Wednesday, August 03, 2005


I can remember years ago when they used to have cross cultural fairs in the grassy circle in the middle of my college. All the clubs would have something to offer: the Greek club had something with feta cheese, the French club had crusty bread, and the Indian club had samosas. The first time I tried one I remember following this delicious smell to a stand adorned with these odd pastry triangles. I bought one, dipped it in the sauce when prodded to do so, and immediately fell in love. I turned to the group and asked what was in this heavenly thing? Could I (pleaseohplease) have a recipe? I got a puzzled, somewhat bored look, followed by, "my mom makes these - I think she uses potatoes and peas and some spices." Thanks. That definitely helped. A lot.

Thus began my love affair with Indian food of all kinds. I began branching out, trying curries, naan, masala tea, kheer, dal, biryani, and loving every bite. I started collecting cookbooks by Madhur Jaffrey, Neelam Batra, and Julie Sahni. I bought cardamom, fenugreek, coriander, fennel, cinnamon sticks, and huge lots of cumin. Dal became a dinner staple, and I even made my own naan that wasn't half bad. But the holy grail was always to make an incredible samosa, one that would bring me back to that very first taste of Indian food. I kept fiddling and changing things here and there, never really satisfied. And then, one day, came a batch that I couldn't find fault with. The one I now make in bulk and take anywhere I think people might like them (and honestly, who wouldn't love a really good samosa?).

This is very loosely based on a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, though I've made a lot of changes over the years. I usually make up the filling, toss it in the refrigerator for a while, then roll out the pastry and fill them on another day. They can be frozen after baking - just defrost and warm in the oven for a few minutes. I skip the homemade pastry and deep frying bit and use puff pastry sheets rolled out thin. Much, much easier (and less cleaning do to afterwards). These may not be the prettiest specimens out there, but the taste more than makes up for appearances.

Makes either 64 small or 36 large

4 medium potatoes
3 Tbs vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 cup frozen peas
1 Tb ginger root, peeled and minced
1/2 serrano pepper, minced
3 Tbs cilantro, chopped fine
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds (plain ground cumin is also fine here)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tb lemon juice
1 Tb amchur (dried, ground unripe mango - substitute 1 additional Tb. lemon juice)
2 packages frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed

1. Peel the potatoes, cut into several large pieces, then boil until cooked through. Mash a bit - just enough so there aren't any bits of potato larger than the size of a pea. Let cool. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skilled over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until medium brown, stirring as needed.

2. Add the peas, ginger, chili, cilantro, and 3 tablespoons of water. Cover, lower the heat and simmer very gently until peas are cooked. This should only take a few minutes.

3. Add the potatoes, salt, coriander, garam masala, cumin, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and amchur (if using). Keep heat on low and mix the spices with the potatoes. Continue cooking gently, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes. Check salt and lemon juice. Turn off heat and leave potato mixture to cool.

4. While mixture is cooling, start to prepare the pastry sheets. Sprinkle liberally with flour, then roll out until rather thin, but thick enough to hold together around the filling. The sheets will almost double in size once rolled, and should end up roughly square. Separate sheets with waxed paper and cover with a damp cloth.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay out a pastry sheet, then brush with water or beaten egg. Cut into 9 or 16 equal squares, depending on how large you want to make them. Spoon filling onto the center of each square, then fold two corners together to make a triangle. Seal the edges well, then tuck the two ends of the triangle underneath the filling and press down a bit to center everything. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or so, or until pastry is a golden brown.

6. These freeze very well, and can be briefly reheated in a warm oven before serving.