This recipe for Semsek comes from my Armenian mother’s family. It’s a little-known dish that kids and grown-ups will love: there’s dough, there’s meat, and it’s fried. What’s not to like? (except the smell of frying oil that might linger in your house for a few days after making them…)
What is Semsek?
Semsek (not to be confused with Lebanese ‘Samboussek’), is an open-faced fried meat pizza that originates in Urfa, Anatolia (currently in Turkey). It’s an Armenian specialty that comes from this village, and therefore is a regional delicacy that not even many Armenians have ever tasted or even heard of.
Semsek is generally served as a mezze or snack, and even though it’s a relatively simple dish, rolling out the dough and crimping the sides is a skill that’s passed down from grandparents to grandchildren in Armenian families. For me, the best part of making these was having my mother teach my son how to roll out the dough and pinch the sides, something that her grandfather had taught her a long time ago in Aleppo…I’ve included a video in the instructions of my 8-year-old son doing this, so if he can do it, so can you!
How do you make my Semsek recipe?
There are three steps to making my Semsek recipe:
- Prepare the dough and filling
- Assemble the meat onto the dough and crimp the sides
- Fry the semsek in hot oil and serve warm
What can you serve Semsek with?
You can serve Semsek along with some pickles or salads. You need something crisp, fresh, and slightly sour to balance the fat from the meat and the oil. Armenian Chobani salad (a mixture of tomatoes, parsley, cucumbers, and onions) is a great option. Season the vegetables with lots of fresh lemon juice and a touch of olive oil and salt. And if you can find wild cucumber pickles (you will in most Middle-Eastern food stores) then you’ve got the perfect combination of sides to eat along with your Semsek.
What to do with any leftover dough?
My mom said her favorite part of making Semsek was when there was leftover dough. Simply fry any leftover dough (without the meat mixture) and then sprinkle generously with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. It’s basically Armenian donuts, and that means that dessert is also sorted with the same recipe! Hooray for a 2 in 1 meal!
How to perfectly crimp the sides of a Semsek:
Here is my son showing you how to crimp the sides of the dough. It’s that easy!
My family’s Armenian Semsek recipe:
For the semsek dough
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp dry active yeast (activated in 2 tbsp warm water or milk)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- warm water
For the semsek filling
- 1/2 kilo minced lamb and beef or either/or (but ideally a mix of both)
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp Aleppo pepper
- 1 tbsp 4-spice or black pepper if you don't have it
- salt to taste
- vegetable oil for frying
To make the dough
- Put the flour and salt in a large bowl.
- Add the activated yeast and vegetable oil. Mix with your fingers.
- Add a bit of warm water and mix with your fingers (approximately 2 tbsp at a time). Add more water and mix until the dough starts to come together. I can't give you an exact amount, but you'll feel it when the dough is soft and homogeneous (see my samosa recipe for more info on this).
- Cover the dough with a tea towel and let sit for at least 30 min in a warm place. It needs to rise a bit but doesn't need to have doubled in size.
To make the filling
- While the dough is rising, mix all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl. Stir well until everything is incroporated. The consistency of the filling should be very smooth and easy to spread, kind of like hummus.
To assemble the semsek
- Knead the dough a couple of times once it's done rising, then seperate it into equal portions. It's up to you to decide if you want fewer but bigger semsek, or more smaller ones.
- Roll your dough balls into circles (don't worry about getting them too thin).
- Prepare a small bowl with some water and salt in it. Dip your fingers in this mixture, and then use them like a brush to spread this saltwater mixture all over the dough (where the filling will go), avoiding the outer edge. Doing this will help the meat stick to the dough and not fall out when you fry them!
- Spread the filling on each circle, leaving about 1/2 cm of the outer border without any filling (think of this like a pizza with the crust, you don't want to put sauce on the crust!).
- Fold over the border/edge of the dough and pinch it onto itself, following the border until you've done the whole circle. Don't worry too much about getting it perfect, you just want to make sure that it's pinched enough so that it doesn't unravel as it fries.
- Poke the semsek (dough and filling) with a fork multiple times, all the way through.
- Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot with several centimeters of vegetable oil.
- Once the oil is hot but not smoking, gently place a semsek into the oil UPSIDE DOWN! I repeat: meat side down! Fry until the meat starts to get crispy and dark red/brown and the dough becomes golden. Then, flip it over and fry the other side until the dough is golden.
- When it's perfectly cooked, place it on a plate with a paper towel to soak up the excess fat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
If you’re looking for another one of my family recipes, try out my mom’s Syrian Fatteh recipe that’s soooo good.