As Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall was being written, a lot of people took an interest in the food that’s mentioned throughout the book, and wanted to know more about it – particularly about the ingredients and how it’s prepared. This blog is my attempt to answer these questions. In generating these recipes I try to keep the situation consistent with what someone preparing them might have actually encountered in 1960, so, from time to time, a recipe may be a bit more labor-intensive than it would be if utilizing all of today’s technology (but better tasting, I think, for the extra effort). Indian food/spice shops were not abundant in the UK of the early 1960s, but they did exist, particularly in large metropolitan areas like Birmingham, so the ingredients would’ve been available with a modicum of effort. There are mild differences (peas, for example, are canned, in the book, not frozen) but this opening recipe is a likely approximation of the one for samosas that Mrs. Gupta would have passed on to Reggie’s mum.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¾ cup ghee or clarified butter or oil
Cold water as needed (usually 10-12 tablespoons)
1½ cups minced onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 cloves crushed garlic
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup vegetable stock
1 12 oz. pkg. frozen green peas, thawed
3 teaspoons curry powder
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Chutney, for serving
Make the pastry by combining flour and ¼ teaspoon of the salt, adding ¼ cup of the ghee into the mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, until the pastry comes together to form a ball, roughly 10 to 12 tablespoons. Knead dough lightly and form into a disk; wrap in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator to rest for at least an hour. Make the filling as the dough rests.
Heat ½ cup of ghee in a medium skillet and add the onion. Cook until the onion is lightly caramelized, about 6 minutes. Add ginger, coriander, garam masala, cayenne and cumin seeds and cook until the spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, the broth, the curry powder, the pepper and the remaining salt, and cook, stirring, another 15 minutes. Add peas, lemon juice, mint, cilantro and garlic, continue cooking another 2-3 minutes. Set aside to cool as you remove samosa dough from the refrigerator and divide into 10 portions.
Roll each piece of dough into a circle about 5 inches in diameter; cut each circle in half. Lightly moisten the straight edge of each half circle and press together to seal; you should now have cone-shaped portions of dough. Carefully spoon about 2 heaping tablespoons of the filling into cone and then moisten the remaining edges with a bit of water and press together to seal. Repeat with remaining portions of dough and filling.
When ready to fry samosas, fill a large saucepan with at least 2 inches of cooking oil and heat to a point where a drop of water sizzles on the oil. Fry the samosas a few at a time, stirring to ensure even cooking, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. (Note: they’ll float to the surface of the oil long before they’re ready to be removed; keep cooking them until pastry is crispy and golden brown.) Remove and transfer to a paper-lined plate to drain. Repeat until all samosas have been fried.
Serve with your favorite chutney.
Next time, we’ll see an approximation of how Reggie’s mum modified this recipe to enable Reggie’s Grammer to make a meat pie with ground lamb for Christmas dinner.