Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Empanadas big and small

Back when I was living in Boulder, a new little joint opened up just a half a block off Pearl Street. It was a window - sort of like one of those doors where the top half and the bottom half swing separately. Well, they sold empanadas. I'd never had one before, but I quickly fell in love. (Turns out the empanada place is still there: Empanadas Plus.)

Cooks Illustrated recently published an article on empanadas and I felt inspired. I worried about being stuck with a TON of empanadas, we invited Betts & Leigh over for a little food experiment. I also had to worry about John a little because some of the ingredients were a little questionable. 

Beef Empanadas

1large slice hearty white sandwich bread , torn into quarters
2tablespoons plus 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth (I use Swanson's)
1pound 85 percent lean ground chuck
Table salt and ground black pepper
1tablespoon olive oil
2medium onions , chopped fine (about 2 cups) (because we all know how John feels about onions, I didn't put all this in. I just used one onion or a little more than 1 cup)
4medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 4 teaspoons)
1teaspoon ground cumin
1/4teaspoon cayenne
1/8teaspoon ground cloves
1/2cup packed cilantro leaves , coarsely chopped
2hard-boiled eggs , coarsely chopped
1/3cup raisins , coarsely chopped (I used golden and didn't even notice I was supposed to chop them)
1/4cup pitted green olives , coarsely chopped (Well, I chopped them fine so John wouldn't notice)
4teaspoons cider vinegar
3cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour , plus extra for work surface
1cup (5 ounces) masa harina (This was called Maseca at my grocery.)
1tablespoon sugar
2teaspoons table salt
12tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter , cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
1/2cup cold vodka or tequila (see note)
1/2cup cold water
5tablespoons olive oil (for baking empanadas)


  1. 1. FOR THE FILLING: Process bread and 2 tablespoons chicken broth in food processor until paste forms, about 5 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add beef, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and pulse until mixture is well combined, six to eight 1-second pulses.

  2. 2. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, cumin, cayenne, and cloves; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add beef mixture and cook, breaking meat into 1-inch pieces with wooden spoon, until browned, about 7 minutes. Add remaining ½ cup chicken broth and simmer until mixture is moist but not wet, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl and cool 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, eggs, raisins, olives, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until cool, about 1 hour. (Filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

  3. 3. FOR THE DOUGH: Process 1 cup flour, masa harina, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and process until homogeneous and dough resembles wet sand, about 10 seconds. Add remaining 2 cups flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into large bowl.

  4. 4. Sprinkle vodka or tequila and water over mixture. Using hands, mix dough until it forms tacky mass that sticks together. Divide dough in half, then divide each half into 6 equal pieces. Transfer dough pieces to plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

  5. 5. TO ASSEMBLE: Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions, place 1 baking sheet on each rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees. While baking sheets are preheating, remove dough from refrigerator. Roll each dough piece out on lightly floured work surface into 6-inch circle about ⅛ inch thick, covering each dough round with plastic wrap while rolling remaining dough. Place about 1/3 cup filling in center of each dough round. Brush edges of dough with water and fold dough over filling. Trim any ragged edges. Press edges to seal. Crimp edges of empanadas using fork.

  6. 6. TO BAKE: Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over surface of each hot baking sheet, then return to oven for 2 minutes. Brush empanadas with remaining tablespoon oil. Carefully place 6 empanadas on each baking sheet and cook until well browned and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Cool empanadas on wire rack 10 minutes and serve.

    And they were really good. But making them reminded me that a long time ago I made some vegetarian ones for a party at Jackie's house that were super yummy. These took a lot of time because they were bite size, but they were super good.

    Tiny Curried Empanadas (Vegetarian Planet, Didi Emmons)

    1 large potato (about 2/3 lbs.)
    1 small butternut squash (about 1 1/2 lbs.)

    1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter
    2 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
    1 tsp. salt
    1 egg
    5 Tbs. cold water
    1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbs. water

    2 tsp. olive oil
    1 cup chopped onion
    1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
    2 tsp. curry powder
    1 tsp. ground coriander seeds
    1/4 cup currants [I may have used golden raisins.]
    2 Tbs. pine nuts
    1 tsp. salt
    fresh-ground black pepper to taste

    Spicy Sour Cream
    1 cup sour cream
    1/2 tsp. cayenne
    1 tsp. chili powder
    salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

    1. Preheat the oven to 375. Peel the potato, then cut it in half. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise. To do this, cut 1/2 inch off the base of the squash, stand it upright (the base cut should make it stable), then carefully, with a strong chef's knife, cut from the top down. Bake the squash and the split potato for 45 minutes or until both are tender.

    2. Make the dough while the vegetables are baking: In a large bowl combine the butter, flour, and salt. With a pastry cutter, cut the butter into fine bits, smaller than peas. Beat the egg with the water, and add this mixture to the butter and flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together, adding a bit more water if the dough looks too dry. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Knead the dough for a minute to smooth it. Let the dough sit at room temperature for 15 minutes (unless your kitchen is over 70 degrees, in which case you should refrigerate the dough).

    3. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook them for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the ginger, curry powder, and coriander, and cook, stirring often, for another 3 minutes. Take the skillet off the heat. Spoon our the seeds of the butternut squash, and discard them. Then scoop our the flesh. Add half the flesh to th
    e skillet, and save the other half for another use. Cut the baked potatointo 1/4-inch cubes, and add them to the skillet as well. Stir well with a wooden spoon, mashing the squash so it is fully integrated in the filling. Add the currants, pine nuts, salt, and pepper.

    4. Roll the dough quite thin on the floured surface. With a large glass or biscuit cutter (3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter), cut as many rounds as possible. Spoon about 1 tsp. filling onto the middle of each round. Fold the rounds in half, and press the semicircle closed. Form a loose ball from the scraps of dough, then roll this out thin. Continue making empanadas until all the dough is used.
    Place the empanadas on a baking sheet, and brush them with the egg yolk-water mixture (don't let too much of this drip onto the baking sheet, because it will burn). Press with a fork along the sealed edge, making a ridged design and further sealing the empanadas. Bake the empanadas at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes, until they are golden brown at the edges.
    5. To make the Spicy Sour Cream, put the sour cream into a bowl, and mix in the cayenne and chili powder. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve this dip with the hot empandas.


  1. Maggie,

    Shaun and I LOVE empanadas and Shaun makes them too! He's made several different should exchange recipes. Please, if ever you need guinea pigs to try your recipes, we are willing subjects. :) See you tomorrow.