In Pakistan, the Urdu word for “yesterday” is the same as the word for “tomorrow.” And lateness is generally acceptable. Sometimes, the sun sets while those observing Ramzan (the Urdu term for Ramadan) are on their way to an iftari, the fast-breaking meal after dusk. In those moments, stuck in traffic, a roadside samosa stand is a prayer answered.
Though, in Pakistan, they’re eaten year-round, at any time, as the perfect accompaniment to chai, samosas may just taste most delicious at iftari. After a long — often hot — day of fasting, they’re the salty, crunchy, spicy snack you need.
Samosas from vendors satiate instantly, but homemade ones can be ready nearly as quickly, once you have a batch in the freezer. And they taste better shared at home with family and friends. When there isn’t a pandemic, samosas are always served at big iftar parties.
But that’s not the only time. In Lahore, where I grew up, people tell you to “come by anytime” and mean it. And when you do go to someone’s house unannounced, you can almost always count on freshly fried samosas glistening on a paper napkin and plate, along with a warm welcome. Finish the plate and your host will bring another.
Samosas freeze well and fry quickly, so home cooks make and keep big batches for unexpected company who pop in, then stay for gup-shup, long chit-chats. In this culture of casual hospitality, cooks use techniques and ingredients that make samosas simpler to execute and also tastier, namely store-bought spring roll wrappers and shallow-frying.
The thin packaged spring roll sheets cook into the crunchiest shells. Frying in a thin layer of hot oil results in the same crispness as deep-frying, and trays of samosas can be baked for large groups.
The wrappers can be filled with any combination of minced cooked vegetables, meat, paneer or even leftovers. The many variations depend on the cook and regional flavors: Samosas from Karachi are known for their spice levels, while Lahori ones tend to be slightly milder and more delicately flavored. There are a couple of classics, such as chicken with onions and green chiles and mashed spiced potatoes with peas.
The finer the texture of the filling, the easier it is to assemble the samosas. They are a forgiving shape — resist thinking too hard about the Pythagorean theorem when folding a triangle from the pastry rectangle. Set up an assembly line, and use the back of a spoon to quickly apply the thinnest layer of flour-water glue to seal the stuffed wrapper and plug any holes in the corners.