Emirati Recipe: Samboosa (fried savory triangles)

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Emirati Samboosas

Have you been watching the Summer Olympics?

The UAE has never participated in the Winter Olympics but has participated in seven Summer Olympics starting with the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

This year, for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the UAE team comprised of 30 athletes and competed in the following sports: athletics (triple jump and 1500m), football, judo, shooting, swimming, and weightlifting.

So far, only one medal has been won by a UAE athlete, and that was a gold medal by HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher Al Maktoum, for the double trap (shooting) at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.

Since moving to the Middle East nearly 5 years ago, this was the first time I could actually watch the games as the last few Olympics seemed to have garnered minimal TV coverage in Dubai.

We have had the same cable package for the last 4 years and this year – thanks to the new OSN Network – what a change!

At least 10 OSN sports channels (in English) are covering the Olympics with 4 dedicated Olympics channels – wow! Watching the Olympics again after so many years, I felt transported back in time when I was a little girl sitting in my parents living room and glued to the TV watching my favorite Olympic sports of gymnastics, diving and swimming.

The coverage is spotty at times: we lose audio signal and hence the commentary sometimes, the video feed freezes once in a while, and there are times I want to watch more of the US competitors but I’m happy to see so much coverage as it is and I understand that being a global network, other countries need to be spotlighted as well.

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I am glad that I’m not representing my country in cooking were it an Olympic sport. Because if I were, my performance today in kitchen stadium would have put me at the bottom of the rankings and out of medal contention.

I had planned to make Emirati Samboosas since my last Emirati cooking session in February and had been carrying around the ingredients list all this time.

About these Samboosas, Celia from “The Complete UAE Cookbook” writes:

These savoury triangular-shaped pastries are probably the most popular in the UAE. Again ‘imported’ into the UAE kitchen from india, they can be filled with vegetable, chicken or meat mixtures following the basic recipe.

Making samboosas at home can be time-consuming, and these days, large quantities are made and frozen in batches to deep fry when needed. They are however, available in the many small Indian resturants around the Emirates and are popular as an any-time-of -the-day snack, and a particular favourite during Ramadan.

What makes these samboosas different from Indian samosas is the use of the Emirati spice mixture, bezar.

I was very pleased to be able to use bezar that was made in an Emirati home – thanks to the generous Arwa from La Mere Culinaire and her mom who gifted me a huge bagful when Arwa invited me to her beautiful home last November (you can read about that experience here).

To make these samboosas (click here for the recipe), I started off with sauteing 900 grams (2 lbs) of onions.

Eyes tearing and burning to the point where I couldn’t even see the knife I was holding and concerned for the safety of my fingers, I actually gave up chopping the last onion.

Sauteed Onions
Sauteed Onions

The recipe called for ground cardamom which I didn’t have so I took a few green cardamom pods and threw them in a mortar and pestle with some sea salt and pounded and pounded them to a ground-ish texture.

And after removing the outer cardamom shells, voila, semi-ground cardamom (photo below, right):

Ground Cardamon and Sea Salt
Ground Cardamon and Sea Salt

Overall this looked like a very simple recipe. The first line of the instructions said to “mix all ingredients together.” Simple?

So I threw my sauteed onions, cilantro, garlic, spices (including loomi and bezar), green chillis, as well as the raw ground beef into a large bowl and began to mix.

Checking the ingredients list to make sure I had added everything, that was when I noticed that the first ingredient was “cooked, minced beef.”


Samboosa mixture
Samboosa mixture

You can see from the photo above that my beef was definitely still raw. And no way could I separate out the beef mince at that point. And no way was I going to throw out all that perfectly good food and start over from scratch.

After a few frantic message exchanges for help via Facebook, I decided to proceed with the recipe using the raw meat. When I make Vietnamese spring rolls, all the ingredients are mixed raw and then rolled in pastry skin and deep fried for 6-7 minutes. Making samboosas seemed no different.

Samboosa Pastry
Samboosa Pastry

Next it was time to assemble the filling into the samboosa pastry.

Samboosa / samosa pastry* are long and rectangular and easily available in the frozen section of any supermarket in Dubai. When taken out of the freezer and placed at room temperature, they defrost in no time (maybe 30 minutes?). Once removed from the packaging, the pastry that’s not being used can dry out easily so it’s important to remember to cover them with a wet paper towel or wet cloth.

Celia gives no instruction on how to fold a samboosa except to put “a little of the mixture into the middle of a samboosa wrapper and fold over tightly.”

I did exactly that and then realized I had no idea how to fold the pastry into a triangle:

Emirati Samboosa
Emirati Samboosa

As I stared at the samboosa and wondered what to do…

…my background board fell over and flattened my samboosa filling:

Emirati Samboosa
Emirati Samboosa

Undeterred, I wiped the raw meat from my white board and logged on to YouTube for a crash course on samboosa wrapping. This 30 Second Samosa video (which is actually 36 seconds long) proved to be the most useful and after a few rough starts and ugly looking non-triangular samboosas, I started to make some pretty nice ones.

Just like making spring rolls, I heated my deep fryer to 165ºC and fried the samboosas for 5-6 minutes using Mazola sunflower oil.

They turned out marvelous!

So crispy on the outside, completely cooked on the inside and the spicy flavors of the Arwa’s mom’s bezar married with the meat very well. And every once in a while I would get a surprise but pleasant burst of cardamon flavor.

I really cannot wait to make these again but will precook the meat next time with the onions and hope that they will taste just as great or even better!

Emirati Samboosa
Emirati Samboosa

*This pack of samboosa pastry contained 50 leaves (it says so on the packaging). I used 1 kg of meat (2.2 lbs) and that was enough mixture for about 60-65 samboosas. The remaining leaves can be placed in a resealable bag and refrozen.

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Previous Emirati recipe:  Shrimp Fried with Spices (Ro-be-yann nashif)

Up next:  Soaked Prawns (Ro-be-yann Moadam)

Note:  This post is part of my Cooking Local project.

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  1. Hi Ginger and Scotch,

    I’m particularly interested in Celia Ann’s cookbook. Any idea where to buy it in Dubai? I would like keep it as a souvenir. Thank you.


  2. Dear Ms. Ginger:

    I am traveling to Dubai next week, and I have come across your blog as I was preparing for things to do there. Thanks to you, I learned about Sarareed and was able to secure a copy at Kinokuniya.

    Do you know if Celia Ann Brock-Al Ansari’s “The Complete United Arab Emirates Cookbook” is still in print? It is nice that recipes are available online, but I’d love to find a copy…

  3. I could defintely taste the cardamom coming through nicely – so was pleased when I read the post that there was indeed cardamom inside!

  4. Ginger, the Samboosas couldn’t look more perfect. Very neat handwork, I must say. Your version cuts down considerable amount of time if you don’t have to cook the meat first.

  5. ha! I laughed when I saw your frantic post yesterday, and am so glad it turned out okay. A lot of Middle Eastern recipes call for raw meat stuffing but I am just so paranoid that I cook everything first! They look delicious though – I haven’t made them since last year, and now I am craving them! BTW, we have a small step by step on our recipe posted on midEATS: http://mideats.com/2011/08/samboosak-meat-pies/

  6. They were soooooo yummy – heated up in the oven @ 180 celcius, for around 12 minutes. Stayed nice and crispy!

    1. Thanks! I thought they tasted much better than store bought or ones from restaurants.

      Have got a coffee grinder just for spices as well but didn’t feel like taking it out for 5 little cardamom pods – plus I think the P&M look nicer in the photos 😉