Welcome to the first video of this year’s Ramadan series, Ramadan basics. I will be sharing recipes for an appetiser, soup, salad, and a dessert, all of which are quite popular in Ramadan. Today’s recipe, sambousa, or sambousek as we call it in the Levant, is probably one of the most common dishes on any Ramadan table across the Middle East. No table is complete without it! My husband and I pretty much have them every night, along with a salad and soup and are happy with nothing else.
Many people are familiar with South Asian samosas and enjoy them with their takeaways, but I was surprised to find that they likely originated in Persia, and a poem praising sambousa was written by a Persian poet. Recipes for Sambousa can also be found in 10th-13th century Arab cookbooks where they are referred to as sanbousak, derived from the Perisan word sanbosag. They are even the inspiration for empanadas!
Lots of people usually buy ready made sambousa dough that is thin and crispy, similar to spring rolls, but I prefer this homemade dough, which is more similar to pastry dough, because it has more substance and is lovely to bite into. Making the dough couldn’t be easier, all you need are a few pantry staples and some elbow grease and it comes together in a few minutes. It is important not to overwork the dough, so that you ensure you have a flaky and crispy sambousa. You may use more or less water, depending on how much water your flour absorbs, but if your dough is too sticky, you can knead in a bit more flour, or if it is too dry, a bit of water will fix that. Leave to rest and it is ready to work with.
As for fillings, cheese is a firm favourite at my house. I like to use a white Turkish cheese sold in cans because it is less salty than feta, but feta works great too. I mix it with mozzarella for that melted gooeyness we all love! The addition of parsley and nigella seeds elevates the cheese and gives it a lovely flavour. Sambousa is often filled with minced meat cooked with onions, seven spice, parsley, coriander and/or dill, but feel free to get creative with your fillings.
Once they are formed, they are ready to be fried. I usually make big batches of sambousa before Ramadan and freeze them, and that way I can pull as many as I want out and fry them from frozen right before Iftar. When freezing these, it is best to freeze them uncovered on a baking tray, and once they are hard you can transfer them into a freezer bag, otherwise they stick together.
Give these crispy cheesy treats a try and I promise you won’t spend another Ramdan without them!
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
⅓ cup sunflower oil (or any flavourless oil)
⅔ cup warm water (you may use less or more)
250 g white cheese (I use Turkish cheese, but any white crumbly cheese will work)
150 g shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tbsp nigella seeds
½ cup chopped parsley
Sunflower oil (or your favourite oil) to fry
- Mix together the flour, salt and oil, until the flour is crumbly, almost like sand.
- Gradually add in the water until the dough is formed. You may use less or more water, depending on how much water your flour absorbs. Your dough shouldn’t be too wet or sticky. If it is too wet, add a bit more flour, if too dry, add a little more water.
- Cover and leave to rest for an hour.
- To make the filling, mash the white cheese with a fork then mix in the mozzarella, nigella seeds and parsley. Set aside.
- Divide the dough into equal-sized balls, about the size of a walnut. It will make about 15 sambusa. Roll out into a circle, about the size of your palm, place about a tablespoon of the cheese filling in the centre and fold over. Press well and fold the sides over to seal. You could also press with a fork.
- Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and fry in batches. Do not overfill your oil. Once fried and golden on both sides, place on some kitchen towel to drain excess oil. Serve immediately and enjoy warm!
You could also fill these with a mixture of minced meat, cooked with onion, seven spice, and chopped coriander or parsley.