If you ask me what was the most delicious thing I ate last weekend, the answer would be Somali sambuus with ground beef filling. I made sambusas for the first time and oh boy, this was a fun learning experience.
I’ll have the recipes and links to all the people who helped me to take the first steps making these. Wrapping a sambuus/sambusa is a craft and skill of its own and I was nervous if at the end of the day I would have any decent looking sambusa to photograph. I hope I did justice to this beautiful food and definitely will need more practice to make them bigger.
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What is Sambuus?
Somali sambuus is a salty triangular deep-fried pastry with a multitude of fillings. A variation of samosa from the Horn of Africa. I learned that sambusa is a popular appetizer and enjoyed especially at evening meals during Ramadan. Sambusa recipes are also found in Ethiopia and Kenya.
I had a hunch that sambusa was delicious because a) I have a passionate love for coriander and b) who does not love deep-fried food. Chef Jamal Hashi tells how Somalia was once known as the Cape of Spices and indeed, looking at this sambusa recipe you’ll find a mix of bold spices.
I decided to try my hand at making sambusa for the #globalfoodcollab in which the theme was to explore African food. First, I’ll share my story of how I searched for authentic Somali recipes. Finally, the recipes for the yogurt-based lime-cilantro sauce and grounded beef sambusa are given in the order of how I prepared them. Enjoy!
Somali Cuisine in Finland
I have never eaten sambuus before and Somali cuisine is quite unfamiliar to me. The Ethiopian injera flatbread was on my radar but did not know that the Somali cuisine has its own canjeero. I had an association that Somali cuisine is full of spices and meat-driven but did not know how it fusions with Italian cuisine.
The fact that I have never been to a Somali restaurant makes me sad because Somalis are one of the largest foreign-language speaking populations in Finland since the 1990s. On a broader scale, African food is not really that available here yet. Only one Ethiopian restaurant, Addi’s Ethiopian Kitchen, is running in Helsinki while Queen Sheba is no longer open.
Let’s just say that the culinary map in the capital area let alone in the whole country is not a global feast. Maybe there has been a pop-up restaurant over the years that I’m not aware of. After all, I don’t live in the city even though I try to keep a pulse on the foodie scene.
The reality is this: a small consumer market and the expenses of running a restaurant in the busiest spot is a challenge for every entrepreneur in the food industry. Many restaurants in the city are part of a chain business. Luckily, many ethnic grocery stores are scattered all over the cities.
While the Asian trend has been riding the wave in the last two decades in our lunch corners, I’m hoping that more African flavors will find their way into the restaurant scene. In the meanwhile, we can explore new dishes at home.
Books including Somali Cuisine
In my quest to learn more I was lucky to find books about Somali food! In 2001, the first Somalian cookbook was published in Finnish by Mulki Mölsä (Somalialainen keittokirja – Buugga cuntokaris Soomaaliyeed). Somalian food was also present in a book exploring new, international Finnish Cuisine by visiting home chefs of different cultural cuisines (Sieltä missä pippuri kasvaa, 2009).
While these books are in Finnish and can’t give you much, I’m happy to tell you that the sambusa wrapper recipe is a slight adaption from the latter. Fatha’s recipe gave a really nice dough to work with.
I also pre-ordered from Amazon a very interesting book by Somali chef Hawa Hassan and food writer Julia Turshen. *In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean is published this October (2020).
What I value in this book is its approach: grandmothers are the essential link in building culinary heritage and passing on the traditions. And I can’t wait to learn more about the cuisine of South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, and Eritrea. But back to sambusa in the meanwhile.
Why make Somali sambusa?
Because they are truly delicious! My husband was licking his fingers even when we reheated the leftovers the next day. A fair warning that sambusa requires either time if you’re alone in the kitchen or helping hands to make the process quicker.
I cook deep-fried food only occasionally but summer is the season when I feel somehow more care-free about it. Maybe it’s the fact that I can cook outdoors or just summer and sunshine in general. I love to cook outdoors at our cottage home and we fried the sambusa together with my other half.
Below you’ll find the recipes how I made these. I draw inspiration from many cooks and content creators, I’ll link to their channels throughout the sections. I first made the sauce, then the filling, kneaded the dough and the finally filled wrappers. Whenever vegetable oil is mentioned, I used rapeseed oil.
BizBaz Sauce | Recipe
Many sambusa recipes detail how to make sambusa from scratch but do not reveal much how to serve them. Because I’m a sauce person, I had to make at least one sauce.
This Chef Jamal Hashi inspired Somali BizBaz sauce by the Splendid Table is amazing! If you love fresh cilantro, garlic, and lime, this sauce is your deal. You can adjust the chili to your liking. I prepared the sauce well in advance so that the flavors got to set.
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed
- juice of half a large lime
- 1/2 to 2 whole fresh Serrano chiles (I just used my own to taste)
- 1/2 to 2/3 tight-packed cup fresh coriander leaves
- 1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used 1,5dl)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
Place the garlic clove in a coffee cup and squeeze the lime juice over it. Let it stand 20 minutes while you gather the other ingredients. Transfer all ingredients into a tall bowl or a food processor and make a purée. Taste sugar, salt, chili, and lime for balance. Refrigerate the Bizbaz an hour or so to mellow. Serve cool.
