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Chicken Samosas In Lisbon

For an Indian visiting Portugal, a trip to Lisbon's Belem Docks carries a special significance, for it was from here that Vasco da Gama  sailed in 1498 on the voyage that finally succeeded in finding a sea route from Europe to India.

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Along the Avenida India that borders the harbour, a magnificent monument commemorates all the Portuguese voyagers who set out from this spot to explore the world.

Vasco da Gama sailed in search of spices, which in the middle ages were brought from India to Damascus or Alexandria by Arab traders and then carried to Europe by Venetian merchants. Their cost, by the time they reached the markets of London or Paris was so great that only the very wealthy had the money for them.

After da Gama returned to Lisbon with spice-laden ships, the price of pepper fell so much that even ordinary people could afford it. European tables were never the same again!

Vasco Da Gama is a national hero in Portugal, commemorated in museums and monuments. His tomb lies in the great Jerónimos Monastery overlooking Lisbon harbour, where it is given pride of place over those of mere kings and queens.

The wealth from the spices brought back from India by Portuguese merchants made the tiny European country the hub of a great empire that spanned the globe.

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Traditional Portuguese food is simple and uncomplicated, celebrating the freshness of the ingredients. Grilled seafood and meats are usually cooked with just a drizzle of olive oil, salt and sometimes garlic. The freshness and quality of the ingredients shines through in every bite. Robust stews of pork simmered in red wine or salt cod cooked in many imaginative, delicious ways are also the pillars of Portuguese cuisine. Cinnamon, while not generally used in savoury dishes, is sprinkled abundantly on desserts like rice pudding and custard tarts.

The Portuguese established a colony in India in the enclave of Goa, which  developed a fascinating hybrid, Indian-Portuguese culture and cuisine over the centuries. It was a two-way trade in recipes. Goan cooks made vindaloo, combining the Portuguese style of cooking in vinegar with Indian spices.

To our surprise one of the most popular dishes in Lisbon was Chamuças, which turned out to be a close cousin of our familiar Samosa. Chicken Chamuças are a staple of every cafe menu! Liberally doused with curry powder and fragrant with the aroma of fresh coriander, they are delicious to nibble on while waiting for the rest of the meal to arrive. In fact, they are downright addictive!

Although most samosas in India tend to be vegetarian, stuffed with the traditional filling of spicy potatoes and peas, chicken samosas are hugely popular in Goa. The pastry is usually hand made and the samosas are deep fried. I find phyllo pastry to be an easier alternative and baking the samosas instead of deep frying them ensures that you can have more than one!

These samosas are easy to make and great for serving at parties. If you have any leftover chicken mixture, serve it with naan the next day. You can also add vegetables such as cooked diced potatoes, carrots, zucchini or peas to the chicken.  If desired, the ground chicken can be substituted with ground beef, lamb or pork. Serve the samosas with a fresh coriander or mint chutney. 

Chicken Samosas

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 inch piece ginger, minced or grated

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 tsp curry powder or Bottle Masala

Salt to taste

1 lb lean ground chicken

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

1 tbsp lemon juice 

8 sheets phyllo pastry 

Vegetable oil cooking spray

 

Warm oil in deep non stick skillet set over medium heat. Add cumin seeds, sizzle them for 30 sec. Add garlic, ginger and onions, saute for 5 min or until lightly browned.

Add curry powder and salt, cook for 30 sec. Add ground chicken and saute for 8-10 min until chicken is dry and cooked through, stirring occasionally and breaking up lumps.  Fold in fresh coriander and lemon juice. Cool mixture in refrigerator until needed. Chicken mixture can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.

Preheat oven to 400F. Line baking tray with parchment paper.

Working with one sheet of phyllo pastry at a time (keep remainder covered with plastic wrap or damp towel), spray pastry lightly with cooking spray. Top with another sheet of pastry and spray again. Cut pastry into 4 long strips. Spoon 1 heaping tsp of chicken mixture onto bottom edge of pastry strip. Fold end of dough over chicken to form a triangle. Continue folding this way for the entire length of pastry strip. Place, seam-side down, on baking sheet, spray top lightly with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with remaining phyllo sheets and chicken mixture.

Remove plastic wrap and bake samosas for about 12-15 min or until they are golden and crisp. 

Makes 16 Samosas