Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lentil Sambusas

For my Ethiopian birthday feast, I knew I wanted to start with appetizers. However, in all the food blogs and restaurant menus I scoured, I had a hard time finding Ethiopian appetizers that weren't just toasted injera with spices. Then, I stumbled across these lentil sambusas on the menu of an Ethiopian restaurant in New Jersey.

These are the lentil sambusas with puff pastry dough. The lentil sambusas with phyllo dough were cooked and eaten before I remembered to take out my camera. 
I hadn't cooked much with phyllo dough, so I did some research to find out how to best work with phyllo dough and how to fold those perfect little triangles. Here are the highlights from what I learned:

Defrosting the phyllo dough: Once you buy phyllo dough, place it in the fridge for two days to defrost it. This allows it to defrost slowly and completely. The dough can stay in the fridge defrosted for up to a month. Avoid refreezing the dough.

Butter, Butter, Butter: Have plenty of melted butter and a pastry brush or paper towel on hand. Each sheet benefits from a generous application of butter. Butter helps the phyllo dough stick together, and it adds a little flavor to the finished project.

Folding perfect phyllo triangles: Sydney's Kitchen TV had a great guide to folding the triangles that I found helpful.

Freezing the unbacked triangles: Lay the unbacked triangles out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the freezer for about an hour. Once triangles are frozen, place into ziplock bags to store. I stored them for a few days this way, but you could certainly store them frozen for longer.

Somehow, despite all this research about phyllo dough, I ended up buying puff pastry. Big disappointment in terms of quantity. I was only able to make about 12 little triangles out of the puff pastry. I bought phyllo dough the next day, let it defrost for the requisite time, and was delighted with the results. Both batches tasted delicious, though, so it would definitely be up to you which you wanted to use.

The make-ahead nature of these sambusas made them the perfect start to a complicated dinner.
Lentil Sambusas
recipe adapted from 28 Cooks (changed into tiny appetizer portions would yield you about 50 little triangles, and perhaps enough lentils to serve for lunch with a fried egg on top)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup lentils
1 package phyllo dough, thawed

Prepare the spice mixture: Mix together paprika, ginger, allspice, cayenne, coriander, cardamom, and cumin, and set it aside before beginning the rest of the recipe.

Heat vegetable stock in a saucepan.

Cook Lentils: In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and saute them until tender. Add spice mixture to the tender onions, and saute them for 30 seconds. Add the red wine, warmed vegetable stock and lentils. Turn the mixture on high, and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover it and simmer it until lentils are tender, about 30. Stir occasionally. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool.

Form Sambusas: Remove the phyllo dough from the package and unroll it. Immediately cover it with a slightly damp tea towel. Remove one sheet at a time, brush it with olive oil or butter, and layer it with another sheet. Repeat 2 more times for a total of 4 sheets (I did not read the recipe carefully and only used three sheets per sambusa). Cut the sheets into equal-sized strips. I turned each sheet into about 6 strips.

(Next time, I might brush nit'ir qibe over the phyllo dough sheets. Yum!)

Place a spoonful of the lentil mixture at the top of each strip. Fold the sheet over to form a triangle, and continue folding it like a flag. Fold all the way to the end, sealing the overlap with oil or butter.

Place on a cookie sheet lightly sprayed with oil or covered with parchment paper. Place in the freezer to freeze if making ahead.

Bake: If cooked immediately, bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. Remove when the sambusas are golden brown and flaky. If frozen and then baked, bake for 20 to 30 minutes, checking regularly after 20 minutes to see if the sambusas are ready.


  1. These sound fun as an alternative to my curried chicken triangles. They're so pretty too. mom

  2. Thanks! These make a tasty little treat, and they're a great vegetarian alternative to curried chicken! I think I might need the recipe for those though!

  3. These looks tasty. I have a love/hate relationship with phyllo...I love to eat it, hate to make anything with it. I have vowed that one week I will buy several boxes, make things with it so that I get comfortable with using it, and not come up for air until I feel like I solved it. That's what I did with pie crust and it worked...I made a pie every single day (okay, the little half pie size with a 7" pie tin)for three weeks (I was going for a month but didn't quite make it), and now pie crust rolling, fitting, forming, making are a breeze...phyllo here I come!

  4. I love the idea of cooking something until you get really good at it, Kayte. The pie challenge and the phyllo challenge sound like so much fun (but I'm not sure I have the patience for the phyllo challenge!). Did you blog about your pie challenge? I'll have to go back and look through your archives!