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Samoosa (pronounced suh-moo-suh) - A small, spicy, triangular-shaped pie that has been deep-fried in oil. Made by the Indian and Malay communities, samoosas are popular with South Africans in general.

It was the Indian immigrants who brought the samosa over to Africa, including South Africa, Kenya and Uganda, adding an extra “o” to the spelling and infusing South African cuisine with wonderfully aromatic, spicy Indian flavours. These tiny triangular pastry pockets bursting with spicy flavour and filled with vegetables or meat and deep-fried, are not easy to make at home and are usually bought ready-made. However, with patience, the intricate rolling and folding of the dough is soon mastered. The finished samoosa should be a perfect triangle with no corners left open to soak up oil. The filling should be fairly dry so that the pastry remains crispy.

Samoosas, samosa, samoosa, sambousa, samsa, sambusek and burek are all basically triangle-shaped pastries of various sizes, stuffed with a meat or vegetable filling. Food historians say they didn’t originate in India, as people generally believe, but come from ancient Iraq (Persia) where they were called sanbusaj or sanbusak, and in those days referred to any stuffed, savoury pastry or dumpling.

Pastry Dough

There is a myriad of ready-made pastry dough that can be taken right off the shelf to make the samoosa pastry, and generally flaky, puff or phyllo pastry is used. Or you can buy samoosa pastry strips or samoosa wrappers (pur), specially prepared for samoosas and available from selected outlets. Spring roll wrappers and frozen spring roll pastry will also do.

Every samoosa maker will have his or her own pastry recipe, but the basic, most popular one consists only of flour, shortening, salt, and enough water to hold the mixture together.

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour

  • ¾ teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon oil or ghee

  • ½ cup warm water

Lard or ghee is the traditional shortening used, but any solid vegetable shortening, cream cheese, butter, or margarine can be substituted. Whatever recipe you use, remember that the dough must be elastic enough to be folded over the filling without cracking and allowing the filling to leak out.

Samoosa Fillings

Though samoosa size and shape may vary, the ingredients are much the same, minced (ground) beef, lamb or chicken, tuna, potatoes, peas, lentils, onions, garlic, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, cheese, even leftovers, can all be used to make any kind of fried or baked stuffed small pastry. Potatoes and peas, lightly cooked so that they do not disintegrate, and flavoured with whole cumin seeds, salt and pepper is a classic samoosa filling that's hard to beat. Or try cooked minced lamb, onion, pine nuts, cinnamon and ground allspice. Or even leeks, ham and Feta cheese.

Olives, chopped boiled egg, mushrooms, sweetcorn, sweet potato, dates, raisins, nuts and shellfish such as prawns, shrimps and crabmeat are lesser known fillings in South Africa, but equally delicious.

Mostly the seasonings tell you where the samoosa is from, and could be curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, cardamom, cumin, cardamom, ginger, yoghurt, sherry, cloves, lime, coconut milk, thyme, dhania, chillies, saffron, etc.

You can put absolutely anything you want in your samoosa, and spice it as you wish. Remember to cook the filling ingredients before filling the pastry case, unless it’s simply cheese and spring onions or diced ham. Be careful not to overfill the samoosa, that it is not too wet, and to ensure the ends are closed up well or the filling will leak out and it will absorb too much oil.

Creating a Samoosa
  1. Take small pieces of dough and shape into balls. On a lightly floured board roll each one thinly into a circle the size of a saucer. Cut each round in half. Roll each half into a cone, overlapping the edges and pinching or wetting to seal. Stuff the cone with a big spoonful or two of filling, then pinch the open end closed (wetting if necessary), forming a puffy triangle.

  2. Or, roll the dough out and cut into 5 cm wide strips the length of the pastry. Put a teaspoon of filling at one end and fold the pastry over diagonally, then fold again and again, still keeping a triangular shape and ensuring the folds overlap. Moisten the end of the strip with water or beaten egg and press lightly. Brush with egg yolk if you're going to bake them.

Tips and Tricks
  • Baked samoosas can be prepared in advance and once baked freeze beautifully. To reheat, place the frozen samoosa in a 180°C (365°F) oven for approximately 20 minutes until golden.

  • Use a small, deep, frying pan to fry your samoosas, or an Indian karhai. When the oil is medium hot, put in as many samoosas as the pan will hold in a single layer.

  • Sprinkle sesame seeds over samoosas before baking them in the oven.

  • Serve with a variety of chutneys such as brinjal chutney or apple and onion chutney, bottled vegetable salad, Malay soup, preserved lemons, chakalaka, tomato sauce, plum sauce or tamarind sauce.

  • Samoosas are traditionally deep fried, but you can brush the surface with beaten egg and bake them in the oven for about 30 minutes for a healthier option.

Video Links

Here are two video links on how to fold samoosas.

Category: South African Cuisine

Subcategory: Cape Malay/Indian

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