Yemeni Sambucas (Samboosas)

16 Jul

mmmm... sambucas

The other day, I was thinking about some of the dishes that I ate growing up. Recipes from childhood will always have a special meaning for most of us. I decided to try out one that I hadn’t had in quite a few years.

To provide a little bit of background, I grew up moving around a little – my father was in the oil industry so we moved to Yemen for a few years when I was young. While most people only know Yemen as a terrorist haven (which it may now be), it was my home for quite a while. I’m not from there, nor is anyone in my family, but in my experience, there are many people there who are warm, loving, and friendly there.

When I was young, during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, some of those lovely, friendly people would make one of my favorite dishes called sambucas (samboosas). They’re delicious little pockets filled with ground beef and vegetables.

I searched far and wide for a recipe for Yemeni sambucas (this dish varies widely by region and I wanted the kind that I remembered). I got very lucky and found a blog from someone who did (or does) live in Yemen. Their recipe looked good and, as it turns out, tastes very much like what I remember.

Quick note: this is a dish that is prepared for holidays and shared with large groups – this recipe will make A LOT. Fortunately, sambucas can be frozen then thawed out and fried, but I recommend making a little less of the filling if you don’t want to end up with enough food to serve 6 – 10 people (maybe more).

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

1 lb ground beef

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp chicken bouillon

1 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. chili powder

1 tbsp. tomato paste

1 cup peeled and diced potato

2 cups cabbage, chopped

1 cup lentils, boiled in water until cooked, drained

1 zucchini, shredded

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1 packet egg roll wrappers

Sambuca filling takes a little bit to make, stick with medium heat to keep everything from burning.

First step, prepare the filling:

Get a very large pan – start with the onion and oil. Sautee over medium heat until the onion is golden. Add the ground beef and break it into the smallest pieces possible (to me, everything in the sambuca filling should be pretty finely chopped – the best sambucas are the ones where you get lots of veggies and meat mixed together in every bite). Cook the beef until you don’t see any more pink. Add the garlic, all spices and tomato paste. Cook for 1 minute. Add potatoes, cook for two minutes. Add cooked lentils, cook for another 2 minutes. Add zucchini and cook for 5 minutes. Add parsley and cook for 1 more minute. Check to make sure that the potatoes are cooked and then remove from heat. Let the mixture cool.

First, lay out the dough on a board, place a little bit of filling on the corner and start folding it in a triangle pattern.

Now the wrapping:

You can make your own sambuca wrappers, and I’m sure that some people do, but this process is not an easy (or short) one, so I went with the wrappers to take a little bit of work out of the process.

Take the packet of egg roll wrappers and slice the wrappers in half lengthways so that you have two-inch wide strips (they’ll be about 4 – 5 inches long). Make yourself a small bowl of flour and water paste.

Lay one strip flat on a cutting board or plate. Place a small amount of filling in the top corner.

Once I had the sambucas folded almost all the way (so they looked like a cone), I added a little more filling.

Carefully fold the wrapper diagonally so that it forms a triangular roll (think of it like those little paper footballs  -that’s about how you fold it). Right before I folded the last flap, I put in just a little more filling, then sealed with the flour/water paste.

Here's a plate of fully folded, but unfried sambucas.

Last step, frying:

If you’ve gotten this far, I’m going to guess that you can handle the frying pretty easily. Place the sambucas in about 1/4 inch of hot oil; fry until golden brown on both sides, flipping once each side is complete.

Fry the sambucas for a just a little bit on each side - until they're golden brown.

Place on a plate with a paper towel to absorb some of the oil.

While nothing will ever taste quite the same as it tasted 10 – 15 years ago, these were wonderful and very similar to the “real thing.”  My boyfriend and roommate (who have no connection to Yemen) also loved it.

One note – you can put a lot of different types of vegetables into this recipe so don’t feel restricted – try carrots, eggplant, whatever.


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