January 26, for those of you who are not Australian, is a national holiday in these parts. It is the day we celebrate all the great things about this country, on the date that the First Fleet landed in Botany Bay and began the settlement of Australia by the English in 1788.
It is a day that also marks the day that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this country were dispossessed of their land. Many Australians, not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, feel conflicted by the choice to celebrate all the good things about this country, on this date in particular. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people call this day Invasion Day, others call it Survival Day. As I am not an Aboriginal person, I don’t call it either of these things, but I respect and understand their choice to do so. If you are interested, you can read some more about why this is considered a day of cultural conflict here.
I personally enjoy having a public holiday and other aspects of the day (finding out who won the Australian of the Year award, arguing about the merits of the winner, listening to the Triple J Hottest 100, wondering why I know fewer and fewer of the songs each year when it is obvious I am not getting any older), but I admit that I do think that date is a problematic date to celebrate all the wonderful things about this country.
So. How did I choose to spend it? Cooking of course! Specifically, by celebrating what makes me a unique Australian, and making Indian food.
What I do love very much about being Australian is the fact that we are a multicultural nation. Most people in Australia have an immigrant history that they do not have to scratch the surface very hard to discover. This is certainly true of my own family. My husband was born in New Zealand (although, truthfully, that can be said of half the country), and so was most of his family. My grandfather came to Australia just after the partition of India, and our extended family now is a blend of people who have come from many different countries including Wales, China, Ireland, and Italy. We welcome them all and love to learn about their families, their culture, and most importantly, their food.
So to celebrate Australia Day, which is also incidentally, Republic Day in India, we made Samosas. My mother taught me to make these when I was a child, and yesterday I taught my daughter. This is how all great food traditions are passed on: from parent to child, in a long unbroken line. As we made them it was like looking back through time, especially as we have exactly the same type of 1940s style laminex table we had as a child.
Samosas are a deep fried Indian pastry. They are easily available from Indian restaurants, but usually cost a bomb (compared to the actual cost), because they are time-consuming and fiddly to make. I also usually cannot buy the vegetarian version, which are far better than the meaty kind, because they often contain cashew nuts, and I will die a horrible, horrible death.
No snack is worth that.
This recipe is once again from our family Magicke Curry Booke, but it has been adapted to taste. I have a love for whole cumin seeds that even the Magicke Curry Booke cannot assuage, so unless there is a good reason not to, I will add them to almost anything curry-related. My daughter asked me this morning if I would add them to ice cream.
Now there’s an idea.
If you do not like to deep fry, which I understand, you can make these using frozen puff pastry, and bake until golden. They will not be the same, but they will still be tasty.
300 grams plain flour – 22 cents
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder – 10 cents (guesstimate)
3 tablespoons rice bran oil – 18 cents
In a stand mixer (you can also do it by hand), mix the flour, baking powder, salt and oil. With the motor running, slowly add small amounts of water until it forms a soft, elastic dough. It should be pliable and easy to handle. Set aside.
450 grams potatoes, peeled and parboiled – 18 cents (we got an amazing deal on spuds the other week, but even if you paid double what we did – this will still be cheap)
100 grams frozen peas – 19 cents
1 onion, diced finely – 25 cents
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rice bran oil – 6 cents
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes – 5 cents
2 teaspoons garam masala – 20 cents
2 teaspoons cumin seeds – 20 cents
To fry – 500 ml rice bran oil – $1.50
Parboil the potatoes for five minutes, then drain and run under cold water until they are cool enough to handle. Dice into 1cm cubes.
Heat oil and cook onion until tender. Add the cumin seeds and fry gently for a minute, then add the other spices. Stir and then add the potato and peas, and stir until they are coated with the spices. Cook gently for 2-3 minutes until the potatoes are tender, then remove from heat.
Make a flour paste from 1 tablespoon plain flour mixed with a little bit of water. This will be used to ‘glue’ your samosas together.
Knead the dough gently and separate into ten balls. Roll each ball into a circle. Cut each circle in half.
Using a teaspoon, put a little of the glue along the straight edge of the samosa pastry and bring the two corners together, overlapping slightly, to make a cone. Press the pasted edges together.
Fill the pastry with about 1.5 teaspoons of the filling – don’t be tempted to overfill. Apply more ‘glue’ to the open edge of the samosa, and press the edges to seal shut. Continue until you have 20 completed samosas.
This is a little bit tricky until you get the hang of it. There is a video on YouTube of how to make the little pastry cones here. The lady on the video makes her pastry slightly differently, and cuts her pastry in a perfect circle. I have found that you do not need to do that – just knead your pastry into a ball and it should roll nicely into a circle. Roll it as thinly as you can so that your final samosa is not too doughy.
Heat about 500 ml rice bran oil in a saucepan. When your oil is hot (I test by pinching off a corner of one samosa and frying it), fry a couple of samosas at a time.
Makes 20 samosas
Total cost: $1.63
Plus the oil to cook them (which you can strain and re-use next time you want to deep fry something. Just store it in a glass jar in the fridge): $3.13
Per samosa: 15 cents.
We served ours with a tomato and cumin biryani, and a yoghurt dipping sauce. We had plenty leftover for tomorrow night’s dinner.
How do they taste? Like home.
What is your Australian food tradition?