By Linda Viertel–
Mini Dhingra, Samosa Shack’s chef, creator and entrepreneur, has become a favorite vendor at the Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow Farmer’s market (TaSH). But the Tarrytown resident is still surprised, after seven years of preparing her artisanal signature samosas and multiple northern Indian plant-based specialties that cooking has become her profession.
Having grown up in Kolkata, raised by parents who escaped Pakistan and settled in India, she was always delighted by her mother’s samosas: a ubiquitous Indian snack food- triangular fried or baked dough pockets filled with vegetables and flavored by the magic of turmeric, ginger, cumin and garam masala- a classic spice mixture. Dhingra had arrived in Buffalo from Kolkata in 1995 to earn her MBA, met her husband in the states. Her daughter, Anya, soon followed. But she never thought of herself as a cook until her friends sampled her culinary talents at a dinner party for a friend departing for Oxford University. No one attending had tried samosas , a snack so readily available in every Indian roadside stand, before. Her friends, sampling her culinary creations, urged her to showcase her newfound talent. Dissatisfied as a pharmaceuticals consultant and wanting to spend more time with Anya, Mini changed professions.
It was only a matter of time before she mastered her mother’s samosas and began experimenting with her own fillings: in addition to the traditional potato and pea stuffing, she started adding kale chana (chickpea), sweet potato and spinach, tofu tikka masala offerings- and more. Her first foray into selling at Chappaqua’s Farmers Market was a huge success; arriving with Anya and 60 samosas, she sold out in 2 hours. Then she quickly branched out to farmers markets in Brooklyn, Larchmont, Hastings and Kingston.
Though Dhingra makes the bulk of her 1600 to 3300 samosas each week, she has a small staff who help supplement her fuller menu, now available at the markets, for events, catering and pop-up occasions. During the pandemic, her menu provides “Treats for Trying Times” (and has been for the last 47 weeks) which can be pre-ordered. She and her staff make deliveries from Thursday through Sunday.
Dhingra’s cooking style is labor intensive, given her devotion to all plant-based preparations; she makes her own yogurt with almond or coconut milk, sources her ingredients from Blooming Hill Farm and Orchard Hill in winter and Mobius Fields in summer. Vegan meals are offered as well. She’s grown to enjoy the pressure, given how much effort and timing it takes to make sure her dishes are prepared as soon as ingredients arrive, and that deliveries go out the door promptly. Pre-orders are filled, and customers get to taste unusual offerings created from the freshest available ingredients no matter what the season.
Dhingra’s describes her home-made food as, “what my mother served growing up. What I serve is different from Indian restaurant food.” Her seasonal offerings might include a gluten-free salad composed of turmeric-puffed rice, chickpea crisps, tamarind chutney with flecks of red onion and cilantro, a watermelon radish sambal complemented by micro greens, with fermented rice pancakes (dosas). “All so fresh!” Dhingra says enthusiastically. She is known to incorporate some non-traditional ingredients as well – tomatillos in summer, cranberries in autumn and roasted squash in winter.
“The magic of Indian cooking is the vegetarian kitchen,” Dhingra says. And, her mother is her inspiration, unquestionably, however surprised she may sometimes be about her daughter’s culinary creativity.
During COVID, Samosa Shack has been providing one donated community meal for a family in need each week. Dhingra says she tries for two when she can, and posts on the 10591 social media website. But she is overwhelmed with market pre-orders, catering orders and deliveries. She often sells out, but she always tries to have samosas on hand. Her customers have been loyal, grateful and appreciative.
In addition to samosas, Dhingra offers spiced peanut soup, mint raita made with dairy-free yogurt, jarred chutneys, dal, chard saag aloo and a crispy onion basmati pulao by the pint. As Tarrytown resident Patricia Pinckney will attest, “Mini has become central to life in Tarrytown during the pandemic with her home deliveries of excellent Indian food.” Soremember to pre-order from Samosa Shack for TaSH pick up or home delivery. You will be glad you did.
If You Go:
TaSH Farmers Market- Tarrytown Rec Center, 240 West Main St.
Second and fourth Saturdays: (9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.)