Easily one of the most identifiable snacks in the world, the Sambuusa or Sambosaj or Sambosak (as it is known in different parts of the Middle East), hardly has any hate throughout the world, just the question of its name and origin can be as bad as talking about politics and religion so we won’t go there.
Instead, we wanted to share the different regional flavors of everyone’s favorite triangular pastry.
The question of making the pastry shell from scratch versus buying it frozen is also a topic of contention but normally it is a thin sheet similar to phyllo pastry, primarily made with warm water. Flour, oil, salt, eggs, and/or yeast. Then the dough mix is then molded into a long rectangular shape that gets different fillings and then is fried in oil.
These modern-day Phoenicians really like their pine trees, it even features one on their flag, so what’s to stop them from adding delish pine seeds to a meat mix? Made mainly with lamb meat mixed with nuts, the Lebanese like to add pine seeds that mimic their famous “Kobeba” snack to taste effect. Try this recipe today!
Cheese Filling Types
While white cheese is the one most utilized in samboosa, especially during the month of Ramadan, it can also be filled with cheddar, mozzarella, or even the pungent Egyptian Rumi cheese made by the ancients. Others use more than one type of cheese as featured on this cooking site.
Although mint is prevalent in Arab cuisine across the ages and borders, it seems underutilized in modern dishes but this is not the case with this fresh option usually accompanied with white or mild cheese. Try it now with this recipe.
Zaatar (Thyme) Flavor
In the Middle East, thyme and oregano are considered interchangeable. In this case, they have always paired with white cheese typically Levantine “labna” or “halloumi” cheese or some other bland white cheeses like Feta to offset the strong flavor. It is noted that sumac, nutmeg, and other herbs and spices are usually added to the meat mix but not in any overbearing amounts like the case with thyme and mint.
Usually beef-based, the red meat used in this common recipe is complemented with black pepper, coriander, and other spices that tickle the senses as you break the crunchy fired exterior to reach the soft meaty parts within. Some countries like Iraq like to add sweet dried fruit like raisins or nuts like almonds Check this recipe here.
While I have sampled most of samboosa types I listed here, the chicken filling was a surprise and frankly a bit strange for me closely resembling the corrupted Latin American version namely Empanadas or Pastel Del Pollo. Figuring as they probably inherited it from Spain during the Andalusian period try this enduring recipe from Lebanon.
Not so fast vegans and vegetarians! The deceptive name omits the fact that in peas and carrots would usually be cooked/seasoned using broth or meat stock to give it the savory trademark taste of Arabic cuisine. But if you’re making it at home, a veggie stock could be a satisfying alternative. Check out this video recipe to learn how to make it.
Do we really need more Arabic dessert pastries I thought to myself. Many people haven’t heard of this type, particularly due to the fact that countless sweet treats compete for attention on Arab dinner tables throughout the year so many wouldn’t consider making samboosas as desserts, we aren’t fond of frying everything under the sun as Americans do. But this recipe with creme cheese and nuts seems very appealing and worth a try next Ramadan for me!
Remember to briefly cook the different meaty fillings before putting them inside the pastry to fry to ensure they are all well-cooked. Be sure to let us know your favorite!
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