There are few words that exist on a sliding scale as slippery as that of the word “difficult.” Some things are deemed difficult because they require a certain familiarity of skills before one is able to instinctively tackle them. Other things can be referred to as difficult because they are time consuming and they ask a person to dedicate a great deal of effort and focus. To me, something that is difficult is most often not really difficult at all (in terms of skill or effort), but rather simply unpleasant. I may have no problem at all producing a trifecta of desserts for someone’s birthday, but I will not, under any circumstances I can currently think of, deep fry anything.
It’s not like I haven’t deep fried things before. I’ve made fried poppadums, homemade sweet onion rings, and wonderfully crispy pakoras, but the problem was, I did not enjoy making any of those foods once I completed the preparation stage and was then forced to move on to the actual cooking stage. Deep frying things makes your house smell like a soggy old french fry depository. It is hot, messy, and, obviously, greasy, and I am always at a loss over what to do with all that spent oil. Fortunately, my deep dislike of submerging things in hot oil never seemed to hold back my progress in the kitchen, so all was well.
Until, that is, I got it into my head that I was going to make samosas for a small event I had agreed to cater.
Though I knew I hated to fry things, I was convinced that I would be able to come up with a simple way to wrap and cook samosas that would not only avoid the step of having to deep fry anything, but also guarantee me a generous amount of wrapped samosas that were amenable to being frozen until the time arrived when I needed to bake them.
Taking inspiration from a wonderful tapas cookbook I often look to for ideas, I decided to wrap each samosa in a dual layer of phyllo dough. It was my hope that brushing butter in between each layer of dough would make for a crisp finished product, and making sure to securely wrap each little package of spiced potatoes would ensure an end result that would both freeze well and take to baking straight from the freezer.
To make this long story short, I don’t know why I didn’t try this sooner. The samosas, both baked after being frozen and baked immediately after being wrapped (for purposes of, ahem, quality control), were crisp, light, and lacking in any sort of heaviness or greasiness. As an added bonus, the delicate nature of phyllo really allows the flavor of the perfectly spiced potato filling to take center stage, completely convincing me that, at least until I break down and decide to tackle a Spanish tortilla de patatas, my deep frying days have come to an end.
Samosas in Phyllo
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cooking
4-5 medium potatoes, boiled in their jackets and allowed to cool
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium sized onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen (if frozen, defrost them first)
1 tablespoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 to 1 fresh, hot green chili, finely chopped
3 tablespoons very finely chopped cilantro
About 3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground, roasted cumin seeds (if you only have regular ground cumin, you can toast the teaspoon of cumin in a dry pan set over high heat. The cumin will take only seconds to toast, so watch it carefully for browning and then immediately take it off of the heat and place it in a room temperature bowl or dish)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
20 phyllo sheets, thawed if frozen (my sheets were 8.5″ x 13.5″ and, layered and cut into fifths, yielded 50 samosas)
4 tablespoons butter, melted then cooled
To make the filling, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/4 inch dice. Put 4 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and place over medium heat. When hot, put in the onions. Stir and fry them until they begin to turn brown at the edges. Add the peas, ginger, green chili (1/2 or the whole thing, depending on how spicy you prefer things), cilantro, and 3 tablespoons water. Cover, lower heat, and simmer until the peas are cooked. Stir every now and then and add a little more water if the frying pan seems to dry out.
Add the diced potatoes, salt, ground coriander, garam masala, cumin, cayenne, and lemon juice. Stir to mix. Cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring gently as you do so. Check balance of salt and lemon juice. You may want more of both (I added more lemon juice, but felt the salt content was just fine). Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool.
To fill and wrap the samosas, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (if you are wrapping and freezing the samosas, you can obviously skip this step). Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Cover phyllo stack with a sheet of plastic wrap and then a dampened kitchen towel (this will keep the phyllo from drying out as you work). Take one phyllo sheet from stack and lay it down on your work surface with a long side nearest you (keeping remaining sheets covered as you work) and brush lightly with butter. Top with another phyllo sheet and brush with more butter. Cut buttered phyllo stack crosswise into 5 strips (my sheets were 13.5 inches long, yielding 5 strips that were not quite 2.75 inches wide).
Place a tablespoon of filling near one corner of a strip (on the end that is nearest to you), then fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding the strip (as one would fold a flag), maintaining a triangle shape. Put fully wrapped samosa triangle, seam side down, on a parchment-lined large baking sheet. Repeat process, making more triangles in the same manner, until you’ve used all the phyllo.
The samosas can be baked in a 375 degree oven, one sheet at a time, for 20-25 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Cool them slightly on a wire rack before serving
If you plan to freeze the samosas, place them in the freezer on their parchment-lined baking sheets, and freeze for one hour. Remove the samosas from the freezer, and stack them in an airtight container, separating each stack with a layer of parchment or wax paper. The samosas will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month. When you are ready to bake the frozen samosas, follow the baking directions for fresh samosas. There is no need to adjust the baking time.