Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sambusaks or Cheese-filled Buttery Pastries

Sambusaks are a traditional cheese-filled buttery pastry popular in Egypt. Filled with crumbly feta cheese, the tender pastry melts in your mouth. Serve them with hot sweet cardamom tea or a completely untraditional glass of wine.

Everybody has a story to tell.  Some tell it with words and some tell it with illustrations.  (And some keep it to themselves, but they still have a story.  I’m sure of it.)  Right after cookbooks, my favorite kind of book is an autobiography.  (And my favorite cookbooks are never straight recipes.  They need some personal stuff too.)  I will read anyone’s autobiography, from Winston Churchill to Tina Fey and Corrie Ten Boom to David Sedaris.  The little old lady down the street?  If she can write well, I will read hers too.  You never know what interesting thing is going on behind closed doors.

An autobiography and its often more colloquial twin sister, the memoir, reach deep into the heart of what makes the author tick.  How we were raised, where we lived, what we were exposed to in childhood:  These are the circumstances that make us who we are.  Without debating the nature vs. nurture argument, even while leaning heavily to one side, a reasonable person would have to admit that neither nature nor nurture can be completely discounted in the formation of young minds.  And we have all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” 

So, along with my love of cookbooks and autobiographies, I have recently developed an appetite for memoirs that share recipes.  The perfect marriage of both my loves.   

And you know what’s dangerous?  Buy now with 1-Click:  Kindle books on my iPad.

But yesterday’s purchase was money well spent! (Aren’t they all?)  After all, I am trying to get to know my new home city, right?  It is called Apricots on the Nile, a lovely book by an articulate author, Colette Rossant, and it's all about her childhood centered around the consolation of cooking and food in her grandparents’ home in Cairo’s Garden City, way back in the 1930s and ‘40s.  What a delight it was to read about Cairo in a different age but with traditional recipes I am still seeing today.  I highlighted just about every recipe and can’t wait to try them all.

Sambusaks or Cheese-filled Buttery Pastries

This is an easy recipe that I would have highlighted twice, if Kindle for iPad permitted such a thing.

For the pastry:
1/4 cup or 55g melted butter
1/4 cup or 60ml canola oil
1/4 cup or 60ml hot water
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups or 355g flour plus extra for rolling out dough

For the filling:
5 1/2 oz 156g feta cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
2 teaspoons baking powder
Black pepper

Put the melted butter, oil and hot water in a bowl with the pinch of salt. 

Add in the flour and mix well.  Knead for a few minutes then wrap in cling film and pop the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, crumble your feta cheese with a fork or your fingers.  

Add in the Parmesan, freshly ground black pepper, egg and the baking powder.  Mix well.   

The original recipe said to whip it all up in a food processor so that’s what I did with my first batch of filling.  And then I started over.

Runny filling going down the drain!
Just mix it by hand. 

When the 30 minutes waiting time is almost up for the dough, preheat your oven to 375°F or 190°C.   Grease your baking tray or line it with parchment paper.

Get the flour ready, because this dough is pretty soft and sticky.  Cut the dough in half and then cut each half into five equal pieces.

Flour your rolling pin and the counter top.  Shape the piece of dough into a ball and then gentle roll it out into a circle of about 4 inches or 10cm. 

Place about 1 tablespoon of the filling on the circle.  

Fold over and squeeze the air out.  Then press the sides together. 

If you have enough room, roll the edges up slightly and then press with a fork to decorate.  I followed the original instructions and just used the fork to close the joint.  (Check out the update at the end for pictures of this.) Some of my cheese filling melted out so folding the edges over might help prevent that.

Continue until all 10 sambusaks are assembled. 

Bake in your preheated oven about 25 minutes or until they are golden brown.  I was amazed by how light and flakey these were. 


The salty cheese filling goes great with a glass of red. 
Update and confession:  I really only made four of the 10 sambusaks that day.  Yesterday, I used the remaining dough and filling - and added some thinly sliced ham - and they were just as delicious, if not more so.  I also followed my own suggestion of folding the edges over before crimping with the fork and it worked!

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