Monday, August 30, 2010


I was recently tempted to try something I hadn't cooked in a long while: a meat-filled pastry. I remember making a Scandinavian Meat Turnover in my 12-week cooking class which was really tasty, but this time I was inspired to try something from a book I recently found called "Wrap and Roll", all about filled things. I found a recipe for Empanadas. Of course, no post would be complete without a little history.

An empanada, according to Wikipedia, is a stuffed bread or pastry which seems to have originated in Spain. The name comes from the verb empanar, meaning to wrap in bread. Empanadas can contain a variety of fillings such as meat, vegetables, cheese, or even fruit. They are enormously popular in Latin American countries (thanks to Spanish explorers), but they also appear in the Philippines and Indonesia. They can be prepared large and circular, or small and semi-circular. Most of the time you see empanadas served "tapas" style as in the photo.

Most cultures have some sort of traditional "hot pocket" or meat pie. Cornish pasties, Italian calzones, or turnovers are all variations on the theme. In Spain, the empanada was developed so that it could be taken into the fields for when workers took a lunch break, they had a hearty meal in a self-contained package. One traditional recipe I found uses ground beef, raisins and olives as the base for the filling, which sounded odd to me. I've also read that meat or fish combined with tomato, garlic and onion is traditional, but there are as many variations of fillings as there are countries that serve a version of this. There are even sweet ones filled with guava and cream cheese, apple, or pumpkin. (Mmmmm, fall is coming up......pumpkin sounds mighty good).

Filling, nicely multi-colored
My Empanada was to be ground turkey, carmelized onions, sauteed red peppers, minced jalapeno, green chilis and a few other things. I took a basic recipe and added in what I had on hand and thought would work. Recipe follows:


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 sticks cold butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 extra large eggs
1/4 cup milk

In a large bowl, combine, flour, salt and baking powder. Using a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl, beat 1 egg and the milk together. Add the egg to the flour mixture and stir gently until it holds, forming a smooth, soft dough. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, gently pressing into a disk. Refrigerate for an hour or 2.

It is important to make sure the dough is well chilled and not to overwork it. If your kitchen is too hot, it will not work well. The dough will become gooey. If that happens, place it back in the fridge for a little while until it firms up again.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 small onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
1/3 cup minced red bell pepper
1/2 - 1 jalapeno pepper, minced (depending on your tolerance)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. ground beef/turkey/soy crumbles* (your choice)
3 Tbsp. dry white wine or dry sherry
1 Tbsp. minced fresh oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 can Ortega green chiles

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until slightly browned. Add the peppers, saute another 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, saute 1 minute. Add the meat and cook, stirring, until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes (if you're using the soy crumbles, I don't believe you'll get any  browning). Drain off any excess fat. Add the wine and the remaining ingredients and cook another 10 minutes on low for the flavors to meld. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

With your filling ready, preheat the oven to 375 F. and remove dough from fridge. On a lightly floured board, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Using a 4-inch biscuit cutter, or the top of a glass, cut the dough into rounds.

Place 1 Tbsp. filling on half of each round. Moisten the edges with water. Fold the pastry over the filling, forming a half-moon and press the edges together. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork. Place the filled pastries on a baking sheet. Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush the top of each pastry. Bake 16-18 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.  Makes about 30 small empanadas.

MY NOTE: The filling made enough for several meals.The first night, I made small empanadas but struggled with a hot kitchen and the dough getting too elastic and this all taking too long. The second night, I made 1 big one because I didn't have the patience to make a bunch of individual sized ones again. I much prefered making one big one - so much less work! But not as cute.

Vegetarian fillings could consist of any combination of the following: corn, roasted peppers, beans, cheese, or simply any sauteed vegetable ensemble. Get creative. Just remember your filling must be dry! Absolutely no liquid exuding from it at all or else you will have soggy pastry.

The Empanada is something most of us probably don't make very often. If you have the patience to make the little ones, your kids will probably love them because they're cute. They would make great take-alongs for a picnic, or as appetizers for a cocktail party, or as an afternoon snack.  Our leftovers will be the husband's breakfast tomorrow morning.

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