greens and cheese empanadas

Happy Cinco de Mayo – Empañadas Two Ways

We hosted an early Cinco de Mayo party at our house last night with three other couples: guacamole, flan, tamales and chiles rellenos were brought, and we made (another) flan and empañadas. I made two fillings — a traditional picadillo made from beef, and a greens and cheese one — the latter mainly because we have a vegetarian in our dinner group, but they came out very tasty.

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The Dish

Pantry Raid Empañadas

It started with a pot of gold. Vegetable oil. After last weekend’s dinner party, we had a pot of oil that had been used to fry some sesame seed-covered, chocolate-filled glutinous rice flour doughnuts (From Ching-He Huang’s China Modern). Not wanting to dispose of it, a couple tablespoons had been used over the next few days for whatever cooking was done, but it’s still about four cups of oil.

We’re trying to eat sensibly this season, and so deep frying isn’t the first thing on our minds.  But as the week wore on, we kept seeing the darn pot and wondered what we could do with it.

“Empañadas!” I suggested.  Sue thought that was a stellar idea, then suggested baking them (healthier that way). So no help for the oil crisis, but a delicious dinner with really very little effort.

The crust came from one of our all-time most reliable cookbooks, Nicole Routhier’s Cooking Under WrapsIts doughs, wrappers, and fillings have been all delicious successes, and we’d made empañadas from her recipe before, as the crust comes out golden brown and delicious, and is easy to work with and not the least bit fragile.  The filling was a grab bag from the fridge, freezer and pantry: Ground beef we’d portioned out as hamburgers from the freezer, the last of some Manzanilla olives and a jalla-yo (no pain in the jalapeños from the supermarket) from the fridge, some slightly shrivelled grape tomatoes from the counter, the dregs of a bottle of wine, spices, and it’s dinner.  Many picadillo recipes call for raisins, but as Alton Brown says, “Raisins are always optional.” Six empañadas made a hearty dinner on a cold winter’s day.

The Dish

Pantry Raid Empañadas

Crust (Adapted and halved from Nicole Routhier)

Makes 6, 6″ pastries, feeds two hungry people or six appetizer portions.

1 Cup (100g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp (2.5g) sugar
1/4 tsp (1.25g) salt
2 Tbs (25g) cold shortening
2 Tbs (25g) cold unsalted butter
1 beaten egg, divided in half
2 Tbs (28ml) ice water

  1. Combine all ingredients except the water  and egg in a food processor.
  2. Pulse until just combined.
  3. Combine half an egg with the water, add to the processor with the motor running, until it just comes together
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes

Filling

(filling is generous, there were some leftovers)

10 oz (280g) ground beef
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs (28ml) olive oil
1/2 cup (100g) finely diced tomatoes (I used some grape tomatoes that had sat on the counter too long)
1/2 cup (100g) green olives with pimento, chopped
1 jalapeño chile, seeds removed and minced
Large pinch of ground allspice
1/2 tsp (2g) cumin
2 tsp (10ml) ground ancho chile
1/2 tsp cayenne or other hot chile powder (I used sun-dried XXX-hot Chimayo chile from Potrero Trading Post — truly awesome stuff)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (120ml) red wine (can use white, or stock, or water)

  1. Heat a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add olive oil, allow to heat up.
  2. Add onion, and a pinch of salt. Allow to sweat (not brown)
  3. Add garlic, chile and beef. Turn heat up to medium, and stir to make sure the meat is all browned, about three minutes.
  4. Add the ground spices and salt and allow to mix into the meat.
  5. Add the olives and tomatoes, and wine
  6. Partially cover the pan and turn heat to low, allow the flavors to mix and the tomatoes to break down, about 15 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before filling pastries
    Picadillo filling

Assembly

  1. Preheat oven to 375F /190C.
  2. Put parchment paper on a cookie sheet
  3. Divide dough into six portions
    Rolling dough
  4. Roll each portion into a disc about 5-8″ across, depending on how thick you like the crust (thinner will be more fragile)
  5. Spoon about a third of a cup (70-90ml) of meat mixture onto one half of the dough, keeping well away from the edges
    add filling
  6. Pull the dough over the top of the meat, and pinch the edges to seal
  7. Brush the dough with the other half of the egg
    crimp edges, brush with egg
  8. Bake until golden brown and delicious, about 16 minutes in a convection oven, probably more like 20 or so in a standard oven
  9. Serve with sour cream (we used greek yogurt), salsa, optionally guacamole, chopped cilantro and/or guacamole

And yes, that pot of oil is still sitting on the counter.