Once I heard an acquaintance lament that while Christmas is always associated with pleasant aromas of wintery woods and spices, Chanukah always smells like frying oil, which takes away from the charm of the holiday. Well, I agree to a certain point. Every year during Chanukah, every Jewish home you enter smells of oil. But I love it! During the year, you will hardly find me frying anything because the smell of the fried oil reaches every corner of the house, no matter what we do to prevent it from spreading, and I hate going to sleep in a bedroom that smells like a restaurant kitchen. During Chanukah, though, it’s different. First, the association of the smell with the holiday brings warm memories from my childhood and adolescence. Second, we usually fry sweet things, so the house actually smells sweet. And I try to fry everything as early as possible during the day, so by the time we entertain and later on go to bed, the house actually smells good.
I love many of the fried foods we make for Chanukah and I’ll share a few recipes in my blog. The following is not one of the foods we usually make on Chanukah, but I thought that since it is fried and delicious, it could actually be a nice addition to the holiday repertoire.
Originally a delicacy served in Iraq by Iraqi Jews during the holiday of Purim, chickpea sambousek made it to Israel with the Iraqi Jewish immigrants and became a hit. Other Arab cultures have their own version of sambousek, usually filled with meat or cheese, but the chickpea sambousek is my favorite. In Israel, you’ll find it sold in every open market all year round. The dough is a little different than the dough given here and is usually deep fried. The dough in my recipe includes yeast which makes the dough less crispy and more bread like. The recipe was given to my mother many years ago by a friend who immigrated from Iraq to Israel, and this has been our home version sambousek ever since. My mom is considered ‘the queen of sambousek’ in our family, and in every family gathering this is what she is assigned to bring. So it’s only natural that I chose to show underneath pictures of my mommy making the sambousek :).
3 1/2 cups (500g) flour
1tbs dried active yeast
1 tbs salt
1 ¼ cups water
4 tbs oil
1 14oz can chickpeas, drained
1 large onion, diced
1 tbs ground cumin
1 tsp sweet paprika
Oil for frying
Place all the dough ingredients in a mixer bowl, and using the hook attachment knead into a pliable dough. Move the dough to a slightly greased bowl and proof, covered, until the dough doubles in size.
In the meantime, heat 4 tbs oil in a large pan and saute the diced onion until golden.
Add the drained chickpeas. Using a potato masher, slightly mash the chickpeas. Alternatively, you can pulse the chickpeas 2-3 times in the food processor, until coarsely chopped, before adding to the pan.
Add the cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Cook the chickpea mixture on medium heat, for about 15 minutes, stirring it occasionally to combine all the flavors. Set aside to cool.
The filling can be made in advance and stored in the fridge or freezer until ready to use.
Divide the dough into small pieces, the size of ping pong balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each ball to a 5 inch circle, using a rolling pin.
Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the filling in the middle of the circle, fold the dough in half and pinch-close the edges. Set the sambousek aside on a lightly floured surface. Repeat the process until you run out of filling or dough. If you have leftover dough, you can fill it with other things like cheese, meat, potatoes, tuna, etc, or just fry it as is. It’s delicious!! Any leftover filling would be immediately gone in my house. We would just eat it with a spoon straight from the pan…
In a large pan, heat the frying oil (about ½ inch deep) on high heat. Once the oil is hot, place some of the sambouseks in and fry for 30 seconds (or up to a minute), until the dough lightly browns. Turn the sambouseks over and fry for 30 more seconds. Do not over fry the dough or it will get tough and chewy. Remove to a plate or a bowl covered in paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
The sambousek is best served warm. You may serve it as part of a buffet or as an appetizer. You can also freeze it and warm in the microwave before serving.