It is no secret that food and family traditions play a huge role in Italian culture. Big family meals for Sunday lunch and grandmas and moms cooking for the whole family. Wherever there’s a good ragù (the Italian famous meat sauce), it smells like home, yet no ragù is ever comparable with the one mom makes or the one that granny used to make. It usually looks like this; a big table with the whole family sitting around it, meals start at about noon and people leave the table at about 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Children and cousins play around the table, there’s a lot of noise, a lot of delicious smells and of course a lot of heavenly tasty food. Most of the times you can add the rays of sun light making their way through white window curtains to this poetic picture. And there’s of course wine, shining like pieces of ruby in each glass. This authentic picture (plus the dead delicious food) is indeed one of the reasons the Italian culinary culture has come to be celebrated all over the world. What is less known though, is that family meals and more specifically cooking for the family, has the same significant role in many other cultures too; of course things change regarding traditions of each place. but the taste of the traditional food cooked by a mom, has carved our souls in one way or another; some times it’s a picture of Tortellini in Brodo, some times it’s Fried Chicken, other times it’s Ghormeh-Sabzi or Kabuli Paowlo. But no matter the name or the shape, the smell and the taste of a traditional meal we’ve grown up with, can take us all back… home.
In our multi-ethnical world there are more and more people like me who have left their homeland for one reason or another. Naturally it’s always a pleasure to have an opportunity to recreate the home sensation through cooking and sharing meals. It’s healthy and inevitable that the traditional food of one place cooked in another goes through some changes, of which the slightest would be the atmosphere or simply the weather in which that food is usually eaten. Other times some ingredients also need to be revisited, whether they’re difficult to find or not considered quite palatable in the new place. But all of this won’t matter if only one factor remains the same: sharing that meal with other people. Cooking and wanting to share your food with other people means one is capable of love, and what is more associated with home than love?
On 26th April, a very cloudy-turned-rainy Saturday, I had the pleasure to meet Shadam, 27, who is born in Afghanistan, lived for a while in Pakistan, then started his road trip to Europe in 2008, crossing many countries of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. It took him 2 years to arrive in Italy, where he decided to stay. Here in Rome with the help of intercultural associations such as Frontiere News and Binario15, Shadam organizes Afghan suppers for charity, Afghan cooking workshops and Afghan dance lessons. He also works in Italian restaurants and silk screen print publishing house. Our cooking workshop took place in a beautiful agritourism farm called La Volpe e l’Uva in the province of Latina, in the region of Lazio. We were about 12 people and we cooked together Afghan Samosas, Kabuli Pulao (Afghan Rice), lentils and Okra (ladies’ fingers). We were enchanted by the smell of turmeric, saffron and other spices. I imagine how exotic it all looked like for Italian friends present, to me naturally, coming from Iran and sharing borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, there weren’t many surprises in the smells and tastes. Rather I could’ve let myself go in nostalgia for home, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to lose the chance to hear Shadam’s story and watch him knead the dough for Samosa and add the spices to chicken pieces. We all watched him in wonder and listened to him carefully. He told us that in Afghanistan men rarely step in the kitchen and it’s women who always cook at home. But for events like weddings (where celebrations are held for several days) only men cook, and that’s where he has found his interest for cooking. We chopped, kneaded and diced while clouds got darker and denser, and when they finally broke down into a heavy spring shower, we sat at the table to eat our Afghan lunch; hearty, spicy and colorful. I looked at Shadam’s face and I could tell he was satisfied, not just with the good food, but also with the good company. People who were gathered by curiosity and –no doubt– the love for food, sat at a long table, and shared opinions, thoughts and food. The food from his homeland, the home that he had deserted. Who knows, maybe that day at that table, it did feel a little like home after all for Shadam.
Samosa is a pastry with savory filling. It’s a food typically from South Asia which has radiated its way into neighbors countries and more. In Iran, Samosa is kinda of a street food, usually sold in tiny local fast food shops at the centre or south of Tehran. The thing about Samosa is that it is fried, deep fried. Which if done at home, can be great, crunchy and all. But since the word “deep-fried” resurrects the calorie-counter health freak that lives inside me, I decided to bake them. I don’t think I will ever put a fried recipe in Lab Noon. So my baked samosa recipe is basically Shadam’s with a tiny twist; a little olive oil in the dough and and oil wash before baking.
