Ethiopian Sambussa -- healthy baked cousins of samosas with phyllo dough!

Don't you find it very interesting how two objects in two vastly different cultures still have such similar names! Origin of the words or its etymology as its called has always fascinated me. Particularly for words that were derived centuries ago when the means of sharing/communication about cuisines, spices and techniques was so limited (not like today where one can post a new ingredient and the rest of the world gets to know about it right then and there, thanks to the ever-spreading world-wide web!)

So when I visited a local Ethiopian restaurant a year or so ago and saw an appetizer named 'Sambussa' with the description of 'thin dough shell stuffed with lentils and spices" I was pretty sure that this was a variation of Indian samosas. A quick peek at wiki told me that the name samosa derives from the Persian name 'sanbosag' (having to do something with the crescent shape apparently) and from their many cultures have their own variation of a stuffed fried dough filled with spicy vegetables/meats with similar names such as sanbusak in Arab, samsa in Turkic nations, samosas in south-east asia and sambussa in Ethiopian/Somali regions.

Sambussa is an Ethiopian/Somali appetizer cousin of our samosas. Thin flaky dough crust is stuffed with lentils, onions, ginger and Ethiopian spices and then fried till golden brown. What I have here is a healthy take on it where I have used phyllo dough as the wrapper and baked it instead of frying it. You know I am liking phyllo dough (that of baklava, spanakopita fame!) more and more as I cook with it!

The filling was cooked lentils with the berbere spice mix that I had prepared earlier here. The sambussas were then baked till golden brown instead of deep fried. The results: absolutely did not miss the fried part! I'll surely be making more samosas (and sambussa) with baked phylo dough from now on!

You can tune the spices and the filling to your liking.. make it like regular samosas with potatoes, peas, cumin, coriander, chili powder or use the traditional lentil filling but instead of berbere use a mixture of garam masala, cumin, coriander, chili, paprika powder.. in essence go wild with whatever suits your fancy for the day!

1 phyllo dough sheet per sambussa (frozen, thawed for a few hours)
olive oil
1/4C dried lentils
1Tbsp chopped onions
1tsp berbere spice mix (see recipe below)
juice of 1lime
1/2tsp dried ginger (or fresh grated)

Preheat oven to 375F

Prepare the filling:
Cook lentils per package direction. After they are cooked, mash them slightly with a fork. Add onions, berbere, ginger powder, lime juice and salt. Mix well. Adjust the spices per taste. Set aside.

Prepare the phyllo dough:
Spread out one phyllo dough sheet on your kitchen  countertop. Brush the insides with olive oil using a kitchen brush or your fingers, like so:
Carefully fold the sheet in one third. Phyllo is very flaky and tears easily so be very careful when pressing it into thirds. Brush the one-third side facing you with a bit of olive oil (particularly the edges).

Add 2 spoonful of filing an inch away from the edges, like so:
Fold the phyllo in triangulars like so:
Continue folding until you reach the end of the sheet. If the filling starts to ooze out a bit, try to tuck it in and fill less the next time. When you reach towards the end, brush a bit of olive oil to the last fold and tuck the ends in.

Spread the sambussas on a baking sheet.
Bake in a pre-heated 375F oven on upper third rack for 35mins or so until the tops are golden brown.

Serving suggestion:
I served these with a simple tamarind chutney (tamarind concentrate + water + sugar + salt + chili powder). You can also serve with a green chutney.

I am reposting the berbere spice mix recipe for Priya's cooking with seeds event, hosted this month for fenugreek seeds by SE of Denufood. I never knew fenugreek seeds are an important part of the Ethiopian cuisine, but it is so, read on for more:

Berbere spice mix:
Fenugreek seeds is something I add to many Indian recipes, but its one of those ingredients which always works behind the scenes and rarely makes as the star of the dish. When I was working on the Ethiopian recipes, I came across many recipes of berbere spice mix where it was specifically noted to *not skip* the fenugreek seeds.. that caught me surprised! I always thought that fenugreek seeds were the Indian cooking thing like asafoetida but turns out it has a strong place in Ethiopian foods too. 

In Ethiopia it is used mainly for Injera fermentation and I think from the Injera it has managed to squeeze into other Ethiopian knows flavors too like berbere spice blend and Ethiopian clarified butter (tesme). Fenugreek seeds in Ethiopian Amharic language are called abesh and are widely knows for their medicinal properties.

Re-posting here the recipe for berbere spice blend and sending it straight to SE so she can add this new spice blend to some of her delicious and spicy currys too :) The original post on Ethiopian cuisine can be found here.
1/4C dried red chilis - de-seeded for hot chilis
1/4tsp fenugreek seeds
1Tbsp paprika
1/4tsp garam masala
1tsp cumin powder
1tsp coriander powder
1/4tsp cinnamon
1/4tsp all-spice
1/4tsp cloves
1/4tsp whole black peppers
1/2tsp onion powder
1/4tsp garlic powder
1/2tsp ginger powder
1/2tsp salt
1/4tsp dried sacred basil powder (optional)

Grind all the ingredients in a spice grinder and set aside. Keeps for a couple of weeks.