What does it take to get a family of four to Disney World? According to Alice Frances of Berwyn whipping up a few thousand samosas helps a lot.
“Anytime I cook the dish has to have some meaning behind it,” says Alice, “the recipe has to come from an authentic place.”
As a thirteen-year-old girl, Alice emigrated from Malawi to the United States with her family. Hailing from Malawi, a densely populated country referred to as the “warm heart of Africa” to South Bend, Indiana represented a wholesale change for the close-knit household.
“My mom was a great cook and she taught me through trial and error,” says Alice, “when I was seven years old she sent me into the kitchen to figure out what I could make from the ingredients she had on hand.”
After moving to Indiana, Frances’ mother began experiencing cravings for some of her favorite Malawian dishes including samosas. Crispy pastry pockets stuffed with beef or potatoes, samosas, are commonly associated with Indian cuisine, but Malawian samosas are slightly different thanks to their unique spice blend and delicate pastry.
While samosas were readily available in Malawian markets and restaurants, the new Indiana residents soon learned samosas were not a common snack in America’s heartland. Neighbors suggested the family travel to Chicago’s Little India neighborhood to get their samosa fix, but Alice’s pragmatic mother thought traveling long distance for a snack food craving seemed ridiculous.
Recognizing her mother needed a taste of home, Alice offered to recreate their favorite Malawian samosas in their South Bend kitchen. The young cook viewed the project as a challenge and turned to Malawian chapati bread to create the pastry shell. A griddle-cooked, unleavened flatbread, Malawian chapati differs from Indian versions because of the copious amount of oil used in crafting the dough. After rolling the soft dough, Alice filled the it with a savory blend of ground beef, peppers, onions and African curry before frying the triangular parcels in neutral oil. Alice served her golden-brown samosas with a straightforward sweet and sour sauce.
Alice’s mother deemed the homemade samosas as good as she remembered them to be if not better. She began asking Alice to make her beef samosas to take to neighborhood parties. As word spread about the samosas more and more people wanted to have them at their parties.
“When I was 15 my mom volunteered me to make 500 samosas for a wedding reception,” laughs Alice, “and I had only ever made two or three dozen at a time.”
Alice was more than a little daunted by the monumental task but made a few recipe adjustments to aid in speed and volume production. She side-stepped the handmade dough in favor of using readily available egg roll wrappers to hold her flavorful filling. The adjustment proved to be a keeper as Alice preferred the crispy egg roll wrappers to the labor-intensive chapati dough. She and her mother managed to make more than 40 dozen samosas in time for the wedding; they were a hit at the party and Alice had perfected her recipe.
Eventually, the family relocated to Arizona so Alice could attend college and she continued to make her Malawian samosas for friends and family.
“People were always asking me where I had ordered them from,” says Alice, “and people were always surprised to learn I had made them.”
While attending school in Arizona Alice met her future husband. Armando proposed at Disney World and the newlyweds relocated to the western suburbs. In time the family grew to include two children who love wrapping samosas and had their own dreams of seeing Disney World. As Alice and Armando considered the expenses of the trip Alice, a stay-at-home mom, felt compelled to find a way contribute to the cost of their Florida adventure.
And she turned to her trusted Malawian Samosas.
Alice reached out to her local mom’s group asking if they would be interested in making a $10 donation in exchange for a dozen beef samosas. She quickly had requests for more than 15 dozen.
“It was so fun to see everyone’s posts on Facebook saying how great my beef samosas are,” says Alice, “and people started asking if I made a vegetarian samosa.”
The very same day Alice had fried up 15 dozen beef samosas for her fundraiser, she went to the markets in hopes of developing a potato based filling to satisfy her vegetarian friends. She invited her supportive mom-friends over that afternoon to taste her vegetarian samosas.
Alice opted for filling featuring potatoes and peas spiked with turmeric, green onions and a couple of secret ingredients. Her friends declared she had “nailed it” on her first try and shouldn’t change a thing. They very next day Alice’s friends dropped by to pick up their potato samosas in exchange for another Disney donation.
As word started to spread among her friends and acquaintances about her samosas, Alice’s orders grew 30, 50, and then 72 dozen per week. Alice learned quickly how to control for quality and streamline her production to maximize efficiency. She started a Facebook group to manage interest in her samosas and the group has more than 600 members today.
Things didn’t go smoothly from the start. Alice had always fried her samosas to order and donors would pick them up hot, but when she took her first large order her pre-wrapped samosas stuck together in the refrigerator and nearly all of the needed to be re-wrapped the next morning.
“It was so stressful, but all of my friends came to the rescue,” laughs Alice, “five women stood in my kitchen and re-wrapped every single one of them.”
After averting the crisis one of Alice’s samosa-loving friends suggested freezing them to alleviate some of the stress on the Disney bound mom. Like the eggroll wrappers, the freezing experiment paid off. It worked like a charm and today Alice offers frozen samosas only. The pre-fried morsels simply need to be reheated in a 375 oven for ten minutes before serving.
Eventually Alice made enough samosas to take her family to Disney World.
“The kids loved Disney and want to go all the time;” says Alice, “I felt so proud I was able to help raise the funds to help with the trip and my husband was also very proud.”
Despite the fact Alice and her family have taken their samosa funded trip, her loyal fans are still craving her meat and vegetarian samosas. Alice has had several people approach her about having her samosas in local restaurants or shops. Now she is exploring commercial kitchen options and has an interest in participating in local pop up markets.
“I didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” says Alice, “but samosas have a special meaning to me and I think people can taste their authenticity.”
If you are interested in keeping tabs on Alice’s samosa journey or learning how you can get your hands on a dozen or more join her Facebook page, Samosas and Tamales by Alice stay in the loop.
Samosas and Tamales by Alice is one to watch.
*Looking for an extra bite? While Alice’s samosas are regularly available to interested parties she also makes authentic green chicken and red pork tamales on special occasions. They feature hand-mixed masa and homemade sauces. Because they are labor intensive, they are available on a sporadic basis.