Whatever the country of origin, however muted and subtle the prevailing tastes, vigorous seasoning is essential for the filling of any savoury pastry. What might seem perfectly adequate in a doughless dish becomes pallid when eaten with a bite of pastry.
The other critical factor for a pastry is moisture. A dry filling makes the eating hard going, regardless of the content. A pastry surround only adds to the penance, when what it should be doing is providing an irresistible contrast.
There are perils, though of a different sort, with excessive damp. Too wet a filling causes problems at an earlier stage. The raw dough sucks up the liquid greedily, turning slimy and sticky if not actually disintegrating.
Aim for a filling that is moist enough to hold together, without little puddles seeping out. If it is uncooked, beware of overdosing on ingredients with a natural high water content (most green vegetables, for instance). If in doubt, cook it first, and let the mixture reduce in the pan.
Making the filling for samosas and rolling them up was something I loved doing as a child with my mother. For a long period, samosas filled with potato and peas made regular appearances at mealtimes. I don't think I have made them at all since then, until last week. I won't be leaving it that long again.
Ingredients: For the pastry:
12oz (340g) plain flour
4 1/2 tbs vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
oil for frying
For the potato filling:
5tbs vegetable or sunflower oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 in (1cm) piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 level tsp each cumin, fennel and mustard seeds
1tsp coriander seeds, coarsely crushed
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 lb (675g) potatoes, boiled, peeled and cut into 1/2 in (1cm) cubes
4oz (110g) shelled peas, cooked if fresh, or thawed if frozen
2 green chillies, deseeded, finely chopped
salt and a dash of lemon juice
Preparation: For the pastry, sift the flour with the salt. Make a well in the centre and add the oil, then gradually stir in enough water (about 6fl oz/180ml), drawing in the flour as you do so, to form a firm dough. Knead thoroughly for around 10 minutes. Brush with a little oil, wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for half an hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Warm the oil in a large frying pan and add the onion, ginger and garlic. Fry for a few minutes until beginning to soften. Now raise the heat and add the whole spices and stir fry until they begin to jump. Now add the potatoes, peas, turmeric and chillies and fry gently for a further 10 minutes or so un
til the potatoes are patched with brown. Draw off the heat, stir in the lemon juice and salt and leave to cool.
Knead the dough again briefly, then divide into 16 pieces. Roll each into a ball, then roll out on a lightly-floured board to form circles about 6-7in (15-17.5cm) in diameter. Cut each in half.
Brush the long edges of the semicircle with water and roll to form a cone, pinching the overlapped edges together to seal. Place a scant tablespoonful of filling in the cone. Dampen the open ends and press together firmly, so that you end up with a sealed, plump triangle. Continue until all pastry and filling are used up. Deep-fry in oil heated to 300F/150C until evenly browned. Drain briefly on kitchen paper and serve hot.
These are, as far as I know, unique in that they combine three methods of cooking - part-fried, then part-boiled/part-steamed - in one. The key to success is to get the pan outrageously hot, so that the pan- stickers don't live up to their name: they shouldn't stick at all.
If you cannot find fresh water chestnuts, use tinned, which are very nearly as good.
Ingredients: For the pastry:
10oz (280g) plain flour
about 8fl oz (240ml) hot water
1/2 tsp salt
a little vegetable or sunflower oil
For the filling:
10oz (280g) minced pork
2tbs soy sauce
1tbs dry sherry or rice wine
1tbs sesame oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1tsp grated ginger
5 water chestnuts, finely chopped
Preparation: Sift the flour with the salt and add enough hot water to make a soft dough. Knead, dusting with flour if necessary, until satiny smooth. Cover with a towel and leave to rest for half an hour.
Mix all the filling ingredients, and leave to marinate for half an hour. Roll the dough into a long sausage and cut into 24 pieces. Roll out each piece to make a circle about 3in (7.5cm) in diameter. Place 1/2 tbs of the filling on each one, moisten the edges with water and fold over to form semi-circles. Pinch edges firmly to seal.
Take a wide, heavy frying pan and heat over a high heat until extremely hot (a good 4-5 minutes). Add 2tbs of oil and tilt to coat the base of the pan. Arrange half the pan-stickers in it, snuggling them close together in a single layer. Cook for 2 minutes without disturbing - check the underneaths which should by now be nicely browned. Now add 4fl oz (110ml) water and a little salt, cover and simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes. Uncover, drizzle in a tablespoon of oil, and cook for a final 3 minutes, by which time most of the liquid should have evaporated. Carefully transfer pan-stickers to a serving dish, turning them to show their browned side. Repeat with the remaining pan-stickers.
Tacos de requeson
This disarmingly simple recipe turns out to be extraordinarily good. It's just such a clever combination of flavours and textures, hot and cold. It comes from American food writer Diana Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking (Bantam) which, unfortunately, is hard to get on this side of the Atlantic. She specifies corn tortillas, but I had to settle for flour ones which are more widely available, and they work very well.
Ingredients: For the sauce:
3fl oz (85ml) lime juice (2-3 limes)
1oz (30g) trimmed radishes, finely chopped
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
1tbs chopped coriander leaves
For the tacos:
8oz (225g) ricotta
6 x 5in (12.5cm) flour or corn tortillas
6 wooden toothpicks
sunflower or safflower oil for frying
Preparation: Mix all the sauce ingredients and leave for at least half an hour.
Beat the ricotta to smooth out. Spread it over half of each tortilla, leaving a 1/2 in (1cm) border. Season lightly with salt, and fold tortilla in half to cover the ricotta. Push a toothpick through the centre part of the semi-circular edge to secure.
When you are ready to eat, pour 1/4 in (0.5cm) depth of oil into a frying pan and heat until hot. Fry the tortillas, a couple at a time, turning once, until golden and crisp. Drain briefly on kitchen paper. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, pass out to the hungry hordes. They should remove the toothpick, open up the tacos slightly and spoon in a little of the sauce, then eat the whole thing straight away.