Ginger Beef Samosas
Though I’ve used the familiar name ‘samosas’ to describe these meat-filled triangles, in Zanzibar (the place that inspired this particular recipe) they are more likely to be called ‘sambusas’ - an amalgam of the Arabic term ‘sambousek,’ and the Indian ‘samosa’ Either way, the outcome is an entirely addictive little deep-fried parcel of spicy meat that it is almost impossible not to eat too many of.
If my experience is anything to go by, samosas seem to be a bit of a Zanzibari staple. They are available everywhere (with a special commendation to the selection at the airport departures lounge), are offered with an incredible array of fillings, and are usually accompanied by a large choice of sauces. My favourite sauce may have been the hot pili pili mbuzi, a local fluro-green concoction in a Tabasco-style bottle. Lime pickle is also delicious alongside, as is green mango chutney, or, of course, the classic mint yogurt sauce that I’ve included a recipe for here. Each has its own merits, so perhaps better not to restrict your options and set up a little condiment buffet to go with your samosas.
A lot of trial (and some error too) went into arriving at the best method for making the samosa wrappers. If you are thinking, ‘why bother when you could just use pre-bought spring roll wrappers?’ well you could, but I think that this can give the feel of freezer-section heat-and-serve party snacks, as opposed to a genuinely homemade offering. (Also, where is the fun in that?). The method for making and folding the wrappers described below may seem kind of labour-intensive and counter-intuitive at first, but bear with me. I’ve seen wrappers being prepared this way before, but did not quite appreciate why you’d bother pre-frying the wrapper on one side first until I was faced with the impossibly gloopy task of trying to wrap the meat in a thinly rolled and uncooked round of pastry. The result was not elegant to say the least. Read on for a full explanation, but in brief, by cooking lightly on one side, but keeping the other side raw and sticky, you get the best of both worlds – a wrapper with enough integrity to form a neat triangular parcel, and an opposing ‘adhesive’ side to fold over to ensure that everything sticks together beautifully.
(Makes approximately 24 medium-sized samosas)
For the filling:
- 4 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
- 650g mince beef
- 1 brown onion – finely grated
- 3 garlic cloves – crushed
- 3cm piece of fresh ginger – finely grated
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
- Salt & pepper
- 1 small lemon – juice only
For the wrappers:
- 500g plain flour (plus extra for dusting etc.)
- 2 eggs, separated
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 teaspoons of sunflower or canola oil
- 350ml warm water
- 600ml sunflower or canola oil for deep frying
For the yogurt dipping sauce:
- 250g thick set natural yogurt
- Small bunch of mint
- 1 lime – juice only
Start by preparing the filling so that this can be set aside to cool while you get on with the pastry later.
Crush the coriander seeds to a powder using a mortar and pestle. Combine this with the cumin and garam masala and lightly toast in a dry pan over medium heat until the spices become fragrant – this may take only a couple of minutes. Too long on the heat and you risk burning the spices. Once sufficiently toasted, set these aside.
Next, heat the oil in a large frying pan or shallow casserole over medium heat. Fry the grated onion until it has begun to colour slightly, before adding the crushed garlic and grated ginger. Stir everything around occasionally, and keep a close eye on things to ensure that the garlic does not begin to stick and burn. When everything has begun to cook and take on a golden colour, turn up the heat to high, and add the minced beef (along with a little extra oil at this stage if the pan has become dry), breaking up the mince as you fry with a wooden spoon. Once the meat has begun to brown, add the toasted spice mixture and continue to fry until the beef is well browned and cooked through – approx. 10 minutes in total.
At this point the mixture should be quite dry and rubbly. If you still have some liquid in the pan, continue to cook until this has evaporated completely. Lastly, add some salt, and a grind of pepper to taste, before turning off the heat, and squeezing in the lemon juice. Cover the pan and set aside to cool while you prepare the dough for the wrappers.
Combine the salt and flour in a large mixing bowl. Separate the eggs, and either discard the whites, or put these aside in the fridge for another use. Then, beat the yolks together briefly with the 4 tablespoons of oil to combine. Pour the yolk mixture into the flour, and mix everything together until you have a fine crumb-like texture. Add the water in gradually, stirring all the while to combine. You may not need to use all the water, just keep adding until all the dry crumbs are incorporated and you have a smooth and well-formed dough. Wrap the dough in some cling film, and set aside to chill in the fridge for at least an hour, or until you are ready to assemble the samosas.
