Sanbusaj Babaki from al-Warraq

Making Sanbusaj


From Annals of the Caliph’s Kitchens, pp 190-191
[For the filling,] take meat from the shoulders, the inner thigh, rump, and sheep’s tail fat. Remove the blood vessels and finely pound the meat on a wooden board using a knife. Add the white part of a fresh onion (bayad asal), leek leaves (kurrath al-baql), cilantro, rue, and a little na’na (cultivated mint). Pound all the ingredients quite well.

Pour as much as needed of Nabatean murri (liquid fermented sauce). Add coriander seeds, black pepper, cassia, cloves, as much as you like of aromatic spices (afawah al-itr) and ginger. Mix the meat with the spices, add some olive oil, and cook until it is done. Prepared this way, the meat [filling] is called isfidhbaj (white and plain).

If you like it to be sour, add to the meat mixture as much as you like of pulverized masl (dried yogurt whey). You may use rakhbin (dried buttermilk), sumac juice, or any other sour ingredients, as you wish God willing.

When the meat mixture is ready, use it to stuff ruqaq (thin sheets of bread) then roll the pieces into triangles, squares, or rectangles.

If wished, you may add dried fruits or nuts to the meat stuffing such as walnut, almond, coconut, pistachio, hazelnut, pine nut, or any other fruits. You can also decorate them with eggs the way some people do in banquets and public feasts.

Alternatively, you may shape them Babaki style. Take fermented dough and roll it out very thin. Cut out rounds using a concave wooden mold, similar to a huqq (small bowl). Stuff these rounds with the meat mixture and seal them by pressing all around the edges with a fingernail. Fry the filled pastries in zayt maghsul (washed olive oil) or sesame oil. Take them out when they brown and eat them with whatever you prefer of sauces made with vinegar or mustard. This is the way to make all kinds of sanbusaj excluding the sweet varieties.

This is a “quick & dirty” redaction- evoking the flavors, textures and look of a medieval dish but with no extensive efforts at higher levels of authenticity. For instance, I bought ground lamb instead of mincing my own meat, used purchased pizza dough instead of making my own sourdough, and making a few substitutions for what I had in the pantry and garden. Also, I don’t love onions and I have green onions growing in the garden so I used green onions instead of white onions and leeks.

Babaki Samosas

1 lb ground lamb
1 bunch green onions
handful each of cilantro and mint
sprig of fresh rue
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, pepper
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp starch + 2 tsp water
1 lb purchased pizza crust dough
oil for frying
Chop all green herbs. Fry lamb until the water evaporates and the meat starts to sizzle. Add all spices and green onions. Cook until the meat is completely cooked and starting to brown. Stir in the soy sauce and the rest of the chopped green herbs. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool.

Cut the dough into 20 even pieces. Roll the dough pieces out as thinly as you can. Place one tbl of the meat mixture in the middle. Paint the outside edge all the way around with the starch & water slurry. Fold the dough over and seal around the edges, making a half moon shape. Repeat until you run out of dough or meat.

Heat a couple inches of oil. I used 2/3 peanut oil and 1/3 olive oil for flavor. Fry the samosas a couple at a time until golden. Work quickly- if the dough rises too much then the samosas will pop open in the oil and make a big mess.


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