A samosa can be a million different things. For most people the word evokes, inescapably, a filling of spiced and mashed vegetables enclosed in pastry and deep fried. But within those basic guidelines what a richness of variations exists. The texture of the crust can be thick, flaky, and tender, or brittle, thin, and crisp. It can be studded with aromatic spices, slightly leavened, or left entirely unseasoned except for some salt. And the fillings need only be limited by your imagination. Though I love the classic combination of potatoes and peas, I have fond memories of the lamb samosas from Crown, a small Muslim-owned restaurant that was popular in Bangalore when I was a child. The bite-sized samosas seemed to be utterly doused in oil: the pastry was translucent from the fat, but still managed to be crisp, light, and ethereal, and the lamb filling, rich and gently spiced, was the stuff of dreams.
Making samosas at home can seem like an onerous and time-consuming task, but once you get a knack for it, it’s a handy skill that you can easily adapt to a variety of different fillings. I prefer my samosas on the larger side, so that you can really pack them with stuffing, but feel free to make these as small as you like: they make a great cocktail snack.
Instead of using a leavening agent like baking powder or baking soda, I add a dollop of crème fraîche to the samosa dough, which adds a gentle tang to the crust, and helps make it flaky and tender. If you happen to have some tangy yogurt it makes a fine substitute.
A note on amchur: Amchur, or dried mango powder, is a commonly used ingredient in many parts of India. It can be easily found in most Indian grocery stores and is a nice way to add tartness to a dish without the addition of any liquid. If you can’t find amchur feel free to add sumac powder, or chaat masala, an Indian spice blend that often includes amchur.
Potato and Pea Samosas
Makes 8–10 samosas
1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp ajwain
2 heaped tsp crème fraîche or sour yogurt
2 large Idaho potatoes
3 tsp canola oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced through the root
1 tsp finely minced ginger
1 tsp finely minced garlic
1–2 green chillies, finely minced (or to taste)
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 ½ tsp amchur
1 cup frozen sweet peas
Canola oil for frying
Make the dough for the crust. This can be done upto one day ahead.
In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, sea salt, and ajwain. Add the crème fraîche and, using the tips of your fingers, rub it into the flour so that it is evenly distributed through the flour mixture, giving it a slightly sandy appearance.
Add the cool water a couple of teaspoons at a time, mixing with one hand and bringing the dough together as you do. Take care not to add to much moisture: you want a fairly stiff dough.
Once you have enough liquid to form a fairly cohesive (but not sticky) dough, turn the flour mixture out onto the counter and knead well for at least 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Wrap the dough in cling film and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use. Let the dough rest for a minimum of a couple of hours to let the flour get fully hydrated, and to let the gluten in the mixture relax.
While the dough is relaxing, make the filling.
Peel the potatoes, cut them into 1-inch chunks, and steam until the tip of a knife enters them without any resistance.
In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil until it begins to shimmer.
Add the mustard seeds and cumin. When they begin to sizzle and the mustard seeds begin to pop, add the sliced onions.
Cook, stirring often, until the onions are softened and translucent—4–5 minutes.
Add the ginger and garlic, green chilli, turmeric, and salt to taste. Cook, stirring often, until the ginger and garlic begin to smell aromatic.
Add the cubed potatoes to the pan along with ¼ cup of water and a big pinch of salt.
Roughly mash the potatoes with the back of a fork or a potato masher. Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed.
Turn off the heat, add the amchur and peas, stir to combine well, then cover with a lid and set aside until ready to use. The filling can be made upto a day ahead of time.
To form the samosas, first divide the dough into 5 equal portions, each about the size of a large walnut.
Flour the counter and work with one ball of dough at a time, keeping the remainder covered with plastic wrap.
Liberally flour a rolling pin and roll out each ball into a circle approximately 7 inches wide. Cover the rolled-out circles with plastic wrap while you work.
To fill the samosas, first fill a small container with water and keep it handy, to seal the samosas as you make them.
Cut each circle in half across the middle, forming two semi-circles.
Cradle a semi-circle of dough in the palm of your hand. Dip the index finger of your free hand in water and dab the inside of the straight edge of the semi-circle. Fold the two halves of the straight edge together so that they are just overlapping and form a cone. Press the seam together so that it is firmly sealed all the way through the point of the cone.
Using a spoon, add enough filling to the cone so that there is still half an inch of space remaining above it.
Dab the inside of the open end of the cone with water and press it shut. You can either close this simply or fold it into a decorative crimp. The important thing is that it be tightly closed. Make sure that the pastry is wrapped fairly tightly around the filling. Any large air pockets will expand when you’re frying the samosas later and can cause the pastry to crack—letting oil rush in and making your samosas greasy.
When the samosas are all formed, heat 1 inch of canola oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.
Check the temperature of the oil with an instant-read thermometer. You want the oil to be hot but not too hot. If the oil is too hot the outside of the pastry will brown too quickly and the dough won’t cook all the way through.
When the thermometer registers 340°F, start frying the samosas.
Only add as many samosas as fit comfortably in the pan at one time.
Fry them first on one side, and then the other, flipping them over with a slotted spoon. Let them cook for at least a minute, allowing them to get golden brown.
As you remove the samosas from the hot oil place them in a tray lined with paper towels to absorb any extra oil.