Sambousak has quite a lineage. As early as the thirteenth century, it was included in classic medieval Arab cookbooks by al Baghdadi and Ibn al Adim. Its name is derived from the Persian sanbusa, which denotes anything triangular. Sambousakis also related to the samosa of Indian cuisine.
Like the samosa, sambousak is a snack food served with midday tea or to guests. The ideal sambousak shell is thin and redolent of butter, with a lightly browned bottom. The cheese inside should be light and airy, completely filling the interior of the shell. Almost every Aleppian Jewish household has a few sambousaks in the freezer to have on hand for guests and for children to take for school lunches.
Yield: 50 to 60 pastries
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup smead (semolina)
2 sticks butter (½ pound), at room temperature
Dash of kosher salt
1 pound Muenster cheese, grated
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoon sesame seeds
1. To make the dough, mix the flour, smead, butter, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Be sure to beat the butter first to avoid clumps in the dough mixture. Add ½ cup warm water in small measures, allowing the dough to incorporate more of the butter after each addition. Mix well. Dough should be soft and moist. Cover and set aside.
2. To make the filling, combine the cheese and eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Stir gently.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
4. Divide the dough into thirds. Take one-third and further divide it into walnut-size balls. Dip one side of each ball in the sesame seeds.
5. With a tortilla press or a rolling pin, flatten each ball, sesame-seed side down, into a 2-inch round. Place 1 teaspoon of the filling in the center of each round. Fold each round in half, covering the filling, so that the sesameséed side faces up. Firmly pinch the ends closed. If you like, form the traditional twisted edge. Start at one end and press the edge of the dough between the thumb and forefinger twisting inward, creating 5 to 6 twists. Repeat steps 4 and 5 two more times with the remaining dough and filling. (At this point the sambousak can be frozen for later use.)
6. Place the filled pastries on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the sambousak are lightly browned. (Frozen sambousak should be baked at 400°F for about 20 minutes.)