All cultures have tantalizing, cherished foods that are usually served before or at the start of a meal. Known in the United States as appetizers (appetite-teasers), hors d’oeuvres, or antipasto, they are called dim sum (touch the heart) in China, and antojitos (little whims) in Mexico. In Gujarat, where I am from, they are called farsan. A farsan is usually a light but elaborate snack or appetizer that can be served as a first course before the main entrée, or alone as a lunch or a light supper. A chutney is a must to accompany the farsan.
Many farsans are deep-fried and not suitable for people who wish to cut down on fat. Deep-fried foods are not healthy for any of us. When I decided to cut deep-fried foods from my diet, out went the chips, the French Fries, the pakoras, and oh no! my favorite, samosas! Looking for a healthy option, I replaced traditional fried samosas triangles with Samosa Pie. (You can find this recipe in the December 2013 issue of India Currents.) For the samosa pie, I sandwiched the filling between two crusts and baked it, but making the crusts is time-consuming, so I created this recipe for baked samosa triangles using store-bought Greek pastry dough called phyllo (or filo).
Baked samosa triangles are quick and easy to make, and the resulting samosas are fluffy and light. The filling can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until you are ready to assemble the triangles, and the unbaked triangles can be refrigerated or frozen for future baking. Samosa triangles are perfect for a picnic or a pot-luck dinner as they taste great served hot or at room temperature. Don’t forget the chutney!
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors Of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is a co-owner of Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, an illustrator and an art student.
Ingredients for the filling:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons finely-chopped green or yellow onions
4 cups potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2” cubes
1 cup grated carrots
¾ cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen and thawed
¼ teaspoon each cumin, turmeric, and coriander powders
¾ teaspoon garam masala or a mixture of ¼ teaspoon each ground cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves, freshly chopped
½ cup water
juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon (or to taste) salt
¼ teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne powder
Ingredients for the wrapping:
1 8-ounce box of frozen phyllo dough, available in the supermarket freezer section
3 to 4 tablespoons of cooking oil
Phyllo dough is brittle and delicate to work with, but once you get used to it, there are endless ways to use this light magical pastry. After purchasing, store the phyllo in your freezer. The night before, or several hours before you wish to use it, move it from the freezer to the refrigerator to allow it to thaw slightly. Always keep phyllo chilled; it will dry out and break if allowed to warm to room-temperature.
Prepare the filling
Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan and sauté the onions until limp. Add all the vegetables, spices and cilantro. Sauté uncovered for several minutes until the vegetables begin to soften and the spices are well-distributed. Add the water and lemon juice, cover, and cook over a low heat until the potatoes are soft but not mushy. If too much liquid is left at this point, uncover and stir-fry the mixture to dry it. Stir in salt and cayenne to taste. Transfer to a platter and set aside.
When you are ready to assemble the samosa triangles, lightly oil a couple of baking sheets and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the phyllo from its box and cut open the inner foil of the package. Take out several phyllo sheets from the foil, roll them up and immediately wrap them in the damp kitchen cloth or a napkin. Put rest of the package back in the refrigerator.
Carefully remove one sheet of phyllo and place it on a clean flat surface, keeping the rest of the strips wrapped in the towel. Cut the sheet of phyllo lengthwise into four 3-inch-wide strips. Using a pastry brush, spread a very thin layer of oil onto each of the strips. You will use four strips of phyllo for each samosa triangle. You can take out more phyllo as needed from the refrigerator once you have used up sheets from the kitchen cloth.
Place a tablespoonful of filling at the lower left corner of one strip, and fold the corner diagonally to form a triangle. Fold again, and continue folding and wrapping the triangle until the entire strip is used up, as shown in the illustration. Brush the top of the triangle with oil and set it on the lower left corner of a second phyllo strip. Fold and wrap the triangle as before until the second strip is used up. Repeat the process using a third strip and the fourth strip. Place the finished triangle on the baking sheet.
Then cut another sheet of phyllo into four strips, and repeat the process of filling and folding. Continue this process until all of the filling is used up.
The samosas will puff up as they bake, so allow some space between them on the baking sheet. This amount of filling makes approximately 18 triangles. Freeze any unused phyllo for future use.
Bake the samosa triangles for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees, until golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature with a chutney.
You can wrap the unbaked samosas with a plastic sheet and refrigerate for a day or two, or freeze for longer time and bake when desired.
Variation: Potato and spinach samosa: Follow the above recipe, but replace the carrots and peas with 2 cups of finely chopped spinach.
Makes 18 to 20 triangles
Date and Tamarind Chutney
Tamarind chutney is best when prepared with ripe tamarind pods, which are often available in Mexican or Southeast Asian markets, or from dried and compressed tamarind pulp that is sold in a brick-like package and is widely available year-round.
If using fresh pods, choose 1/2 pound of fresh ripe pods. Remove the brittle outer shell and the stringy fibers. Rinse the pods and then soak them in one cup of warm water for at least 30 minutes. After soaking, rub the softened pods between your fingers to separate as much of the pulp into the water as possible. When the water becomes a thick sauce, strain it through a large-holed colander into a bowl, leaving the membranes and seeds behind. Discard the fibers and seeds and set the bowl of tamarind sauce aside.
If using dehydrated pulp, break approximately 1/2 cup into small pieces, discarding any strings or seeds. Put it in a blender or food processor with one cup of warm water and process into a sauce.
You will need only ½ cup of sauce for this chutney. Thr rest of the sauce can be refrigerated for later use, to flavor a soup or a dal.
Ingredients for Chutney:
1/2 cup fresh tamarind sauce
1 tablespoon finely-minced ginger
1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
¼ teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon salt
To make the chutney, place the tamarind sauce, date pieces, ginger, salt and cayenne pepper into a food processor or blender. Blend to a smooth puree. Serve right away or refrigerate. This chutney will keep for a week refrigerated in a tightly-closed container.
Makes about 1½ cups chutney.