While the pastry is chilling, make the yogurt dipping sauce by blending the mint in a food processer with a few drops of oil until it forms a paste. Add the yogurt, and lime juice, then blend for a further few seconds until everything is well combined and you have a nice green-flecked sauce. I wouldn’t usually recommend blending yogurt for a sauce in a food processor, as it does make it quite liquid-y, but a fluid consistency works for this sauce, and given you’ve already got the mint going in the food processor, it is the most convenient way forward. Add salt and mix through. If you’d like to add a little more lime juice (and think the consistency can stand the extra fluid), feel free to do so at this point. Pour the sauce into a serving bowl, and refrigerate until you are ready to use.
When you are ready to assemble the samosas, take the dough from the fridge and dust your work surface with a covering of flour. Flatten the dough out to a height of about two inches with a rolling pin, and then, using a large knife, divide this as evenly as possible into 12 equally-sized pieces. Roll one piece into a spherical shape to quickly check its size, as a guide, each portion should be just larger than a golf ball when rolled. (Each ball will eventually become two individual samosa wrappers).
When you are confident that you have divided the dough evenly, roll each piece into a ball shape, and dust these with some flour. It’s best to work with a small number of rounds at a time, and keep the rest in the fridge so that the dough does not heat up too much and become sticky, so keep 4 balls out on the bench, and pop the remaining 8 in the fridge.
Re-dusting the surface and your rolling pin, take the first ball and roll it carefully in one direction, then swivel and rotate 90˚, rolling again, and then swivelling 90˚ and rolling again, continuing in this way until you have an evenly rolled disc shape of about the size of a side plate. Do the same thing with a second ball of dough, creating an equally sized disc shape. (This can take a bit of practice to get right!).
Now for the counterintuitive bit… First, heat a dry frying pan over medium heat. Next, using a pastry brush, lightly brush a small amount of oil over the surface of the first disc. Over the surface of the second disc, use your hand to sprinkle a light covering of flour. Now, place the oiled disc surface directly on top of the floured surface of the second disc. When the pan is sufficiently hot, carefully heat the conjoined dough discs together until they begin to round at the edges, and the edges of the bottom disc seem to lift slightly from the pan. Now flip the disc using a spatula to heat the other side. When both sides are cooked and lightly golden, remove from the pan and place back on the bench. Now, carefully peel the two discs apart, (the oil and flour should have ensured that they do not stick to one another), and slice each disc in half. What you’ll have now are 4 semi-circular samosa wrappers ready to be filled.
By cooking the discs together like this we are trying to ensure that the outer-surfaces will become dry, making the dough wrapper easy to handle, while the inner surfaces remain uncooked, and sticky enough to be helpful in sealing the samosa once the meat is inside.
To assemble the samosa, combine a small amount of flour – 3 tablespoons or so, with a little water to make a sticky paste. Place a semi-circle of dough with the uncooked sided facing up on your work top. Position this so that the flat or cut side is facing to the right (i.e. inward), and spread a small amount of sticky paste along the bottom half of the arched edge of the wrapper.
Now fold the top of the wrapper so that it extends slightly over the cut edge, bringing the bottom part of the wrapper up to meet it, and then pressing to join along the seal where you have spread the flour paste. What you should now have is a cone shape with two short ‘bunny’ ears.
Fill the cone with the beef mixture then, to seal, dab a little more flour paste on to the inside of the bunny ears. Fold the ears over to join to the opposite side of the cone and press down to seal.
Continue until you have rolled, filled and folded the rest of the samosas. Here, you have a couple of options. If you are planning on eating the samosas either immediately, or in the space of the next few hours or so, you can either continue on to deep fry, or pop them in the fridge to deep fry in a few hours time. If you’d like to eat them the following day though, it is best to give them a bit of a ‘starter-fry’ straight away. This way they will stay crisp in the fridge, and then they’ll only need a very brief deep fry the following day when you are ready to eat. After the ‘starter fry’ they can also be frozen, and then defrosted and deep fried whenever you’d like.
So, to deep fry, heat the oil in a deep, heavy-based saucepan. Note that the oil should not come more than half way up the saucepan as otherwise it risks bubbling over. Test the temperature of the oil by dropping in a square of bread or excess samosa wrapper, if the oil immediately bubbles around, and colours the bread in around 30 seconds, then the oil is the right temperature.
Deep fry the samosas in batches of three. If you want only to ‘starter fry’ remove the samosas as soon as they have become lightly golden in colour. You can now proceed to freeze these in an airtight container, or store in the fridge, and then re-fry the following day. If you are planning on serving immediately, keep frying the samosas until they are golden brown in colour. Drain on kitchen roll, and keep warm in a 60˚C oven until you have finished frying and are ready to serve alongside the yogurt dipping sauce, mango chutney, lime pickle, hot pili pili mbuzi, or whatever else you’ve managed to gather up.