyone struggling with the folding & stuffing stage I found this great short video. Hope it helps!
Repeat with as many as you can cook at once and then place in the oil. Lower the oil temperature before you put them in as if it’s too hot they will absorb a lot of the oil. Fry until golden brown then drain on kitchen roll or newspaper.
If you want to bake them. Lay them on a lightly greased baking tray and bake at 180 for around 30 minutes, or until the are golden brown. Ensure you turn them halfway.
If you have any filling left you can save it and serve as a curry side dish another day or make into potato cutlets.