We always think that one of the greatest things is the peaceful blending of cultures. Here in the Tucson, one of the largest parades in town is for The Day of the Dead, or, more correctly, Dia de los Muertos, a time to remember friends and family members who have died. Now, it sounds as though it might be a sorrowful occasion, but it really isn’t — it’s solemn, yes, but it’s also a celebration of lives lived.
Another thing about the blending of cultures is all the great food we get to eat. Not so long ago, the majority of people in the US didn’t know what a taco was, or a tortilla, and they thought that Italian food was spaghetti with meatballs. And Asian food, of course, was chop suey. Hard to believe, isn’t it? And here we are today, with fast food chains and big-name food concerns busily ruining all those lovely cuisines. What a change! And, fast food and jarred sauces notwithstanding, overall, the blending of cultures is for the better.
We think about this migration of cuisines from time to time, not at all in a scholarly way, but just as casual observers. Recently, some of our own ideas were reinforced when we read On the Noodle Road, by Jen Lin-Liu. Ms. Lin-Liu travelled from China to Italy along the famous Silk Road, eating and researching traditional dishes and recipes from each area, with the idea of tracing the migration and transformation of noodles. It was a great read; plus, it provided a number of recipes from throughout the region, including one for Samsas, which are traditional in Uzbekistan. We don’t know about you, but we’ve never had a dish from Uzbek, at least not to our knowledge, so this was our chance to try one.
Now, we have to admit that we changed the recipe a bit, mainly by cooking the filling before baking, only because we thought it would ensure that the pumpkin and onions were cooked through. Also, we recall that the original recipe had an egg wash coating on each dumpling, which we omitted.
Makes 16 dumplings.
Yep, we see our long-term readers smiling because they know that the dough is nothing other than egg-less pasta dough. And, yes, we think you could use pasta dough with eggs, instead; your choice. For the pumpkin, we had a small sugar pumpkin that we cut up and roasted; we don’t really think canned pumpkin would work. But any other winter squash would. So break out that acorn, or that butternut, or what have you, and start roasting. Nothing exotic in the spices, but you should know that you can get great deals on ground cumin in ethnic markets. For the shortening: we found it interesting that this recipe originally called for shortening or margarine, without any explanation about why. We ultimately went with Crisco (we never have margarine in the house; pounds and pounds of butter, yes, margarine, no).
Procedure in detail:
There are three parts to this recipe: making the dough, then the filling, and finally, assembly and baking. None is difficult, and we’ll describe them in that order, starting with the dough.
Mix flour and salt. This is really so you don’t have salt bombs in the middle of a piece of dough, so get out a medium bowl, measure out the flour and salt, and whisk it together with a fork.
Make dough. Using your fork to mix, add the cold water a bit at a time, until it comes together as a dough. You’ll want a softer dough, one that you can press your finger into easily, but not runny of batter-like.
Knead. Turn the dough out onto a lightly- floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. If the dough is sticky, you can add a bit more flour, or, if the dough is stiff, you can add water while kneading.
Rest dough. Wrap the dough in a piece of plastic and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. Longer is okay; we often let dough rest for several hours. This rest period allows the gluten to relax so that it’ll be easier to roll later.
Now that the dough is out of the way, let’s make the filling.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Chop pumpkin. Seed, peel, and cube whatever squash you’re using. The cubes should be about an inch on a side, so they’ll bake evenly.
Drizzle and roast. Transfer the pumpkin cubes to a baking sheet, drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil, and, optionally, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, then into the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender and browning a bit around the edges. This roasting will help the cubes to dry out somewhat and retain their shape in the final filling.
Cook onion. Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add pumpkin and spices. Stir in roasted pumpkin, cumin, salt, and pepper, and cook until everything is heated through, about 5 minutes. If need be, add a bit more oil to prevent the cumin from sticking. Remove from heat and set aside.
Now, all that remains is the assembly and baking. Not bad so far, right?
Prep pans. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. The oven should still be at 350°F.
Roll out dough. Roll out the dough until it’s very thin. We ended up with a rectangle about 36×10 inches; it was somewhat translucent.
Grease and fold. This is the interesting part of the recipe, in which we’re going to make layers of dough, somewhat like puff pastry (although not as many layers). So, apply a thin layer of shortening all over the top of the dough, and fold the dough in half, trying to enclose the shortening as best you can.
Grease and fold. Without re-rolling, spread a layer of shortening on the top of the folded dough, and, again, fold the dough in half to enclose the shortening.
Grease and fold. You’re getting the hang of it now, but this is the last time.
Roll out dough. Roll out this laminated dough to a square about 16 inches on a side. It should be about 1/8-inch thick.
Cut dough. Use a chef’s knife to cut the dough into 16 equal squares. We just cut in half, cut each of those pieces in half, and so on, until we had 16 little squares.
Fill. Place about 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center of each square, trying to use up all the filling by adding a bit more here and a bit more there.
Fold. What we want to do is make little pyramids, so the corners of the square need to be pulled over the filling and pinched together to form the top. Pinch together the edges to form the seams down the sides of the pyramids. Feel free to pinch all the seams very tightly so they don’t open up while baking. If they open (some of ours did), they’ll still taste the same.
Bake. Transfer the pyramids to the prepared baking sheets, slide into the oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the trays from top to bottom and front to back, then increase the temperature to 425°F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until dough is golden brown.
Hurrah for Uzbekistan! These dumplings are great. Of course, we don’t want everyone to know, or we’ll end up with a chain of mediocre-at-best Uzbek Kings across the nation, so let’s keep these samsas under wraps. Just between us. And, if you make them for friends (they’d work well for potlucks), just say it’s an old family recipe from a cousin somewhere in Eastern Europe. Oh, what the heck, if you like them, let the world know how tasty these samsas are, and encourage everyone to try them. After all, everyone’s palate could stand something new and different. Four stars (just because they’re a little troublesome to fold).