Today’s Recipes: Empanada Dough, Potato, Pepper, and Chorizo Empanadas, Beef Empanadas, Panamanian-Style Empanadas, Turkey Empanadas, Spicy Pork Empanadas, and Sweet Potato Dessert Empanadas.
Empanadas are stuffed bread or pastry and can be either sweet or savory. They make great appetizers and finger foods. In Spain where they originated, they are made in larger rounds that are cut into individual servings. In Portugal and South America the are usually made in smaller portions that travel easily. The fillings vary from country to country, but often have some form of meat or chicken, cooked eggs, olives and raisins. If you are traveling in South America, make sure you try empanadas everywhere you go so you can judge the differences for yourself!
In the American south, you will often see “fried pies” on menus. These are made with a pastry crust, stuffed with yams or reconstituted dried fruit such as apples, apricots, or pears, and then fried until crisp. If you like you can dust them with a little powdered sugar when serving.
Because they are usually filled with a cooked and cooled mixture, you only need to cook until golden brown and crispy. Some people prefer to fry the empanadas, but you can make them healthier by baking them instead. Use either method, but if you are frying them, make sure you use cold vegetable shortening and not butter in the dough.
Because it is better to use a cool filling than a hot one, you can make the fillings a day or two in advance. If your filling is dry (little to no liquid), you can even assemble them a few hours in advance. I like to make a whole bunch of them at a time and freeze half for future meals. During the holiday season, have some friends over and have an empanada party and everyone takes some home. Then whenever you have someone drop by, you can pop a few in the oven for a hot, homemade snack!
While delicious on their own, you can also serve them with sauces for dipping. A classic Chimichurri sauce or Salsa are wonderful, and even a basil pesto would be good. But if you are running short on time, Ranch dressing is great!
If you are like me, and love just about anything that has a pastry dough involved, check out cheapfoodhere.com, a terrific website dedicated to the foods of Costa Rica. They have a whole array of recipes, many for different kinds of empanadas. I’ll get you started with these recipes here, but if you want more ideas, that is the website for you! For the Alternate Fillings, follow the same directions as in the first recipe.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
While making the pastry dough from scratch is preferred, some days we just don’t have the time. Frozen or packaged pie dough will work or you can use wonton wrappers. The wrappers are often found next to the produce in a refrigerated section.
Kitchen Skill: Working with Small Pieces of Dough
You will use the same technique as when working with a large piece of dough. Start in the center of the dough and roll away from you, move the pin back to the center and roll toward you. Turn the dough 1/4 turn and repeat, turning dough and re-flouring the board as needed. A smaller rolling pin gives you better control, especially when working with small sections of dough. I like to roll out all of the pieces at once and then fill them. Cover with a kitchen towel so they don’t dry out while you roll out the rest.
- 3/4 cup finely chopped Spanish chorizo (about 3 oz)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped (2 cups)
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1/2 bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano, crumbled
- 1/2 lb yellow-fleshed potatoes such as Yukon Gold (about 1 to 2 large)
- Empanada dough (recipe below)
- Egg wash made with 2 eggs lightly beaten with 2 tbsp water
- Make Filling: Cook chorizo in oil in a 2-1/2 to 3 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, 2 minutes, then transfer to a medium bowl with a slotted spoon. Add onions to saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and very soft, about 15 minutes. Add garlic, bell peppers, bay leaf, salt, and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until peppers are very soft, about 15 minutes. Peel potato and cut into 1/2-inch pieces, then stir into onion mixture and cook over moderately low heat, covered, stirring frequently, until potatoes are just barely tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add potato mixture to chorizo and stir to combine. Cool filling to room temperature and discard bay leaf.
- Form Empanadas: Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper.
- Divide dough into 12 equal pieces and form each into a disk. Working with one piece at a time and keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5 to 6 inch round (about 1/8 inch thick).
- Spoon about 2 tbsp filling onto center, brush edges with a little egg wash, and fold dough in half, enclosing filling and creating a crescent shape. Press edges together to seal, then crimp decoratively with your fingers or press with the tines of a fork. Transfer empanada to a baking sheet. Make remaining empanadas in same manner, arranging on prepared baking sheets.
- Bake Empanadas: Lightly brush empanadas with some of egg wash and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets and spinning them front to back halfway through baking, until golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer empanadas to a rack to cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- Yield: 12 pastries
- 2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup ice water
- 1 tbsp distilled white or red wine vinegar (helps make dough tender, won’t leave any flavor in finished dough)
- Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.
- In a small bowl, beat together egg, water, and vinegar with a fork or whisk. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.)
- Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 2 to 3 hours.
- When ready to make empanadas, let warm up on counter for a few minutes before dividing dough and rolling as directed above.
- Makes enough for 12 pastries
- 2 potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
- 1 tsp oil
- 2 med onions, peeled and chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 lb ground beef, broken up
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 2 tbsp ground ancho chile pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano leaves
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1/4 cup olives, finely chopped
- Place potatoes in a saucepan, fill with cold water, add 1 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Cook until fairly soft, drain and set aside to cool. They will finish cooking as they rest.
- In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions for 1 minute, stir in the garlic and cook for another minute, stirring. Add the ground beef and cook until browned. Drain off grease; stir in seasonings. When meat is cooked through, add in the broth and olives and bring to a simmer. Let the liquid reduce until it's almost gone. Gently fold in the potatoes and set aside to cool slightly before filling pastries and cooking as directed.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-1/2 lb ground beef
- 1-1/2 lb ground pork (not pre-seasoned sausage)
- 10 pickled cherry peppers (either hot or mild), seeded and chopped
- 2 tbsp of the cherry pepper brine from the jar
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
- Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil and saute onion and garlic until translucent and beginning to color. Add the beef and pork, stirring to break up clumps, until mostly browned. Drain off grease and reduce heat to low.
- Stir in the cherry peppers, brine, tomato paste, and mashed potatoes. Mix well until ingredients are evenly distributed and filling holds together. Remove from the heat, taste and add salt and cayenne (or regular pepper if you prefer) to taste. Cool slightly before filling pastries and cooking as directed.
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 onions, sliced
- 3 cups cooked turkey, shredded or diced finely
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp chile powder
- Juice of 1 orange
- 1 tsp orange zest
- Heat oil over medium heat and add onions. Cook until the onions turn a deep brown and have caramelized, stirring often, adjusting heat as needed to keep them from burning. Stir in the remaining ingredients and continue to cook until mixture is thickened and holds together. Set aside to cool before filling pastries and cooking as directed.
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 small red onion, sliced
- 1/2 small white onion, sliced
- 3 tbsp minced red bell peppers
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup quartered or roughly chopped mushrooms (crimini or shiitake are good choices)
- 2 cups cooked pork, shredded (use leftover pork roast)
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 to 3 tsp Jerk seasoning, or to taste (this can be very hot depending on mixture)
- Place sweet potato cubes on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F until soft. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Heat oil and butter in a large skillet. Saute onions and bell peppers until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and mushrooms and cook another 2 minutes. Stir in pork, cinnamon, and Jerk seasoning. Cook until heated through. Gently stir in sweet potatoes. Taste and add salt if needed. Cool slightly before filling pastries and cooking as directed.
- 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
- 2 tbsp packed brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Dash salt
- Bake the sweet potato(es) at 350°F until soft. The time will depend on the size of the potatoes. When cool enough to handle, peel them, scoop out centers and place in a mixing bowl. Using a fork or potato masher, mash potatoes until completely smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients and mix until thoroughly blended. Fill pastries and cook as directed.
- This filling can also be used in individual tarts if you like - a delicious alternative to pumpkin pie for the holidays!