A few (plus a few) weekends ago, my best friend Kelly visited. Kelly and I both studied in Moscow together, where we began as simply classmates, but grew over a love of food, tea, and photography exhibits to become dear friends. Also, we randomly met Diane von Furstenberg. Kelly is in law school now (so proud of you, Kelly) and we hadn’t seen each other in a while, but quickly got to drinking refreshing drinks, eating delicious Mexican food, and creating some unforgettable empanadas.
The empanadas were fairly labor intensive, but totally and completely worth it. We made the dough from a recipe I had written down several years ago, in a recipe-collecting notebook I bought back in my Cracker-Barrel-country-store-obsessed days. (They just have so many cool trinkets and unnecessary things, you know?) I have no idea where the recipe comes from, as it is simply titled “Mom’s Empanadas.” Mom doesn’t know, either, but we decided it tastes too good to care. You might see the recipe is also not very complete in its directions. …I don’t know if you’ve noticed before, but I’m not always the best at giving precise directions. I’m more the type to eyeball when measuring (except when baking, usually) and for this blog, that means I give directions like “just add to taste!” or “use your imagination!” If you’re the type who prefer, or even need, precise directions, then you’re in luck; Kelly faithfully took notes as I added and tweaked the ingredients and spices, so you can fearlessly recreate these delicious empanadas on your own.
Or, you know, use your imagination and go where the wind takes you.
We made two fillings – one savory, the other sweet. The savory filling is modeled after a picadillo from Pati’s Mexican Table. It’s incredibly moist, and has just the right spices to warm you to your core. If you have any left over, which I did, it’s very easy to just eat it on its own, straight from the pan. Or if you have a little more self-control, it’s also good mixed into some rice for another meal. Then again, it’d make a really good topping for polenta, or even tacos or tostadas or even some beefed up molletes.
The sweet filling is so very simple, inspired from some peach and guava empanadas I tasted at a local empanada shop. (Julia’s is also most likely responsible for inspiring me to make empanadas in the first place.) Both types of empanada are baked, and their crust is wonderfully flaky. They also reheat surprisingly well in a microwave, but I’m willing to bet they’d fare even better after a short time in a low-heated oven.
Make ahead note: The dough should be made at least 30 minutes before you want to assemble the empanadas, as it needs a little time to rest and chill in the refrigerator. You could also make it the night before, and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Then again, as with most doughs, you could also freeze it, tightly wrapped, for a month or so.
Mom’s Empanada Dough
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, chilled
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 cup (give or take) cold water
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- a few sprinkles of turmeric, optional (it’s a trick Kelly learned from the Jamaican version of empanadas)
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl; set aside. Cut in butter and shortening with a pastry blender or two knives or a fork. Add the vinegar and as much water as necessary to form a dough (we ended up using a cup of water exactly). (Also, this is much like making a pie crust, where you don’t want too too much water or the dough will be kind of gummy. I think this dough is slightly more forgiving than pie crust, though, so don’t fret too much.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight (see note).
Filling #1 – Picadillo, of sorts
- 3 ripe Roma tomatoes, skinned (slash an X in one end, dip in boiling water for 15 seconds, remove, and the skin slips right off), and pureed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
- pinch of ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon (or more) of cumin (we used at least 1 teaspoon)
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- other seasonings to taste: spice mix, garlic, ground coriander, etc
- 1 pound (give or take) ground turkey
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or water)
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
- salt, to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon)
- optional: up to 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, to help thicken sauce
Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat; add onion and cook a few minutes until translucent. Add spices and cook for about a minute; add turkey and saute, stirring occasionally, until browned, 8 – 10 minutes. Add pureed tomato and let cook an additional five minutes, to get the raw tomato flavor out. Add broth (or water, if using) and stir around, then let cook for 15 minutes. The filling should start to thicken; if you think it is too dry, add more broth or water. We decided to add the cornstarch to ensure the filling was still saucy but not watery – soggy empanadas aren’t the best. Add walnuts and raisins and taste to check the seasoning, then add salt and adjust seasonings to your taste. Once the filling is at the desired consistency and taste, turn off heat and set aside to fill. Or, you can make this ahead and refrigerate for 3 or so days (or, freeze it).
Filling #2 – Guava and cream
This one is easy: buy some guava paste from a Latin grocery store (or maybe even the Hispanic section in a big grocery store), and buy some cream cheese. Once your dough is rolled out, simply spread a tablespoon of cream cheese and a slice (1/8 inch thick) of guava paste, fold over, press, and bake as directed below. You could also add more filling if you want, but I like my crust to filling ratio with sweet fillings to be more equal and less overwhelmingly sweet. You might be wondering about that turmeric we added to the dough and then proceeded to use for our sweet empanadas: we didn’t even notice it was there. Just do it.
Now for the easy, albeit time consuming, part!
- Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Have a little dish with water ready to use for sealing the empanadas.
- Roll dough 1/8 inch thick, cut into 4 or 5 inch circles with a cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, clean aluminium can, or large German Bierstein. Whatever it takes.
- Place about 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling on one side of a round, dip your fingers in the water and rub around the edges of the round; fold a side over to the other side and press with a fork to seal.
- Repeat with others, and place on prepared baking sheet.
Your first empanada might be a little…gushy. It’s ok. It will still taste wonderful, and just add less (or more!) filling next time.
Bake empanadas for about 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and cooked through. Be sure to let them cool, or you just might burn your mouth on the extremely hot steam that inevitably comes blasting out as soon as you break open one of your creations. If, however, you can’t seem to wait long enough to let them cool, know that your mouth will heal, and your tummy will love you.
If you find yourself with a free day and a good friend, make empanadas. They’re perfect for sipping wine and catching up on all that’s passed. Also, to make up for April’s small amount of posts, look out for another post tomorrow!