Hamantaschen have been granted an exalted culinary status in Jewish cuisine—of which I’m not sure they are worthy. They are an overrated yet underachieving holiday cookie whose main claim to fame is their triangular form. Perhaps I am being too hard on the hamantaschen, but this is only because I know of another Purim pastry that packs more fragrant flavors and offers an even tastier texture.
A sambusak is a savory pastry filled with spiced chickpeas that is enjoyed by Iraqi Jews on Purim. Sambusaks maintain the triangular shape that is associated with Purim, thereby continuing the tradition of making a mockery of Haman, the detested villain of the Purim story with the three-cornered hat.
My father’s family is from Basra, in southern Iraq, and the mere mention of his Auntie Tina’s sambusaks summons soft, dreamy looks—like people in the throes of a cherished food crush—to the otherwise hardened countenances of our family members.
Auntie Tina made her sambusaks with an oily, sesame-studded dough that was both sturdy and tender. I lightened that recipe up a bit by using flaky phyllo dough, which has a crispy, crunchy bite and tastefully cradles the filling. Along with the mashed chickpeas and palatable spices, I added finely chopped fresh parsley for a little color—and because Purim always reminds me that spring is approaching, bringing with it another Jewish holiday laden with food symbolism: Passover.
Ingredients (makes approximately 12 sambusaks):
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
15-ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
½ box of phyllo dough
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)
* Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onions and sauté until they are light golden brown—about 5 to 10 minutes.
* Mix in cumin, turmeric, salt, and pepper.
* Add the chickpeas and, with a large fork or potato masher, mash the chickpeas into a coarse consistency.
* Remove the mixture from the heat, and let it cool slightly. Then mix in the parsley.
* Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and lightly oil a baking sheet or cover it with parchment paper.
* Remove one roll of phyllo dough from package, and cut the dough sheets in half down the center, so that you have two stacks of phyllo dough. Cover the stacks of phyllo with a damp towel.
* Remove one phyllo sheet, and brush it with olive oil. Repeat this process, and layer two or three sheets on top.
* Take approximately 2 tablespoons of chickpeas mixture and make a small mound at one end of the strip of phyllo dough. Fold one end of the strip diagonally over the filling to make a triangle. Continue folding tightly, maintaining a triangular shape until you reach end of the strip.
* Place the unbaked sambusak on the baking sheet, brush it lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle it with sesame seeds, if desired. Repeat until all the filling is used up.
* Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
Rachel Harkham’s cookbook Get Cooking: A Jewish American Family Cookbook, written with Doni Zasloff Thomas, will be available in fall 2012.