I first discovered the South American version of a pot pie in New York a few years ago. I was far away from my family, but lucky enough to have a close and amazing group of friends who decided that in the absence of actual relatives, we should throw our own family Christmas party, between friends. We all arrived at the spot and began drinking and celebrating when we realized that someone was missing.
“Where’s Enrique?” Someone asked. Enrique was an actor friend with Peruvian origins who just happened to be A) running late and B) bringing the main course for our meal: homemade empanadas. We called him right away to find out what the hold up was. We were hungry. And slightly worried. But mostly hungry and antsy to diversify our palates with a good, foreign specialty. As it turns out, while we were casually chatting and drinking, he was still stuck in the kitchen finishing the last of 50 or so empanadas (Inthink there were 6 of us, tops, at the party. And he informed us that he had woken up super early to prepare everything. We felt bad, and even worse when he finally showed up, crippled under the weight of dozens of savory pastries. Our bad feelings were quickly dissipated, as Enrique joined in the party and we finally got to taste the delicious, flaky, buttery crust stuffed with ground beef, hard-boiled eggs and who knows what else. They were extremely tasty, small and hand-friendly, made with love.
So naturally when I started picking up on the empanada food craze in America, especially among food-truckers, I was reminded of warm, fuzzy happy memories of Enrique, New York, Christmas and great friends. It was only a matter of time before I tackled these chaussons* myself. I unfortunately wasn’t able to get Enrique’s recipe before making them, but I’ll be happy to do it again when the time is right.
The empanadas were delicious; just spicy and fragrant enough, but a little sweet with the addition of golden raisins. The crush was fantastic, flaky and buttery and delicious. I didn’t have the canned tomatoes the recipe called for, and the flavor was fine without them, but they were slightly lacking in moisture. I’d recommend using them.
chaussons*: slippers, or in this case, a pocket snack like a calzone
Spicy beef empanadas adapted from Epicurious (Gourmet)
For the dough
2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t salt
1 stick of cold butter, cubed
1 large egg
1/3 C ice water
1 T white vinegar
Sift the flour and salt together into a large bowl. Blend in the cubed butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg, water and vinegar. Add this to the flour mixture, and stir slightly with a fork, until the dough just comes together. Spread the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Gather it all together into a ball, then knead it just once or twice to activate the flour. Form the dough into a rectangle, cover in plastic film and refrigerate, at least one hour.
For the filling
2 hard-boiled eggs
2 medium onions, finely diced
1 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, pressed or finely chopped
3 T ground cumin
2 T paprika
1 t cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 lb ground beef
1/3 C golden raisins
1/4 C chopped pimento olives
1 can whole tomatoes in juice, chopped
Preheat your oven to 425°. Cook the onion in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes, before adding the garlic, cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper. Cook one minute more, then add the beef. Break up the beef into small pieces while cooking. Once the meat is thoroughly cooked, add salt, pepper, raisins, tomatoes and olives. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the liquid is reduced but the mixture is still moist. Cut the hard-boiled eggs into thin slices and reserve.
Take your dough out of the refrigerator and put it onto a floured work surface. Roll the dough out until it’s about 1/8th of an inch thick. Using a smallish bowl or pastry round, cut the dough into circles. Set them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Fill each round with 2-3 T of filling, depending on the size of your circles. Leave enough space to fold the dough over and close. Add the egg on top of the filling. Using a bit of water, wet the edges of your dough and fold it over to make a semi-circle. Using a fork, pinch the dough over to seal. Cut small slits into the tops of the empanadas, and brush them with olive oil. Bake for about 12-14 minutes, until the empanadas are crisp and golden brown.