- 250 gr. White Flour (better type 0 than 00) and 1 tbsp for the glue
- A pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 large potatoes
- 250 gr. peas
- Masala spice mix (which I didn’t have, therefore I used only some Turmeric, Curry, Ginger powder, Chili, and freshly ground black pepper)
- a pinch of salt
- 250 ml Plain Yogurt
- 150 gr. Walnuts and almonds
- A big handful of coriander (cilantro)
- a pinch of salt
- chilly (optional)
- Prepare the Chutney and set aside. Mix all of the ingredients in a food processor until creamy and well mixed, and season to taste.
- Peel the potatoes and dice them. Put them in a pot on medium heat and add the peas. Add your mix of spices and a pinch of salt and stir a little until everything is well mixed. You can add a little bit of water (about half a cup) to your mix, then you put on the lid on the pot and let it cook for about 20-30 minutes, and keep an eye on it, stirring every once in a while. Remember: no oil at all in the filling otherwise you Samosas will open. When the veggies are nice and soft and a little creamy turn off the heat and move them to a dish and let them cool down.
- While the filling cools down you can make the dough. Get yourself a large bowl. Mix the flour with salt and gradually add water and knead until the dough is homogeneous. You’ll know when it’s ready when it sticks to your hand but you can take it off. At this point add two tbsp of olive oil and I keep kneading again until you get a nice ball. Cover it with a clean kitchen cloths and let it rest for 30-60 minutes.
- Now you can prepare the “glue” to close the samosas. In a small sauce pan bring to boil half a cup of water, then add one tbsp of white flour and stir until all lumps are gone. Put a spoon inside it and take it out, if the solution is too runny add a little more flour and mix well. Take it off the heat and let it cool down. You will need this batter to seal your samosas.
- Cover a tray with flour and take small pieces of dough and shape them into walnut-size balls. This amount of dough makes 6-7 balls, and each of which makes two samosas. Put a crepe pan or a non-sticking large pan on the heat. Cover your worktop with flour. Take a ball of dough and press its edges between your fingertips and the palm of your hand until you get a small disk. Place it on the worktop and put some more flour on it and start rolling it away from you. Now you must have a vertical oval shape. Flip the dough and turn it 90 degrees. Sprinkle more flour and roll away from you until you get a circle. Repeat this operation of flipping, turning and rolling until you get a really thin dough looking like flat bread or Naan. Now very carefully take this dough and place it quickly on the hot pan, opening any eventual foldings, wait some seconds and then flip it. If your careful enough you can do this step just with hands, no other utensils are needed. Remember that in this step we are not actually cooking the dough, so it literally stays some seconds on the hot pan for each side. This makes tiny bubbles appear in your samosa. Place it on a dish. Repeat everything with each ball of dough.
- Now put 3 or 4 of your flatbreads on top of each other where they match most in shape. Place a large bowl or plate on them upside down, and cut around the plate with a sharp knife in order to get perfect circles. Unfortunately you need to discard the leftovers. Any ideals to recycle these bits of dough?
- Now cut the circles in half. Each semicircle will make one samosa. You need to make cones. First hold the semicircle in the palm of your left hand (if your right handed) with the curved side facing up, fold gently the right corner towards the left side and with your index finger of the right hand put a little glue near the edge on the part you have folded. Put some more glue on the length of the left corner. Now that the both side have glue on them place the glued press them together to seal it. Now you must have a cone. Be careful not to leave an opening at the bottom point of the cone.
- Spoon the filling inside the cone. Don’t over-fill the cone otherwise your samosas will open, one spoon-full should be enough. Put a little more glue inside the cone opening and seal two sides, making a triangle. Your samosa is ready to be baked or fried. Fill and seal all of your 12-14 samosas. It may sound complicated but it’s not.
- Put a baking parchment on a tray and place the samosas on it. Pour about 2 tbsp of olive oil in small bowl and using a pastry brush give your samosas a quick and slight oil wash. Since you are baking them rather than frying them, this step helps to make them tender yet crispy while keep them light and healthy. Bake in the oven for about ten minutes on one side, then turn them, give them a quick oil wash on the side and bake them some more. Keep an eye on them, because the baking time changes from oven to oven, you want them to look well baked but being as thin as they are, they wouldn’t need much time too cook. Serve with the chutney on the side.
- Serve with the chutney on the side.
Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions and let me know if you try this recipe and how it turns out. I would love to hear from you.
Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.