What Is an Onion Samosa?

Megan Shoop

An onion samosa is a traditional, baked Indian pastry filled with onions and spices. The filling ingredients are typically fried together until the onions caramelize and become infused with the flavors from the spices. They’re then stuffed inside pastry dough and baked until the entire thing is crispy and the inside starts to bubble. Though typically vegetarian, onion samosas may occasionally contain meat. The onions are almost always the predominant flavor, however.

Onions, the main ingredient in onion samosas.
Onions, the main ingredient in onion samosas.

The term samosa refers to the baked pastry shell surrounding the filling. It does not have to be filled with onions. It may be sweet or savory, and made of fruit, vegetables, or meat. The onion samosa is quite popular in India because its rich flavors make it appealing to vegetarians and omnivorous individuals alike. Many Indian movie theaters and street vendors sell samosas of all kinds, including onion.

The onion samosa appeals to vegetarians and omnivores.
The onion samosa appeals to vegetarians and omnivores.

Most types of onion samosa start out with onions and spices. The onions should typically be sautéed until they’re soft, brown, and very sweet. This can take a very long time, so cooks making an onion samosa dish should typically plan ahead. Sweet Vidalia onions work well, as do yellow onions. Red onions usually have a very strong flavor when raw, but generally become mellow and sweet when cooked.

The traditional onion samosa contains a variety of spices. Yellow, green, and red curry mixes are all popular, as are hot pepper flakes. Those that don’t want spicy samosas may lean toward coriander, cumin, turmeric, and garlic. The cook usually starts by cutting the onions up into long strips and tossing them in a well-oiled pan. A lid keeps in the moisture and prevents the onions from burning while they slowly cook.

Spices are usually not added until the onions have softened. Adding the seasonings too early may cause them to burn, meaning they won’t impart any flavor to the onions. Some recipes also call for chopped chilies, olives, or capers. These things may be added to the pan along with the onions. These salty and spicy vegetables typically marry well with the onions, creating a single, multi-faceted, savory flavor.

Though a traditional onion samosa dish is packed into homemade pastry shells, cooks may also use store-bought puff pastry or wonton wrappers. Those that want to make traditional shells should use wheat flour, water, and clarified butter. Either pastry must be cut into squares and filled with a dollop of the onion filling. The samosas should typically be baked with a little oil brushed on the top to make them nice and crispy.

Cooked red onions may be used to make a sweeter onion samosa.
Cooked red onions may be used to make a sweeter onion samosa.

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