In American cuisine, one of the ingredients most closely associated with fall is unquestionably pumpkin—from pumpkin pie to pumpkin soup to the ubiquitous PSL. Although it’s already snowing in Almaty, I am firmly in denial about both the weather and my imminent departure, so I thought I’d share with you my favorite Central Asian twist on this quintessential flavor of fall (though pumpkin manty are also a strong contender).
Somsas (samsa in Kazakh and Russian) are a staple of Uzbek cooking, and of Central Asian cuisine more generally. In Almaty, you can find them in restaurants, grocery stores, and even at many bus stops, where freshly baked samsas are sold out of small booths. The most common fillings are meat and cheese, but my personal favorite is the elusive pumpkin samsa, rarely seen outside of its natural habitat, Uzbek home cooking.
Central Asian samsas will look familiar to anyone acquainted with Indian food. In fact, some people argue that what we now know as samosas were originally brought to India by Central Asian traders, even before the Mughal conquest introduced a strong Central Asian influence to the cooking of the subcontinent. This recipe has an equally illustrious pedigree, traveling from Tashkent to California before being passed on to me in Cambridge. The preparation takes some time, but the result is definitely worth it!
Samsas with Leek and Pumpkin
Makes about two dozen
1 kg/2.2 lbs flour
2 cups lukewarm water
2 tsp salt
2 tbs kefir
100 g/3.5 oz butter
1 kg/2.2 lbs pumpkin
1 large leek
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds
Egg wash and garnish
2 tbs kefir
Black cumin seeds (optional)
Preparing the dough
Combine flour, water, salt, and kefir and mix into an even dough. Cover and set aside for at least 15 minutes (and up to several hours).
Divide the dough into thirds, making three even balls.
Take one third of the dough and roll it out thinly (to about one-tenth of an inch/3mm). Spoon liquid butter over the dough and spread it out evenly. Starting from one end, roll the dough inward into a long, tight roll.
Roll out the second third of the dough and cover with butter.
Place the first roll at the edge of the freshly rolled out and buttered circle and roll inward to form one large roll.
Repeat with the remaining third of dough.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preparing the filling
Clean and dice the leek. Peel and dice the pumpkin into small cubes. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add cumin. Once the cumin seeds have begun to pop, add leek and finely chopped garlic, stirring occasionally, and cook on medium heat until leek starts to become soft and translucent. Add pumpkin and cook until slightly soft, about ten minutes.
Assembling the samsas
Preheat oven to 425F/220C.
Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out a little bit with your hands to make the rope a little longer and tighter.
Cut the dough it into roughly one-inch sections and place them onto a lightly floured surface, spiral side up.
Roll each one out from the center outwards, preserving the circular layers.
Place about 2 tablespoons of filling onto each piece of dough and fold the edges upwards to form a triangle, making sure the edges are sealed.
Place the samsas on a parchment-covered baking sheet, seams down, and brush on the egg wash. Sprinkle with black cumin seeds.
Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.