Recipe from Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer (Workman Publishing Company, 2013)
Samosas are flaky, crispy, and triangular-shaped pastry shells that cocoon seasoned potatoes and peas and are the most recognizable of finger foods in Indian cuisine. They are deep-fried and addictive, and I hanker for one (okay, I can devour four of them and call it a meal) quite often whenever I get homesick (funny, considering I have lived in the U.S. for more than half my life, I still think of India as home). This version of mine is just as comforting, but instead of the labor-intensive pastry shells, I use store-bought phyllo sheets, and baking replaces the deep-frying for a heart-healthy alternative. Popeye-friendly spinach, in lieu of the potatoes, adds to the “good for you” argument and you can eat more than four, guilt free.
LACTO-VEGETARIAN (VEGAN IF YOU USE TOFU)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil, plus oil for brushing the phyllo
- 1 cup finely chopped red onion
- 8 ounces prewashed baby spinach (see Extra Credit), finely chopped
- 1 cup shredded store-bought or homemade paneer or drained extra-firm tofu (see Extra Credit)
- 2 fresh green serrano chiles, stems discarded, finely chopped (do not remove the seeds)
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon garam masala
- Parchment paper or nonfat cooking spray
- 1 package frozen phyllo sheets, completely thawed (see Extra Credit)
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer, add the onion and stir-fry until it is slightly brown around the edges, about 2 minutes. I always tell my students to use their nose—if it smells like there is no pungency and your eyes stop tearing, the onion is slightly brown. You really can cook with a blindfold.
2. Stir in the spinach, paneer, chiles, salt, and garam masala and stir-fry until the spinach wilts, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the spinach filling to a colander and let the excess liquid drain as you prepare the
phyllo sheets. There is no need to save the drained liquid, but if you do, you can use it to season and flavor mashed potatoes.
3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, lightly spray the sheet with nonfat cooking spray.
4. Unfold the thawed phyllo sheets on a countertop. Have a clean and damp cloth on hand. Carefully peel a sheet of the phyllo from the pile and place it on a cutting board with the longer length of the rectangular sheet facing you. Brush it with some oil. Repeat 3 more times so you end up with a stack of 4 sheets of phyllo. To keep them from drying out, cover the stack of unfolded sheets with the damp cloth each time you unpeel a single sheet. Cut the 4-sheet stack into 4 equal strips.
5. Working quickly with one strip at a time, with the smaller edge facing you, spoon a tablespoon of the spinach filling onto the center of the narrow end closest to you. Here is where your flag-folding skills come in handy (good time to learn now). Form a triangle by folding the lower left-hand corner over the filling to the opposite side. Then fold the phyllo straight up. Next fold it up on the diagonal to the right side, maintaining the triangular shape. Continue folding this way until you get to the end of the strip. You should have a neatlooking triangle. If you have an uneven lip at the end, brush that lip with oil and tuck it under. Repeat with the remaining strips. You will need to repeat the 4-sheet stack, strip cutting, and triangle folding three times more to yield 16 phyllo samosas.
6. Arrange the samosa triangles in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet so there is a little space in between them. Bake the samosas until they are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
7. Serve the samosas warm, as is, or with a store-bought dipping sauce, with the the Tangy Mint Chutney (page 102) or with Tamarind Date Chutney (page 103).
Filling and Folding a Samosa Step-by-Step
1. Brush a sheet of phyllo with canola oil and top it with another sheet, repeating oiling the layers for a stack of 4 sheets.
2. Cut the 4-sheet stack into 4 equal strips.
3. Place a heaping spoonful of the spinach filling at one end of the phyllo dough strip.
4. Fold the dough over the filling by lifting it up from the lower left-hand corner and bringing it to the opposite side.
5. Fold the dough-covered filling straight up.
6. Maintain a triangle, mimicking the classic flag fold.
7. Now, fold the dough over on the diagonal back to the left-hand side.
8. Continue in this manner until you reach the end of the strip.
9. You will have a little strip left.
10. Brush the remaining dough with a little oil and tuck it under, pressing on the dough to secure it.