The Beef Filling | Recipe
This beef filling is inspired by My Somali Food. Initially, I was supposed to prepare a mix of beef and lamb. My visions turned into a grey box as the minced lamb went bad! I bought the product from a big supermarket and the cold chain from my part was taken care of so you can imagine the disappointment. But luckily we had excellent local ground beef and I decided to make it extra delicious.
- 450g ground beef
- 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp salt
- A medium onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1,5 tsp cardamom
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 0,5 tsp turmeric
- 0,5-1 tsp paprika
- 0,5-1 chili (my Thai chilis were rather fierce so I added to taste)
- 2 tbsp fresh cilantro
- 1-2 scallions, use only the green part
Gently sauté the onion in oil and then add the ground beef. Cook the meat for 3-5 minutes simultaneously chopping it smaller. When the liquid is almost gone, the spices and garlic are added. Finally, mix in fresh cilantro and chopped green onion and continue cooking until the filling is dry. (We don’t want our sambusa to soak). The filling shall cool in room temperature while you make the dough and wrappers.
Sambusa wrappers | Recipe
Makes 650g of sambusa wrapper dough.
I used the recipe Fatha shares in the book mentioned earlier. I say slight adaption because I did not end up making the wrappers as big.
For Fathfa the recipe yields 16 sambusa. But for an unexperienced sambusa maker like me the recipe yielded in 20+ sambusa smaller in size plus a pile of dough cutouts! :D Do not throw away the dough pieces if you are as clumsy as I am: the dough cutouts are excellent also deep-fried and enjoyed as chips dipped in the sauce.
Fatha recommends using coarser wheat flour in comparison to APF wheat because the dough holds better. I mixed two brands of all-purpose flours and kneaded the dough extra patiently l so that I got a nice gluten strength.
- 390g wheat flour (APF or coarser wheat flour)
- 4g / 3/4 tsp salt
- 250g warm water
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- Extra oil and flour for working the dough wrappers
1. Mix flour with salt in a heavy bowl. Add warm water little by little while mixing the dough. Knead the dough by hand and then add 1 tbsp of oil. Knead the dough until smooth (approximately 10 minutes, add more oil onto the table if needed). Cover the dough with a wet cloth and let it rest 15 minutes.
2. Preheat oven 200°C/392°F and line a tray with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Place two balls back under the wet cloth and start working on the other two.
With a rolling pin, roll each dough piece round and flat. Think them as the size of a saucer. Dust the table and the pin with flour if the dough sticks. Evenly spread oil onto the surface of the first dough plate and place the other dough plate on top of it. Continue rolling until the diameter of the double plate is 40cm / 15,7 inch. Daryeel has a hands-on Youtube video of sambusa making, check that out if you’re new to this.
3. Transfer the dough plate on the tray and bake it in the oven for 1-2 minutes or until you see some spotting and hardening. After the bake, divide the dough into four sections with a rolling pin. Our cottage oven is smaller, so I divided the dough into four sections prior to the quick bake (oven time 2 minutes).
Carefully detach the dough layers from each other. Place the wrappers on a big plate on top of each other but remember to dust flour in between them to prevent sticking. Cover the plate with a damp kitchen towel so that the wrappers wont dry. Repeat the process until all the wrappers are done.
It’s important that the dough dries in the oven and does not have too much soft stretchy gluten anymore. If the dough is left too raw in this stage, the fried wrapper will not be crispy in the same way. But if the wrapper gets too dry, it’s hard to fold the sambusa. To find the right texture for the wrapper, it may be a good idea to bake the divided pieces one by one like I did.
- 65g wheat flour
- 100g water
Mix the glue right before you start assembling and folding the sambusa.
The challenge: folding the sambusa
This was the most difficult part for me. I had to cut sides and corners with a knife. I really just went for the clean triangular shape in the end, unlike the rounder fan like sambusa shape. This resulted in cooking sambusa of varying sizes but I guess that’s allowed for a first-timer.
Fatha’s sambusa pastries are bigger holding in up to 1dl/ 0,4 cups of filling. In comparison, my tiniest sambusa had only a tablespoon of filling! I did manage to make three full-size sambusa, though. This really was a fun experience and I did not want to waste any dough so I made the tiny sambusa, too.
The glue works very well and I didn’t have any trouble in that sense. All the sambusa pastries hold their shape, no leaking fillings, or other surprises.
Deep-frying the sambusa
We used one liter of rapeseed oil to cook the sambusa. A heavy cast-iron pot was used. At one point, the oil got a bit too hot.
The sambusa is supposed to cook in the oil for minutes rather than get golden in an instant. Many recipes show sambusa cooking in a skillet. I’m not that confident of a deep-frier and I always use a pan with a heavy bottom, lid, and a blanket on the side. But this is really a matter of preference and confidence.
I really enjoyed the crispiness and the deliciously textured appearance of the sambusa pastries. We savored sambusa warm with the BizBaz sauce. It was beyond amazing and I ate too much!
I hope that you enjoy these recipes as much as I do. My fingers are itching to get back practicing the folding and will try a lamb filing next.
More of Somali Cuisine
*In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean by Hawa Hassan & Julia Turshen (2020)*
Somali Hot Sauces
Somali Hot Sauce inspiration for homemade sauces here and story behind Basbaas Somali sauce brand here.
Books from Somali kitchen in Finnish
Somalialainen keittokirja – Buugga cuntokaris Soomaaliyeed (2001)
Sieltä missä pippuri kasvaa (2009)