Empanadas

empanadas

This is not a quick and easy recipe, and you should not attempt it if time is of the essence. It's more of a weekend afternoon recipe, and if you make it in the spirit of leisure, it will be a pleasure. The filling is insanely tasty, and it makes delicious tacos, should you happen to have any left over, which you won't. But here's what you should know: the meat will fill about 20 of the 30 empanadas; I fill the remaining ones with jam and chocolate chips. I know. It's crazy. But if you want to do all meat, then double the filling recipe.

Active time: 1 1/2 hours
Total time: 2 1/2 hours
Yield: about 30 empanadas

Ingredients

    For the Dough (this recipe is from the Joy of Cooking)*:
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
    10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) cold butter, cut into small pieces
    1/2 cup of lard or shortening, cut into small pieces (if you have access to good lard, use it: the baked pastry will shatter into flakes if you so much as look at it)
    11-13 tablespoons ice water (12 tablespoons is 3/4 of a cup. Just so you know.)

    For the Filling:
    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    1 onion, finely chopped
    2 cloves garlic, finely minced
    1 stalk celery, chopped
    1 pound ground beef
    1 teaspoon each smoked paprika and sweet paprika
    1/2 teaspoon chipotle puree or chipotle powder
    A pinch of oregano
    1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt) plus more to taste
    1 tablespoon white vinegar (plus more to taste)
    1 cup finely diced peeled potatoes (1 fist-sized potato. Dice it small.)
    1 cup canned tomatoes or tomato sauce or mild salsa

    For the Egg Wash:
    1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of milk and a pinch of salt

Directions

  1. To Make the Dough: Whisk together the dry ingredients. Rub the butter and lard into the flour mixture with your fingertips, or else pulse the mixture in a food processor until it forms coarse, uneven crumbs, some pea-sized, some like cornmeal. Whichever method you used, stir in the water by hand: drizzle it in, then use a fork to stir it. When it's damp enough to gather into a ball, do so (need be, drizzle in a bit more water, but try to cheat the water a little, since the dough will be flakier if it's not too wet). Flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
  2. To Make the Filling: Heat the oil in a wide pan over medium-low heat, then sauté the onion with the garlic and celery until it's all getting nice and soft and translucent, 5-10 minutes.
  3. Break up the meat into the pan, turn the heat up to high, and stir and fry until the meat is lightly browned, another 5-10 minutes. Turn the heat back down to medium-low and add the spices and oregano, fry for a second or two until they're fragrant, then stir in the vinegar, potatoes, and tomatoes or sauce.
  4. Cover the pan and cook the filling until the potatoes are tender, around 10 or 15 minutes. Stir it frequently to make sure it's not sticking, and add a bit of water if the pan looks dry and the potatoes aren't cooked yet. Or, if the potatoes are cooked and the pan isn't dry, take the lid off and cook the liquid down. Taste. You should have a not-too-wet mixture that is absolutely delicious: add more salt or vinegar if the flavor needs brightening. Put the filling in the fridge to chill while you roll and cut the dough.
  5. To Make the Empanadas: Heat the oven to 400 F and line two large cookie sheets or sheet pans with parchment paper or foil. On a lightly floured surface, lightly flour the chilled dough and roll it out very thin. You will need a large surface for this, and also a bit of patience. Just keep rolling from the center out, spinning the dough every now and then to change directions and also to make sure it's not sticking. It should be no thicker than 1/8 inch when you're done. Cut 5- or 6-inch circles from the dough (I use a 5-inch sharp-lipped Tupperware container for this) and place them on a different surface where you can fill them in peace without mucking up your rolling surface.
  6. Place a very heaping tablespoon (or very scant 1/4 cup) of filling in the center of each circle, brush the edges with water, then lift the edges up to meet in the middle and pinch to form a semicircle. Pinch the rest of the edge closed and place on a cookie sheet. When you've done a sheet's worth, brush them with the egg wash, poke them with a knife to make a small steam vent, and bake them until they're deeply golden, around 20-25 minutes (but check them at 15 in case they're going fast). Cool them on a rack away from your pets and children and partner.
  7. While they're baking, make more empanadas, pushing together and re-rolling the scraps as necessary. If you run out of filling, try a spoonful of jam and a small handful of chocolate chips, then top with egg wash with a small sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. Yum. The very last little bit of dough? I bake it in a little tangly mound with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar! Funny and good.
Recipe Note: To shorten the prep time, you can use store-bought pastry dough. Making the filling ahead of time and refrigerating overnight can also save time.

Read more about Catherine making Empanadas with her family.

See more recipes from Catherine Newman at her "Dalai Mama Dishes" blog.

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