The Perfect Cheese Sambousek
Another one of the perfect recipe series. Trust me it is not easy to label a recipe as being perfect. It definitely isn’t a recipe that we’ve tried once or twice or even 10 times. These recipes are the ones that we have been constantly making for years and have not once failed us. I mean this sambousek recipe is truly the best I tried and everyone who tastes these fried sambousek asks for the recipe. In our family, no recipe is well kept for us, we do love to share. Now you too can replicate mom’s phenomenal cheese sambousek.
No family gathering or iftar table is complete without sambousek. They are the first to be served and the first to quickly disappear. No matter how many we make, we rarely have leftovers. And what do we do when we have guests on a short notice? You guessed it right, pop some out of the freezer, deep fry them and you have the perfect thing for your guests to nibble.
What is Sambousek?
Middle eastern crunchy deep-fried small pastries filled with various fillings, usually ground meat or cheese. Depending on the type of dough used, they either have a crescent shape, or a triangular one. Unlike shishbarak whose origins people disagree about, sambousek originated in the Middle East and made its way to the rest of the world to be the more popular Indian samosas and Latin American empanadas. Can you believe it? Samosas and empanadas were actually inspired by our humble sambousek. I’d say I am not surprised because they are that good!
Let’s fry Sambousek together!
Making the dough
Adding a little bit of corn starch to the dough, make it super crunchy.
Now, the recipe calls for powdered milk. (A lot of traditional middle eastern recipes call for powdered milk, mainly because fresh milk was not readily available and/or was too expensive. Also, powdered milk was a kitchen staple.) However, I know that this not readily available everywhere and some people just don’t like to use it over health concerns. If this is the case, replace powdered milk and water with 1 cup full fat milk.
Baking powder helps the dough to puff and makes it so light and airy.
Kneading the dough really well helps developing gluten and make rolling it thin possible. A thin sambousek is preferred because it is crunchier. Also, sambousek cooks relatively very quickly, so if you have a thick dough, it won’t cook on the inside and will remain chewy.
Braiding the edges of the dough give it a very nice-looking finish but is also important to make sure it well sealed. If this is not easy for you, then press a fork against the edges of the sambousek. This is also another classic look and fulfils the purpose.
Preparing the filling
For the cheese filling you can use Nabulsi, Akkawi or Halloumi cheese. If the cheese is too salty, soak it in water, but drain it overnight as it has to be super dry. Also, you can add up to 2 tablespoons of shredded mozzarella for the classic cheese pull if akkawi is not available. However, adding too much mozzarella, will make all the cheese ooze during frying. You’ll end up with burnt cheese in the oil and an empty sambousek.
Using fresh herbs (we use parsley) and nigella seeds if not already in your cheese, adds a lot of flavor to the cheese filling and give it an authentic middle eastern taste.
Even if you don’t soak your cheese, there can still be some moisture in it. Adding one tablespoon of flour to the cheese filling draws out the moisture out of the cheese. This is very important because if your cheese filling is moist, you will end up with a soggy sambousek.
Here is a classic frying tip, do not over crowd the pan. But also equally important, do not fry sambousek in a larger than needed pan, because they will brown quickly and won’t cook well.
Sambousek are very light and airy so they will float on the surface of the oil, make sure you flip them so that they brown equally on both sides.
The Best Cheese Sambousek
For the dough
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tbsp powdered milk see note above
- ½ tbsp corn starch
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil like corn or sunflower oil
- 1 cup water
For the cheese filling
- 600 g grated cheese Akkawi, Nabulsi or Halloumi, see note above
- 2 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley
- 1 tbsp flour
- ½ tsp nigella seeds
- Oil for frying
- Add all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well combined.
- Add vegetable oil and water and knead until dough is soft.
- All the dough to set for 30 minutes.
- Mix cheese, parsley, flour and nigella seeds together.
- Roll out the dough and cut out circle using a 9 cm cookie cutter.
- fill the circle with about 1 tbsp of cheese mixture. Make sure to leave the edges empty so that you seal them properly. Close to form a crescent shape.
- Braid the edges to form the classic sambousek shape. If you find this technique hard, press the edges of a fork against the dough to make sure it is well sealed.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the sambousek in batches.
- Serve hot as part of a mezze spread or on their own as a snack.