This was probably the #1 signature dish of my paternal grandmother, Savta. Actually, it probably only garnered that level of superiority for the grandkids, who were less interested in her flavorful vegetable dishes like stewed okra, and traditional Arab roast chicken with rice (tbit) that seemed to enthrall the adults. Just a smell of these little fried packets of salty chickpea mush was enough to expand our little bellies to accommodate a quantity of food that was utterly shocking to our relatives, and probably garnered images of the rumored plenty in America that contrasted starkly with their own childhood memories of living in a small Iraqui immigrant community in the early years of the state of Israel.
Savta was not a woman of recipes. She never really learned to read, and preparing food to her was as automatic an activity as getting dressed in the morning. So when my mom and I decided to start making sambusek on our own, we were thrilled to have a videotape of the three of us making it together from when I was probably 6 or 7 years old. From that we gleaned approximate proportions and ingredients, and remembered the special way Savta used to prepare food – enjoying the feeling of the food in her hands, the smells filling the house, the banter between women, and the traditional preparations that had brought together and nourished her family and community for generations.
I thought making this dish for Aya and Kileken in Basel would be a nice hommage to Savta and the togetherness that her food always inspired. It made a great centerpiece for a middle eastern meal with Israeli salad and babaganouj. Though Savta always fried her Sambusek (which is the traditional way its made) my mom and I both opt for the healthier and less messy option of baking them. Either way is deeeeelish though, so try whichever way you please!
- 2 C flour
- 1 C chickpea cooking liquid (or can liquid if using canned)
- 3/4 C dried or 1 can canned chickpeas
- 1 large onion
- 2 tbsp cumin – half seeds, half ground if you have seeds
- 1 tbsp chicken powder (bullion or other)
- ¼ C Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
If using dried chick peas, soak ~12 hours with a tsp of baking soda. Drain and rinse the beans, then boil them in water for ~1 hour or until soft. Retain the water for the dough.
If using canned chick peas, drain well, retaining the liquid for the dough. Rinse the chick peas once drained.
Turn the oven on to ~350 and grease a large cookie sheet. Start out by frying the cumin seeds in a small amount of oil for a few min. Once they start to get darker, they can be crushed with a mortar and pestle and returned to the skillet, or just left as is. Add the onion and fry in plenty of oil until they start to carmelize – at least 15 minutes.
Puree the chickpeas, not too fine though. Add to the skillet with the onions and cumin. Add chicken powder, ground cumin, and seasoning and let the mixture heat up and soften further, another 5ish minutes. Then blend the whole thing until the mix is a kind of chunky thick paste. Use lots of olive oil. And I mean lots.
To make the patties, add the flour and chick pea water together, with some extra pepper and cumin (lets say around a teaspoon each and a pinch of salt. Knead until smooth and sticky. Roll out until ~ 1/8 -1/4 in thick. Cut into rounds about three inches in diameter, and dab a heaping spoonful of chickpea mix into the middle. Fold in half and secure the edges by pressing down with a fork. Place on the oiled cookie sheet, and paint the tops of the sambusek with olive oil. Bake in the oven ~30 minutes or until the crusts are golden.