"What you are tasting is the story of India itself - the product of the fluid forces of the great migrations and interactions that shaped this country." Justin Rowlatt - BBC
My younger granddaughter's birthday party is coming up this weekend and she has decided on an Indian theme requesting me to make some samosas. No problem, and I also offered to make some bhajias as well - the fritter kind of thing. The offer was accepted so that's what I shall be doing.
Now this post is going to be mostly about samosas, so I'll just get the bhajias out of the way first. Mostly onion - sliced dipped in a chickpea/rice flour batter and fried to crunchy perfection.
And I think I'll be going for these totally gorgeous looking ones from Curtis Stone which he calls Onion bhajias with lime yoghurt dipping sauce. It was in the Coles Magazine earlier this year and I was blown away by how wonderful they looked. Well, we all know by now that I'm a sucker for pretty pictures. I bet mine don't turn out to be nearly as beautiful. And should I cook here and reheat, or just make the batter and cook there?
Or I could try Christine Manfield's Green pea and onion fritters which she describes as a kind of pakora. I had forgotten about pakoras but I think pakoras are almost the same as bhajias - maybe slightly more substantial? Nobody really seemed to have a very good answer for that question. Maybe Bhajia or bhaji, bhujia bhuji, baji - however you want to spell it -has just become the more common i.e. trendy name these days. But then again maybe not - maybe it depends where you come from? So I'll just leave you with a couple of recipes for pakoras - which I have to say look very much like the bhajias from
Recipe Tin Eats and with a touch of originality, from Tom Hunt who makes good use of vegetable peel in his Vegetable peel pakoras. And Ottolenghi has some onion and kale ones which would be very trendy. I think I'll stick to my original pretty ones from Curtis Stone though.
But what about samosas. First a tiny bit of history. They actually come from 11th century Persia, from whence they travelled with the Mogul rulers down into India. As they went south it seems they became less fancy and more peasant food, until today they are the quintessential street food. And best eaten fresh. We don't have them here because we rarely have enough people to feed in our house to justify them, and they really ought to be deep-fried which is unhealthy. Of course you can bake them if you're really on a health kick. Maybe I should make a batch of baked and a batch of fried - different flavours inside to differentiate? Although:
"there really is no substitute for a pan of hot fat and some strong nerves." Felicity Cloake
Back to history. Once established as part of the general Indian cuisine, the Indians then began spreading around the world taking their food with them. It's such a versatile dish isn't it? Pastry shaped around a soft filling. The filling can be anything really from plain potatoes to ice-cream (apparently). Most commonly though it seems to be potatoes and peas with lots of spices, and served with fresh and preserved chutneys. And that's what I shall be going for.
Felicity Cloake in her attempt at perfection said that the filling could indeed be anything but that it should contain:
"something soft, something crunchy, something sweet and something savoury"
One of the sources she was working from recommended adding a little shredded cabbage which she and her tasters found to be a really good addition - lighter than the peas which she felt were a bit stodgy. Now you can make meat samosas of course, but I shall be sticking to vegetables I think because of Zoe's sister's vegetarianism. Besides the vegetable version is indeed the most common. So here are the recipes from which I shall choose: Baked veggie samosas from Jamie Oliver - I guess you could deep-fry them too; Dan Hong's Samosas; Recipe Tin Eats - Samosas; Christine Manfield's Potato and pea samosas - alas the recipe is not online and neither is Madhur Jaffrey's Wholewheat meat samosas, and finally one from the Australian Women's Weekly. There are, of course heaps more.
Of course I could simply revert to my old, old little paperback Cooking the Indian Way and maybe nostalgia is the way to go. I think this is the only recipe I have ever used - although, I have just realised I have totally forgotten about Charmaine Solomon whose version I must have tried. Apologies to Charmaine.
There is so much variety on the pastry as well - one made with the chickpea/rice flour pastry, one just ordinary flour, but of course, there are some who use filo, some who use rice paper wrappers, and some who even use puff pastry. Anything goes it seems. As to shape - well the choice seems to be a circle which is then folded into a sort of pasty shape or a triangular shape made in a rather more complicated way that I shall have to look into.
I am very much looking forward to this. It's almost a childish pleasure kind of thing. I just hope they turn out alright.