When East Meets West: Culinary Style

Sambusa, or whatever variation of the name a particular country has, is a national dish found in most places throughout South and Central Asia. Americans are probably most familiar with the Indian version, called samosa, which usually consists of peas and other vegetables stuffed into a shell, which is then deep fried and served with a side of chutney.

In Tajikistan, the process of making sambusas is complex, to say the least, and quite different from the Indian variant. Traditionally, women roll the dough out until it is paper thin (thinner than a lasagna noodle), then slather it with either butter or Crisco, roll it up, and then repeat the process for as long as they can. When the dough is finally prepared (which takes a long time and a lot of patience), the women then cut the dough into small pieces, roll them out one final time, stuff them with either pumpkin, greens or meat, fat and onions, and then fold them into triangles before baking them.

The sheer amount of butter used in this particular food made me think that it can easily be adapted to make a dessert dish. I bounced the idea off of some of my Tajik friends, jokingly calling my new idea Sambusai shirini (sweet sambusas), but they thought that it would turn out horribly. Everyone, that is, except my 11 year old host sister, who was eager to try to cook something new (she absolutely loves chocolate chip cookies and other new foods we have made together).

We bought a bunch of different ingredients and took to the kitchen. With the help of my older host sister to figure out how to make the dough, we started the long process. Instead of stuffing the sambusas with traditional, savory items, we made a variety of sweet alternatives: apples with cinnamon and sugar to replicate apple pie, fresh cherries with white chocolate and flavored “tvorok” (think a mix between cottage cheese and cream cheese), walnuts, tvorok and honey, and chocolate chip pieces with a cannoli–like base.

Stuffing them takes a lot of practice. At the end of the process, it was apparent which sambusas were made by me, and which ones my sisters folded. But, I guess taste is more important than appearances!

Afterwards, we found that some of the flavors tasted better or worked better than others, but they all came out wonderfully. The sambusas with honey hardened on the bottom when they were baked, so they had a crunchy texture, while others, like the cherry filled sambusas, had soft textures. None were overly sweet, which many Tajiks do not like, so our whole host family broke fast in the morning with our newfound creations. Now if we can just open a store…

By: Alfred Yannucci

Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP)

Term: Summer 2016

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