Samosas can be vegan, too! The ones pictured here include meat,
but you don’t need meat to make samosas – just don’t let any Kenyans hear me say that!
The traditional African dishes streaming into my home have become such family favorites that it’s hard to imagine planning a week of menus without samosas or a masala stew or some chai. The African mothers have figured out not only the best dishes – ones you can make in advance, make in one pot, make with few ingredients, make with what’s available on the land – but also how to coordinate the community to see to everyone’s needs.
Across the street from me, Agnes will race over and tell me she made a huge pot of chicken masala, just on the very day I’ve been working frenetically and never got to prepare dinner. “Jambo sana, mwanamke,” she’ll say, using the greeting of ‘woman’ she adopted tongue-in-cheek after hearing my husband address me in that manner, “I have a stew for us. I’m out of rice, can you make rice?” The next day I’ll be stopping by. “I took a turkey out of the freezer. What should we make?” With this community support, the children are all fed, she gets to go to her college classes and I get to teach yoga classes, knowing that between the two of us, dinner for the families will be handled. When Beryl was staying with me for a few weeks before our husbands got back from deployment, nobody ever thought twice about who would make dinner or who would watch the kids – between the three of us, somebody was always home, a pot was always on the stove, and the kids were always under a watchful eye!
We thrive in the interdependence that comes from supporting and leaning on the community around us. Stark independence is a sign of pride and immaturity, somebody unable to give or receive. The tangled fibers of a family uplifting, supporting and creating is a sign of society truly becoming.
These African samosas are one of the hallmarks of African cooking! Whenever a friend comes back to the States after visiting Africa, they claim this is the food they miss the most. “I dream about these at night,” a missionary friend confided once. Create the taste of the continent in your own kitchen, using the vegetables and meat that are available to you! Fillings are endless – but we all have our favorites! I love to include cilantro. Some shredded cabbage is always a win; and seasoning the meat with masala spices from Tanzania’s Zanzibar markets is one way to ensure there will be no leftovers.
This is less of a recipe, and more a set of guidelines. If you’re very attached to measurements and quantities, the time to lose that attachment is with international cooking – the recipes are land-based, meaning they use what’s available at the local markets at that time – and the quantities you’ll learn from each individual cook are often derived based on how big her family is, or how large her soup-pot is!
African Samosas with video instruction
I did the folding of the wrapper painfully slow, because after watching Beryl and Agnes do it a thousand times and finding videos of them online, I still didn’t have the hang of it because everybody went too fast!
Samosas are a special treat and a favorite in our house. Since they are fried, we don’t make them every day or even every week – but when I do make them, the dinner table is buzzing with interest! You can make them ahead of time and freeze without frying, then defrost them in the refrigerator before frying for dinner on a busy weeknight. They are wonderful served with hot, homemade sauce or pili pili, and a mound of fluffy rice or pilau. Put alongside stews, soups and simple pot dinners, and throw them in the toaster oven to reheat the next day!
Oil for frying
Wrappers: There are many different brands and varieties. You can even make your own! They are generally found in the freezer section of international or Indian-Asian stores. If you use the large squares, you can fold them in half as I did in the video, or cut them in half to make twice as many. The long strip varieties are very economical – one package has about fifty wrappers! They make a smaller samosa, of course, so if you use the large wrappers you will have fewer, fatter pieces.
Filling: Shockingly, it’s a free country and you can fill your samosas with whatever you like. A pound of meat, plus some chopped herbs, vegetables and spices will fill about thirty middle-sized wrappers, but this all depends on the size you use, and the quality of meat you use. You can also opt for a vegetarian filling, and use all chopped vegetables, shredded cabbage, and cooked rice, or potatoes and masala. Here is the filling I like to make: heat a few tablespoons of oil, and add diced onion and garlic. Cook until fragrant, 10 – 30 seconds. Add chopped vegetables, about a cup, and toast a few more seconds. Add one pound of ground meat or about three cups of rice and vegetables and cook until brown or tender; add one bunch chopped cilantro and one cup cooked rice, and stir to combine. It’s easiest to make samosas if you let the filling cool first, but that is not necessary if you need to finish quickly. You can even make the filling a day in advance and store in the refrigerator!
Oil: Expeller pressed coconut oil, peanut oil, or whatever you generally use, heated hot so a piece of dough shrivels and bubbles when dropped in, or about 350°F.
Filling and Frying Samosas: The Process
Prepare filling; cool if you wish. Heat a pan of oil and prepare a plate with a towel, or a cooling rack over a pan, for the finished samosas (if desired). Make a paste by whisking a little flour and water in a small bowl; set aside. Fill and fold the wrappers according to the shape you are using (you can also roll them like spring rolls). Use a little flour paste to glue the final piece of dough closed. At this point you can remove them to the freezer if you are preparing them in bulk. Place the finished or defrosted samosa in hot oil. Fry until the bottom side is browned, about thirty seconds to one minute, then flip over with tongs, being cautious about splattering oil! Let them fry until the second side is done, between thirty seconds and two minutes. Use your discerning eye to time them – it will vary based on the wrappers you use, the oil you use, how crispy you like them to be, and how hot your stove is.
Serving: Serve with pilau rice, a traditional masala rice. Serve with plain rice, stews or hot sauce. Any way you serve them, they will be enjoyed by all, including the neighbors if they hear what you’re up to. What a treat!