I might as well mark my calendar. Every three to six months, the urge to make empanadas hits me. Usually some excuse or inspiration materializes: a friend is visiting from out of town, we’re about to watch a Spanish film or I’ve just been to Zumba and I’m still feeling the Latin rhythms. Once the urge strikes, there’s no stopping it until these savory meat pies are on the table.
The process is long but simple. It starts when I ask my husband, “Who is that Argentinean musician I like?” He brings me “Tango: Zero Hour” by Astor Piazzolla and the New Tango Quintet. I strike up the accordions and start making dough. While the dough chills, I mince onions and peppers and saute them in oil along with fragrant cumin, paprika and hot pepper.
The history of this three-to-six month cycle began four years ago when I was about to move away from my favorite Filipino restaurant, which served soft, sweet empanadas filled with cheese, peas, eggs and raisins. I decided if I was about to move away from the source, I’d better learn how to make empanadas on my own. The recipe I found was not for Filipino empanadas but for an Argentine version. I used it because the ingredients list looked so good. (I mean, raisins, olives and hard boiled eggs– what’s not to love?)
The history of empanadas themselves dates back to 16th century Spain and Portugal, in a recipe that may have traveled west and developed from Indian samosas. Empanadas came to Argentina and the Philippines in the same way: through Spanish colonization, which began in the middle of the 16th century for both places.
It’s no wonder this recipe stuck around. It’s easy to adapt, it uses meat as a condiment instead of as a main course, it’s hearty and filling and packs easily into lunches (generations have carried it to work with them). Make this recipe with colorful local bell peppers, candy sweet onions and ethically-raised Lone Star Farm beef. And don’t forget the most crucial ingredient: a plaintive tango album.
- 1½ cups shortening
- 2 cups water
- 4½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 3-4 teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- FILLING, PART 1:
- 1 large candy sweet onion, minced
- 1 colorful bell pepper
- 1 bullion cube (beef or chicken)
- 1 teaspoon each paprika, crushed red pepper, cumin
- a good sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1½ pounds finely diced chuck roast or ground beef (or use leftover pot roast beef- just skip the browning step)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- FILLING, PART 2:
- 1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
- 1 Yukon gold potato, boiled and diced
- ⅔ cup golden raisins
- 16 pitted Spanish green olives, chopped
- ⅓ cup chives or green onions, chopped
- Heat shortening and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until shortening melts. Meanwhile, combine flour, salt and paprika in a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the liquid into the well and, when it is cool enough to work with yet still warm, mix the dough with your fingers until it is well combined. The key is to have a moist, oily dough that will be very elastic once chilled. Refrigerate, wrapped in plastic, for at least two hours, or overnight.
- Saute onions and peppers in oil along with bullion and spices until soft. Add and brown the meat.
- Once this mixture has has cooled, mix "Filling Part 2" ingredients into the cooked Filling Part 1.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Roll dough into ping-pong sized balls and flatten dough into a ⅛-inch thick circle, using a rolling pin. Place 1-2 spoonfuls of filling on each circle, fold half the dough over top, leaving a good edge around the pocket of filling. Fold this edge back toward the filling pocket and press your fingers into the dough as you are folding it over to create a rope-like appearance.
- Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
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