Some things just go together: peanut butter and jam, Bonny and Clyde, Klippies and Cola. Chief among great pairings are the samoosa and with a cup of chai. There's nothing quite like a lip-smacking spicy filling swaddled in a light pastry wrapper and deep-fried. It’s a match made in culinary heaven.
The blueprint, so to speak, can be found in most cultures. Take, for example, the Spanish or Latin-American empanada — the crescent-shaped pastry filled with beef or vegetables, or the quintessential British meat pie that traces its roots back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Or the countless variations of the samoosa found along East Africa, the Middle East and Europe. From the sambusa of Tajikistan to the chamuças of Portugal.
Though generally accepted as an Indian street food, the golden pyramidal-shaped pastry filled with deliciously spicy turmeric potatoes and peas or minced lamb, onions and fiery green chillies was, in fact, first introduced to India as the sanbosag back in the 13th century by Persian chefs working in the kitchens of the maharajas.
With one the largest diaspora of non-resident Indians, or NRIs, outside India, it’s no wonder the samoosa holds a special place in the hearts and tummies of South Africans. Transcending cultural and ethnic boundaries, visit any corner shop from Chatsworth to Calvinia, and you are almost guaranteed to find a samoosa to satiate the craving.
This snack, both etymologically and in appearance, differs slightly from those ubiquitous on the streets of Mumbai. In contrast to India, South Africans prefer a flatter triangular-shaped variation rather than the thicker pyramidal shape. In SA, we spell the word samoosa (sum-moo-sa) as opposed to samosa (sam-mo-sa), which is used in other parts of the world.
With one the largest diaspora of non-resident Indians, or NRIs, outside India, it’s no wonder the samoosa holds a special place in the hearts and tummies of South Africans
I had a chat with my dear friend, Ishay Govender, journalist and author of Curry: Stories & Recipes Across SA. We chuckled, as Ishay, not mincing her words, said that while she is open and gracious to most foods, she draws the line at a cold samoosa.
She went on to remind me that if you happen to crack an invite to an Indian person’s home for a meal, the curries, birianis, rotis and dals will undoubtedly be prepared before the guests arrive, but never the samoosas. The triangular pillows of joy are dropped into hot oil when guests arrive to ensure they are served crisp and piping hot. We went on to talk about sweetcorn and cheese fillings that were all the rage in the 2010s and a hit with corporate catering as an anglicised option that was a little reprieve from spicy green chillies included with all fillings.
I'm going to be straight with you. I don't know many folks who make samoosas from scratch. A laborious task and I’m not just talking about getting the pastry wafer-thin, which I know absolutely no-one makes themselves, opting for store-bought pastry. Also tricky is the technique of filling the samoosa, so there are no air pockets and holes. Failing which, you get an oil-logged soggy samoosa. I tried and failed miserably.
Like me, you will be better off buying a dozen; buying less makes no sense, as I'm positive you will cram no less than three just standing at the stove. I do, however, have a great recipe for green chutney. A lively condiment that goes very well with freshly fried samoosas or a tasty spread for sandwiches.
RECIPE: Green Chutney
1 cup of washed coriander, stems included
½ cup of washed mint leaves
1 clove of garlic and a similar sized piece of peeled ginger
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp cumin powder
2 green chillies
½ tsp salt
1 TBPS Greek yoghurt
1. Add all the ingredients except the yoghurt to a small blender and whizz to a smooth paste.
2. Transfer to a serving bowl, check for seasoning and swirl through the yoghurt.
3. Serve as a dipping sauce with the piping-hot samoosas.