Sambusac, Stuffed Savoury Pastries

by Sarah on July 3, 2009

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While thinking of something to make for lunch and just feeling a bit lazy, I scanned my twitter page looking for………nothing in particular but two tweets caught my attention, tweets describing delicious meat filled pastries so I clicked to the links.

One of the bloggers, Julia (Imagelicious)  is a professional food photographer and she captures not only the texture and color of the food, but also creates an atmosphere around it, sometimes its spring time in Tuscany, other times its breakfast at a boutique bed and breakfast but every photograph evokes not only hunger, but a certain feeling and place.  Although I try to emulate her pictures, I can’t seem to transport my food to anywhere very special, perhaps in time.

The second blogger (Simply Heaven), Afaf is originally from Damascus and makes incredible authentic Middle Eastern foods, photographing the entire process, step by step. Everything looks so organized and under control, the antithesis of how I prepare food with three boys running underfoot. I barely have time to photograph the finished product, much less take attractive photos of the whole recipe.

There are many versions of stuffed savory pastries throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. In Israel local bakeries sell the famous stuffed sambusac, which means triangle in Arabic because of the shape of the pastry. Iraqi Jews introduced the word sambusac into the Hebrew lexicon and it has become a popular street food, sometimes filled with spiced chickpeas, cheese or ground meat.* It is traditionally deep fried although baking them also produces good results. Sambusac is an ancient pastry which is mentioned as long ago as the 13th century in an Arab cookery book and an entire poem is dedicated to it. Sambusac used to be only eaten by the privileged; those belonging to the royal court, and not sold by every corner bakery.

“What food gives most delight, best let me tell, for none hath subtler sight. Take first the finest meat, red soft to touch, and mince it with the fat not overmuch”

The poem goes on like this for thirty lines! It is pretty obvious that the poet, with the fabulous name of  O Commander of the Faithful, Ishaq ibn Ibrahim of Mosul absolutely loved sambusac (and had a bit too much free time on his hands). Another court poet, Commander of the Faithful, Mahmud ibn al-Husain ibn al-Sindi Kushajim the Scribe, most probably a vegan, eulogized asparagus for twenty-two lines!

I wonder what the garage mechanic, grabbing a bite to eat at the local bakery would think of these grandiose words. Although he might say it in a different way, I am sure he would agree that sambusacs are pretty tasty.

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There are many versions of filled dough pastries in the Middle East, such as fatayer, shish barak and burek.


Fatayer is similar to sambusac and is the term used by Palestinian Arabs and Jordanians. It is often filled with wild spinach leaves, fresh za’atar leaves and even wild purslane together with onions and tangy sumac. Wild spinach leaves (sbanach) can be found in the Arab markets such as Ramla/Lod shuk or in Arab villages.

Shish Barak

Shish barak are beef or lamb dumplings made with olive oil enriched dough and tangy yogurt sauce. It is made throughout the Levant, in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. It is not as popular within the Jewish population of Israel because many adhere to kashrut, religious dietary laws which forbids mixing milk and meat. In a Jordanian cookbook, the shishbarak looks like little tortellini or like the Turkish manti, each one made by hand. Shishbarak was mentioned in the 15th century Arab cookbook and has been made similarly for more than 500 years. Anyone who has ever tasted it knows it will never go out of fashion. Afaf makes a wonderful baked version of shish barak with Greek yogurt sauce.


The Turkish are specialists in phylo dough stuffed delicacies and eggplant and meat is a favorite flavor combination such as in Julia’s Imagelicious blog. Bourekas as they are known in Israel are filled with cheese, potato, ground meat, spinach and many other combinations

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Pastry filled with ground meat and roasted eggplant. This is not an authentic Iraqi version but one that draws from the flavors of the region.


4 cups flour

1/2 cup olive oil

2 teaspoon dry yeast

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar (or honey or maple syrup)

1 1/4 cups water


1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tomatoes, roasted, seeds removed, peeled (concasse) and roughly chopped

1 medium eggplant, roasted, opened and drained

500 grams ground meat, beef or lamb

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika or harissa

1/2 teaspoon baharat or cinnamon

1 egg, for brushing the dough


In a mixer add all the dry ingredients for the dough and mix.  Add the olive oil and slowly add the water until a soft, pliable dough is formed. The amount of water may have to be adjusted to the absorption level of the dough. Let rise, covered in a warm place.


Split the roasted eggplant in half and let drain in colander and then scoop out the meat with a spoon, set aside. Fry onions in olive oil until beginning to brown, add the garlic and mix for a few seconds. Add the ground meat, breaking lumps with a fork. Brown the meat completely. Add the tomatoes and roasted eggplant and mix well. Add the spices.


Roll out the dough thinly on a clean lightly floured surface. Using a bowl cut out circles from the dough. Fill each circle with a tablespoon or more of filling and close over and pinch to form a semicircle. It is possible to close the filling over on three sides to form a triangular shape. Brush with egg wash and bake at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the surface of the dough is golden brown.

*Israelis of Indian heritage make samosas which are related to the sambusac. The Iraqi community is much larger so the name sambusac is the word that stuck for these triangular pastries.


Medieval Arab Cookery, essays and Translations by Maxime Rodinson, A.J. Arberry and Charles Perry

Jordanian Cooking, by Lina Chebaro Baydoun and Nada Mosbah Halawani

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

simply heaven food July 3, 2009 at 10:02 am

Looks Simply delicious!!! Again awesome Job!


Julia @ Imagelicious July 4, 2009 at 10:45 am

Omg, thank you so much for such wonderful and warm words. They mean a lot to me. Your pastries look mouthwatering!!!


Abigail July 4, 2009 at 1:31 pm

These look fantastic! I love stuffed pastries.


Raghad January 2, 2011 at 12:16 pm

i just did these….and they turned out soo delicious !
followed the recipe word by word..and they came out soft but crisp on the edges….everybody loved them….been looking for a good dough recipe for a while…. and bingo:) thank you.


Sarah January 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I am so happy they turned out well! thanks for commenting


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