Samsa Recipe History Culture Origin

A plate of samsa.

Samsa: A Tasty Pastry of the Silk Road

Published: January 18, 2021

The samsa (самса) is a meat- or vegetable-filled savory pastry. They are both flaky (слоеная) and crispy (хрустящая). They are enjoyed across the former USSR, where they are most associated with Central Asian cuisine. The samsa originated in the Middle East and spread across the Silk Road (Шелковый путь), reaching Central Asia, India, and Africa.

Why It’s Called “Samsa”

(Почему они носят такое название?)

Samsa Recipe History Culture Origin
The author displaying a plate of samsa with tea.

The word “samsa” comes from the Persian word “sanbosag,” which likely meant “lovely triangle.” They were once a delicacy of the courts and originally filled with nuts, spices, fruits, and honey.

The technology, however, was taken by militaries and, later, farmers and herders, filling the flakey crusts with a much simpler filling of ground meat and/or vegetables. It made for a hearty and calorie-intensive meal that could be carried on marches or to fields and pastures. This simple food has a shelf life of nearly a week.

Samsa is popular in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan (where it is known as “самса”), Tajikistan (самбӯса), Uzbekistan (somsa), as well by nationalities in Xinjiang, China. Samosa, a popular Indian dish, came to India when empires from Central Asia invaded India.

In the former USSR, they are most associated with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where relatively settled agricultural societies had greater access to ovens in which to bake the pastry.

How Samsa Is Eaten

(Как правильно есть самсу?)

Samsa can be an appetizer, a small lunch, or a snack. Central Asian streets are dotted with samsa stands, offering them as quick and easy street-food. If one eats samsa for lunch, one will often order two, although some stands and restaurants will offer giant versions for those looking to make a meal of them. They go particularly well with tea and will often be available at a traditional tea house (чайхона) as well.

Samsa Recipe History Culture Origin
Samsa pictured with sauce.

Samsa are often eaten plain, but also sometimes with sauce, particularly in Uzbekistan. This sauce is most often tomato-based and used for dipping.

Samsa are an everyday meal but also staples of holiday and festive tables. Formal Uzbek dinners will often start with a first course (первое блюдо) of meat-filled samsa. The second course (второе блюдо) is often a soup. The third course (третья блюдо) is very often plov (плов).

How to Properly Prepare Samsa

(Как правильно готовить самса?)

The most traditional filling for samsa is mutton (баранина) or beef (говядина). The are traditionally baked in a “тандыр” (tandyr; often written as “tandoor” in English). The tandoor is used across Asia and the Caucasus. They are cylindrical ovens, usually made from clay or sometimes metal. They are usually wood-fired from inside, a feature that adds considerable flavor to the samsa and breads cooked in them.

Samsa are often triangular, but can be nearly any geometric shape: round, triangular, rectangular, or square. Depending on the season and location, samsa can be filled with greens, cheese, mutton, beef, chicken, potatoes, or pumpkin. The nationality of the samsa can also affect its flavor palate. Often, they are made from just ground meat, onion, and salt. Uzbek samsa, however, often use cumin, black pepper, and red pepper in the meat, as well as sesame seeds on the top and a sauce on the side.

Samsa with greens are traditional in some Central Asian cultures for Nowruz celebrations.

Samsa Recipe History Culture Origin
Samsa, the triangles in the middle, are presented as part of a modern Nowruz feast in Uzbekistan.

Preparing Samsa

(Давай приготовим!)

This recipe is from a Russian-language cookbook Блюда узбекской кухни, Ш.Г. Салихов., that was written and printed in Uzbekistan in 1987. The English translation is provided by Caroline Murray. This recipe focuses on samsa with mutton or beef. However, feel free to substitute spinach, chicken, potatoes, or pumpkin for the filling.

Сомса «Капак»
  • Мука пшеничная 470 г
  • Вода 240 г
  • Соль 25 г
  • Баранина или говядина 420 г
  • Лук репчатый 420 г
  • Жир-сырец 70 г (необязательный)
  • Соль 8 г
  • Перец черный молотый 0,8 г

 

Из муки и воды с добавлением соли замешивают крутое тесто и оставляют для расстойки на 30-40 минут. Затем тесто разделывают в жгуты, делят на кусочки, массой 70 г и раскатывают лепешки, на середину которых укладывают фарш массой 90г, края зажимают и придают изделию округло-овальную форму.

Для фарша: мясо пропускают через мясорубку, соединяют с рубленым луком репчатым, нарезанный кубиками, жиром-сырцом (необязательный), солью, молотым черным перцем.

Полуфабрикат лепят на раскаленные и сбрызнутые соленой водой стенки тандыра, сверху сбрызгивают водой, выпекают в течение 25-30 минут.

Если нет тандыра, используйте простую духовку. Разогрейте духовку до 196 градусов С.

Samsa
  • Wheat flour 4 cups
  • Water 1 cup
  • Salt 4 teaspoons
  • Lamb or beef ~1 pound
  • Bulb onions ~1 pound
  • Raw fat (optional) 2.5 ounces
  • Salt 1 tablespoon
  • Ground black pepper

 

Knead a firm dough from flour, water, and salt. Let it rest for 30-40 minutes. Then, cut the dough into 10 equal pieces. Roll the pieces flat. Onto each, place a tenth of your minced meat. Crimp the edges together, giving the dough a rounded oval form.

For the meat: run the meat through a grinder and mix with diced, chopped onion, raw fat (optional), salt, and ground black pepper.

The uncooked samsa are stuck to the hot tandoor walls and their tops lightly sprayed with salt water. Bake the samsa for 25-30 minutes.

If there is no tandoor oven, use a regular oven heated to 385F.

Our Favorite Samsa Videos

This video walks one through how to make flaky, crispy samsa simply and quickly. The narrator slowly and clearly talks the viewer through the recipe as they bake it. The recipe is in the video description in Russian and English.

 

This video from the channel Uzbek Woman in the Kitchen (Узбекча на кухне) shows how to create the flakiest samsa. There is no narration in this video. The ingredients and directions are shown on the screen.

 

This video from the channel Uzbek Woman Cooking (Узбекча готовит) has a different recipe with tomato in the filling and kefir in the dough. These changes will add more flavor to the samsa. This video does not have narration but does have clear graphics explaining the process.

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About the author

Caroline Murray

Caroline Murray

Caroline Murray participated in SRAS’s Russian as a Second Language program in St. Petersburg in 2016. She is currently a Fulbright ETA in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Previously, she was a FLEX participant recruiter with American Councils in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. She was inspired to apply for the Fulbright and FLEX because of her experience in St. Petersburg to further develop the language and cultural skills she acquired abroad.

Program attended: Online Internships

View all posts by: Caroline Murray