This sambusa recipe is in the top 3 recipes in my recipe book. I could make this sambusa every day if I had the time, and no one in my family would object. It’s that good. Flaky shells are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The meat filling is nicely textured, juicy and flavorful. Make sure to make the full batch – these puppies have a tendency to magically vanish in the blink of an eye.
This recipe was inspired by the traditional sambusa (also called samsa) made in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries. The difference is that it’s a lot less fatty and is baked in the kitchen oven instead of the wood fired tandir oven.
I tried the authentic tandir oven baked sambusa, flavored with smoke, and it was heavenly. I’d been experimenting for quite some time trying to create something similar in my kitchen, until I came up with something slightly different, but it was 100% percent to my satisfaction. It’s superb. I will even go as far as to say that I actually prefer this one to the traditional sambusa.
The dough in this sambusa recipe is very traditional: one part flour, half-part water and salt. The dough will be stiff and hard to knead, and that’s exactly how you want it to be. Nowadays they add an egg or two to make kneading easier. I got tempted once and added eggs. The resulting dough was more supple and easier to work with, but sambusa lost the crispness that I value so highly.
The best way to prepare the dough is to dump flour, water and salt into a mixing bowl and let the mixer do the job. You must use a powerful, commercial grade mixer though. A wimpy stand mixer will choke. You don’t want to kill your mixer. If using a commercial grade stand mixer, mix on low with a dough hook for 5 minutes until the dough comes together in a ball.
If mixing by hand, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. This will allow the flour to hydrate and become more supple and pliable. Then knead for 5 minutes. The job will be much easier that way. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least half an hour.
Traditionally Uzbek meat sambusa is made with lamb meat and tail fat. A lot of tail fat. And a lot of onions. This fat and onions, which release water during baking, is what makes sambusa juicy and moist. While it tastes amazingly delicious, it’s very greasy. My sambusa recipe is a leaner variant made with beef. Chuck works the best as it has the right beef to fat ratio and is a very flavorful cut. Oftentimes I remove half of the fat from chuck to make my sambusa even leaner and this does not make it taste any worse.
Meat for sambusa must be finely diced with a knife. It takes some effort, but this is very important. If you grind the meat you will get a dumpling, you don’t want that. Diced meat gives sambusa its peculiar texture and juiciness as diced meat retains water better than ground meat. Add finely chopped onions, salt and spice to the meat and the filling is ready. Traditional sambusa recipe calls for an equal volume of chopped onions to the meat. Through experimentation I found that about 3/4 volume is optimal for my taste. If this sounds like too much of onions, it’s not. Not enough onions will result in dry sambusa. During the bake the onions will become translucent and mildly flavored. You will barely notice them when you eat the sambusa. Cumin is one of the traditional spices added to sambusa, as well as black pepper. I am not a big fan of cumin, so I use black pepper and coriander instead for flavor. If you prefer, you can substitute coriander for cumin.
After half an hour or more of relaxing the dough will become supple and pliable. Place it on a lightly floured surface and stretch into a 12 x 8 inch rectangle.
Roll out the dough as thinly as possible, about 1/16″ thick. Pour 3 tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil over the dough and spread evenly over the entire surface.
Slowly roll the dough into a fairly tight log, making sure there are no air pockets.
Cut the log into about 1-1/4 inch cylinders. You should end up with about 16 of them.
Take the cylinder, tuck the end underneath as shown below.
Place the cylinder on the lightly floured work surface and press firmly with the palm of your hand.
Roll each cylinder into a 5 inch circle.
Place a handful of the meat filling (about 3 ounces) in the center of the circle.
Fold the circle in half and pinch to seal as show below to make a triangle.
Place on a large baking sheet seam side down, brush with egg wash, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake.
For the dough:
- 400 g all purpose flour
- 200 g water
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 3 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil
For the meat filling:
- 2 lbs beef chuck diced into about 1/4 inch pieces
- 2 large onions finely chopped
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 2 tsp kosher salt 6 g per lb of meat
For the egg wash:
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 tsp milk
For the garnish:
- 1 tsp roasted sesame seeds
- Prepare the dough by combining flour, water and salt and mixing in a stand mixer on low speed with a dough hook attachment for 5 minutes. This type of dough is very stiff so you must use a powerful, commercial grade mixer. If mixing by hand, combine all ingredients in a large bowl and let the flour hydrate for 5 minutes or longer, then knead for 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic and let sit at room temperature for at least half an hour.
- Prepare the meat filling by combining the meat, the onions and the seasonings.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Roll it out to a rectangle about 1/16 inch thick. Pour 3 tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil and spread out evenly across the entire surface. Roll the dough into a tight log, making sure there are no air pockets. Slice the log into about 16 1-1/4 inch cylinders. Flatten each cylinder with the palm of you hand, then roll out to a 5 inch circle.
- Put about 3 - 3-1/2 ounces of meat filling in the center of each circle. Seal as shown in the picture instructions above and place on a large baking sheet seam side down.
- Whisk egg yolks and milk until perfectly mixed. Using a pastry brush paint the sambusas with a light, even coat of egg wash. Sprinkle roasted sesame seeds on top of each sambusa.
- Bake on the top rack of the oven preheated to 460F for 30 minutes, turning the baking sheet around once after 15 minutes. For softer crust, bake at 425F for 30 minutes.
- Let cool for 5 minutes and serve.
- Refrigerated leftover sambusa can be re-heated for 10-15 minutes in the oven at 425F.
Can you do any “make ahead” with this recipe, i.e. refrigerate the sambusa for some time before adding the egg wash and baking?
Hm, interesting question. I’ve never done that and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do it. I sometimes make the meat stuffing ahead and it releases some liquid. Not a whole lot, so it may not be a big issue. I’d say, try it and see how you like the results. I know Balkan bureks are frozen then defrosted before baking (my local Balkan store sells them both fresh and frozen to bake at home). I’ve tried both and both are good, though I can easily tell the difference and naturally prefer the freshly made ones.
Personally, I’ve gone a slightly different route. I’ve baked them, then froze, then slowly defrosted and re-heated in the oven. They were quite alright. Nothing I would brag about but my family liked them.
I made this one the other day, it was fun to make, somewhat challenging, and turned out flavorful. We all enjoyed munching on these little meat pockets. I will say that all of mine didn’t look as good as the authors, and I’m certain with time I’ll get better on the dough, the filling and forming. The high temps in the oven with such a short time had my wife and I wondering if everything would be cooked properly inside and it was. The meat tastes like nothing I’ve eaten before and we loved the new flavor. Thanks for sharing a great recipe!
Thank you for the feedback, Joe. Glad you liked the recipe. It’s not the kind of food we grew up with, but my kids especially love this sambusa. As I mentioned in my post, the original Uzbek sambusa is made of lamb and a lot of tail fat, but that is certainly an acquired taste. I did not particularly like it. Beef chuck is so much tastier to our taste buds. And by the way, mine did not look very good initially either, but got much prettier with some practice.
If you want the crust to be less crispy, bake at 425F for about 35 minutes, until nicely browned.
Coincidentally, I am making two batches of sambusa today – we have a party tonight and many guests specifically asked for my sambusa;)
By the way, I will be posting more of my favorite Uzbek and Central Asian recipes here over the next few months. Many of them are fantastic. So, make sure to check back.
Ohhhh, I’m going to try these!
All time favorite in our family. I could eat these every day.