Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

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Curried Chickpea Sambusak

A Classic of the Iraqi Kitchen: Curried Chickpea Sambusak

Imagine an Indian samosa but with meaty ground chickpeas and caramelized onion perfectly seasoned with cumin and curry powder surrounded by a fluffy, crispy dough.

Many Shabbat afternoons of my childhood were spent at the Bondi apartment of my great uncle Nuri and his wife Auntie Tina. We were in Sydney, Australia but we may as well have been in the Middle East. The Hebrew and Iraqit (Judeo-Arabic) that flew across the room, the warmth and endearments, the jokes, laughter and heated backgammon games and the food all spoke to my family’s Middle Eastern origins.

Uncle Nuri was the beloved youngest sibling of my grandmother, Nana Aziza. He grew up in wealth and comfort in El-Azair, where my great grandfather was the keeper of the Tomb of Ezra the Scribe (and helped to supply the British Army when they occupied Southern Iraq after the fall of the Ottoman Empire). Nuri was tall and dignified, with a full sweep of black hair, piercing eyes and a prominent nose. He was deeply religious and one of the kindest men I have had the privilege of knowing. 

As a young man, he married Tina, the eldest of seven daughters from a wealthy family in Basra. Where he was tall and angular, she was short, with soft round features and the happiest, most smiling disposition. They had old fashioned manners and were so respectful and devoted to each other and their family. 

I still remember the food she served. Of course there was T’bit, aromatic stuffed chicken and rice cooked overnight. Lots of salads. Baba Tamar(crispy date cookies) and ka’ak (a savory, flaky cracker in the shape of a ring). Lots of nuts and dried fruits. And the one thing that Auntie Tina made the best — Sambusak bel tawa(chickpea turnovers). 

Imagine an Indian samosa but with meaty ground chickpeas and caramelized onion perfectly seasoned with cumin and curry powder surrounded by a fluffy, crispy dough.

They are just deep fried bites of heaven (and a historical testament to the way Indian spices and recipes impacted the cuisine of Iraq). 

The delicious complexity of the flavors is matched by the many steps involved in making the Sambusak. The chick peas need to be soaked overnight, mashed and seasoned. The onions need to be fried. The dough needs to be kneaded and allowed to rise. The turnovers need to be formed and then fried. A lot of work but kind of justified when the results are this spectacular. Chickpea sambusak are vegan-friendly, full of protein, fiber and antioxidants and just perfect for a snack, as an appetizer or a meal with a salad.  

THE DELICIOUS COMPLEXITY OF THE FLAVORS IS MATCHED BY THE MANY STEPS INVOLVED IN MAKING THE SAMBUSAK.

After many years living in Sydney, Uncle Nuri and Auntie Tina returned to Jerusalem, where he was the beloved Chazan of his synagogue. When he passed away thirteen years ago, Auntie Tina moved to Ramat Gan, so she could be closer to her sisters, her daughter, her granddaughter and her great-grandchildren. 

Every time I visit Israel, my children and I spend an afternoon with Auntie Tina. She is still as sweet and smiling and full of blessings and endearments. By some miracle, her amazing Sambusak bel tawa still appears on the table, creating memories for the next generation. — Sharon

Chickpea Sambusak Recipe

Stuffing

1lb dried chickpeas

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 onions, finely diced

1 1/2 tablespoon curry powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin 

Salt and pepper

Wash the chickpeas and soak overnight in lightly salted water.

Place chickpeas and soaking water in a large saucepan. Cover with more water and bring to a boil. 

Reduce heat to medium and simmer half covered for an hour or until chickpeas are soft. 

Drain and reserve the water for the dough. 

Mash the chickpeas and set aside. 

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and sauté the onions until golden. Reduce the heat to low and add the mashed chickpeas.

Add curry powder, cumin, salt and pepper and mix well.

Dough

1 1/2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt 

2 tablespoons olive oil

About 1 cup warm chickpea water

Oil for frying 

Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and olive oil, then slowly add the chickpea water until the dough begins to bind and is stretchy. 

Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. 

Roll out a small quantity of dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 4-inch cookie cutter or glass, cut the dough into circles. 

Stuff each circle with one tablespoon of the chickpea mixture.

Dab water along one half of the circle and bring the other half over and close edge firmly to form a half moon shape. 

Repeat until you have used all the dough. 

In a large frying pan, warm oil over medium heat and add a few sambusak, leaving space for them to puff and expand. 

Fry until crisp and golden. 

Serve hot. 

Makes 36 turnovers  


Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.

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