Based on a recipe by Ibn Mubarak Shah (1403–1458), a noted poet and scholar from Cairo.
Around the holidays, sharing a meal with friends and family is something we can all appreciate, perhaps even more so now. Today, we offer an excellent addition to any menu, samosa pastries from medieval Egypt.
For this recipe, Test Kitchen jumps to the 15th century C.E. Although the exact date of this recipe is unknown, there is rich documentation for the Arab culinary tradition, with more than ten surviving manuscripts. This particular samosa recipe comes from Ibn Mubarak Shah (1403–1458), a noted poet and scholar from Cairo. Little is known about Shah himself, but he was most famous for collecting works of poetry, less so for writing cookbooks. 1
The recipe is vague, as many ancient recipes tend to be. BAR had to make some major adjustments, including creating our own sweetmeat recipe and testing out different samosa shapes.
A sweetmeat is anything heavily sugared or candied. Fruits are typically made into sweetmeats as they mix well with sugar—becoming candied fruits, which can then be preserved to be eaten out of season. I chose dates and walnuts, as both would have been readily available in 15th-century Egypt.
Kunafa was a little trickier, as it’s described as a “paper-thin pancake made on a special polished griddle.” I used phyllo dough, as it’s paper thin, but it was very challenging to work with. Next time I would try to layer it or perhaps even attempt to make my own.
The smells of dates, cinnamon, and cardamom filled the house as we made the samosas, creating a warm and inviting home on a cold winter’s day.
“It requires thin sheets of kunafa and sweetmeat, as well as coarsely pounded hazelnuts. Toast the sugar and the hazelnuts. Knead with sugar dissolved in water, or honey. Cut the sheets, stuff them and seal with a bit of dough. You must sprinkle some rosewater on the sugar. Fry in sesame oil, and after arranging them on plates, sprinkle on sugar, hazelnuts and rosewater.” 2
8 oz dates, pitted (about 15)
2 handfuls walnuts, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
2 tbsp honey
Sweetmeat (see above)
1 handful hazelnuts
1 tbsp sugar (more for garnish)
¼ cup rosewater (more for drizzling)*
Begin by making the sweetmeat filling. Take dates and crush into a paste. Next, crush the walnuts into tiny pieces—if you want more crunch, leave slightly larger pieces.
Mix date paste, walnuts, cinnamon, cardamom, and honey. This can be done ahead and left until you are ready to fill and fry the samosas.
For the samosa, toast the hazelnuts in sugar (if desired). Mix the sweetmeat with the hazelnuts and then cook the mixture in a skillet over medium-high heat for a minute or two.
Add 1/4 cup of rosewater and a drizzle of honey, and then stir.
Simmer until the liquid is mostly absorbed—about 5 minutes—and then remove it from the heat.
Let the filling cool.
Carefully lay out the phyllo dough and place about 1 tablespoon of filling onto the dough. Fold the phyllo dough into a pocket or roll shape. Place to the side for frying.
Once all samosas are assembled, cover the bottom of a pan with sesame oil. Heat the oil, and then add the samosas, a few at a time. Flip occasionally and remove when both sides are golden.
Spritz some rosewater onto the warm samosas and then drizzle with honey or sprinkle with sugar.
Samosas are best enjoyed while still warm.
* Test Kitchen Side BAR: A Note on Rosewater
1. Ibn Mubarak Shah, The Sultan’s Feast: A Fifteenth-Century Egyptian Cookbook, translated by Daniel L. Newman (London: Saqi Books, 2020), pp. xviii, xlii.
2. Shah, The Sultan’s Feast, p. 80.
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.
Dig into the illuminating world of the Bible with a BAS All-Access membership. Combine a one-year tablet and print subscription to BAR with membership in the BAS Library to start your journey into the ancient past today!Subscribe Today