Ramadan started last week, and with it comes a monthlong festival focused on food. It may seem unlikely at first that a month focused on abstaining from food and drink could be considered a celebration of food, but truth be told that is what it becomes. It’s especially true in South Asian culture, which is already so food centered. Check out this Wikipedia entry, which discusses foods eaten for the breaking of the fast. Note that the Bangladesh, Indian and Pakistani sections appear to be the most focused on food rituals associated with Ramadan!
I grew up with certain snacks and foods reserved solely for this month and the rituals of waking up at the crack of dawn to eat with your family, and then counting down the minutes in the evening until you can put a morsel of food in your mouth.
South Asians frequently open their fast with snacks as a way to warm up the tummy to the idea of eating. After evening prayer, they sit down to have a full meal. While it might not seem like the healthiest way to begin eating after a day-long fast, many families make fried treats for the breaking of the fast, called “iftar.”
I prepared potato samosas and beef egg rolls last week for this purpose. My mother used to make both, and while she deep fried these snacks, as I did in the picture above, you can also bake both of these for a less greasy alternative.
When I was younger, my mother would make a vat of the mixture for these snacks, and then she would plop down on the counter with me to assemble them. We would sit together, often into the wee hours, diligently wrapping hundreds of these. She would then put them in the freezer, ready to be thawed and fried fresh daily for the breaking of the fast.
Nostalgia for my childhood led me to making them on my own this time around. Recipe follows photo.
I buy egg roll wrappers from the local Asian market for both of these. For the egg rolls, use the full wrapper. For the samosas, slice the egg roll wrappers in half so you have a rectangular wrapper. You may also be able to find samosa wrappers in the freezer section of an Indian grocery.
For the filling, boil 6 peeled red potatoes (or two large Russets if you like). Mash them up and then add 1/2 cup of frozen sweet peas, 1/4 cup of finely chopped onions, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. cumin seeds and red chili powder to taste. Mix it all up and let it cool completely.
Take your halved egg roll wrappers lengthwise and place a spoonful of filling on the top right corner. Fold over the left corner of the wrapper to create a triangle, then fold the filing-filled triangle down and over until you reach the bottom of the wrapper. At the bottom, brush on a mixture of flour water and seal the samosa.
If you decide to freeze the samosas at this point, make sure you place them in a single layer. Once they are frozen, you can throw them into a freezer bag, but they will lump together if you do that in the beginning.
When ready to cook them, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the samosas on an ovenproof tray and brush both sides with canola oil. Bake for about 15 minutes, turn, and back for an additional 10-15 minutes until the samosas take on a light brown tint. You won’t get the same golden brown look as fried samosas, so watch them carefully and take them out before they get too dark.
Yields about 32 samosas that you can serve with your chutney or sauce of choice. As kids, we ate them with ketchup.
BEEF EGG ROLLS
For the beef egg rolls, cook 1 lb. ground beef on medium heat until the meat browns and the juices evaporate. Add 2 cups of shredded cabbage and 1 cup of shredded carrots, and cook until the vegetables begin to soften. Add 2 tbsp. of ground black pepper and 1 tsp. of salt.. Taste the mixture and adjust spices as you like. Take it off the flame and let it cool completely before making the egg rolls.
To assemble the egg rolls, place the full egg roll wrappers like a diamond in front of you. Place a spoonful towards the bottom of the diamond, then fold up the bottom corner over the mixture. Fold the left and right corners in to contain the mixture, then begin to roll up the egg roll tightly. The less air you have in there, the easier it will be to fry without getting oil trapped in the egg roll.
As with the samosas, feel free to freeze. When ready to cook them, brush on some oil and bake at 400 degrees. Flip after 15 minutes, then give them another 10-15 minutes until they are lightly golden.
Yields about 48 egg rolls that you can serve with sauce of choice, such as sweet chili sauce, oyster sauce or tamarind chutney.
I hope you enjoy these snacks, regardless of whether you are fasting!