Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Heirloom Empanadas from Argentina

I have been looking for a recipe that would recreate the empanada that I ate at a birthday party of one of the Filipino kids who lived in my neighborhood when I was a child. The Filipino parents always threw very generous birthday parties where we'd get to take a swing at a brightly colored piñata and there were roasted piglets (lechon), puto bongbong and lots of other delicious food. And yet what has stuck in my mind through years was the delicious empanadas.

When I first arrived in Spain someone asked me if I'd ever had an empanada and I said: yes. Anyhow this guy went ahead and ordered some for me and I was in for the biggest disappointment of my life.

In my mind an empanada should look like this, but the empanadas here look like this.

A few years later, my life style had changed immensely and I was cooking everything from scratch at home and I had started food blogging - and I thought to myself: Why don't I look for a recipe that is similar to the empanadas I used to have at those wonderful birthday parties?

Easier said than done.

When I looked-up several empanada recipes, they just didn't seem quite right. You know when the ingredients just don't match the details in your memory?

Anyhow while I was still dragging my feet, unable to find the right recipe, Paul Paredes (yes - he's the guy picking the ingredients for Paper Chef in the video) said he'd give me his grandmother's secret recipe! So was I concerned whether this was the same empanadas I ate when I was a kid? No! I knew these were going to be delicious so I started making plans to make his grandmother's mouth watering empanadas right away....and here they are.

Paul has been gracious enough to give me permission to reprint his recipe here so I'll give you the original and will insert notes on what I actually did.


For the Filling

600 g Ground Beef

600 g Onions (peeled and chopped finely)

30 g Rendered Beef Fat

1 Tsp Dried Greek Oregano

1 Tsp Ground Cumin

1 Tsp Spanish Sweet Paprika

Fresh Black Pepper

Sea Salt

2 Hard Boiled Eggs (chopped)

A Handful of Green Olives (pitted and chopped)

The Wrappers

600 g Flour

70 g Rendered Beef Fat*

2 Tsp Fine Sea Salt

1 Tsp Sweet Spanish Paprika

500 ml Warm Water (I used only 3 dl water!)

100 g Unsalted Butter (melted)

Corn Starch (for dusting)

1 Egg (for glazing)

Step 1: Mix flour, paprika and salt and put the rendered beef fat or other animal fat on top. I used Manteca de Cerdo Iberico. Use your fingers to blend the animal fat into the dry ingredients.

Step 2: Once you've blended this nicely, add water. From my other experiences making wrappers (Beijing dumplings and Samosas) it's all too easy to end-up with a dough that's too wet and unless you have a Kitchen Aid to do the mixing for you it will be a nightmare! So add a little water at a time. I first poured in 2 dl water and then added another 1 dl - so a total of 3 dl. From my experience, I always end-up using a little less water than designated in the recipe so I'm guessing it could be something to do with some inaccuracy in my measurement devices or the quality of flour and their moisture content in Spain. If you've made other kinds of wrappers - use your common sense when adding water.

Step 3: Knead this to work with the gluten until you have a smooth pliant dough. Put it back inside a bowl and cover with a dampened fabric. According to Paul this needs to sit there for at least 1 hour. His grandmother used to leave it overnight by the way - so if you want to bake first thing in the morning, I'd prepare the dough last thing at night.

Step 4: While the dough is resting you'll want to make the filling or 'picadillo' as it's called in Spanish. Get yourself a nice big frying pan and melt the animal fat. Depending on the nature of your frying pan, the stove setting will differ because my Spanish pans heat-up to high temperatures really fast and are great for making Chinese stir fries whereas my pans from IKEA tend to never heat-up to very high temperatures no matter what your stove setting is. The idea is to slow cook your ingredients so make adjustments according to the characteristics of your frying pan.

Step 5: Add the chopped up onions and stir fry them for around 30 minutes. You do not want them to become very brown according to Paul and they should be soft and just beginning to color when they're done. I had a 'blond moment' and only chopped up 300 g of onions by the way. This was a mistake on my part and not intentional and because there was less onion, it took me about 15 minutes in an IKEA low temperature frying pan to reach this stage.

Step 6: Paul suggests adding spoonfuls of water should your onions get too dry. Spanish onions are very wet and hence I didn't have to add any water. Again this will depend on your onions.

Step 7: Turn up the heat a bit, add the ground beef and stir frequently to make sure you don't end-up with mini-hamburgers rolling inside your pan. The meat should stay in the same size it was when it was ground. Do not brown the meat or you'll end-up with a very dry filling. Try to picture a nice juicy moist filling and remember that that's where you want to go! Add the oregano, spices and salt during this stage.

Step 8: Finish this off with a couple of tablespoons of water at the very end unless your filling is already swimming in liquids although this shouldn't be the case if you've managed to get it right so far. The filling needs to be cooled before it is put into the wrappers so imagine what it might look like after the animal fat has congealed.

Step 9: I left out the olives and eggs completely because I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of boiled eggs and olives in my empanadas. The traditional way is to put a slice of boiled egg and a slice of green olive with pimiento stuffing on top of this when you wrap the empanadas. Paul said he chopped up both the eggs and olives and mixed them into the beef. It's your choice. Do what you think is best!

Step 10: Once your dough has rested for at least 1 hour, you can start preparing the wrappers. The first thing you'll want to do is divide the dough into 2 and then make sure the other half is covered with a damp cloth immediately so that it doesn't dry out. For those of you with small counters, I suggest you divide the dough into 3 or 4 balls to make rolling them out easier. I think Paul mentioned that Mike used a pasta roller for this, but the traditional way is to use a rolling pin to roll them out. Do it whichever way you wish. I don't have a pasta roller so I used a rolling pin!

Step 11: Flour your surface with corn flour first, then roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 mm, then brush it all over with melted butter, then fold it. Rotate it 90 degrees then roll it out again to 1 mm then brush it with butter again, etc. Roll at least 3 layers of butter into the dough in this manner. Corn starch really makes handling the dough easier so I recommend this.

Step 12: Preheat the oven to 220 C. Roll out the dough to 1 mm again and use a cookie cutter or whatever you have that's around 12 cm in diameter to cut circles out of the dough. My choices were either 10 cm or 13 cm and I went with the 13 cm so my empanadas were pretty big manly looking ones. Paul has told me that he and his grandmother use espresso saucers to do this. I used an inverted little bowl (about the size of a rice bowl) from IKEA.

Step 13: Moisten the edges of the wrapper, put the filling in the center and then fold them over in a half circle and seal the edges meticulously. Then, fold the edge over and seal the whole thing in tightly with a fork. Paul used a daintier technique of creating these lovely wavy patterns but I took the easier way out. The method I used is easier for people who don't have a lot of experience wrapping up empanadas or Chinese dumplings because it allows for a much bigger margin of error during the folding process. The fork marks will cover-up any messy folds so you can fold them over casually instead of being worried about creating a work of art.

Step 14: Brush these with the beaten egg and then bake them in the preheated oven on oven paper for 15 minutes or so. Some of mine ended-up in there for nearly 20 minutes but some were ready to go at 15 minutes exactly. Just make sure they are nice and brown on the surface.

*Paul mentions oiled and lined trays. I forgot to oil mine.

So were these empanadas similar to the ones I remember? No. But they were delicious and a great starting point for me to start exploring empanada recipes, and one day I hope I'll figure out what exactly were in those empanadas I had when I was a kid.

The most interesting thing about Paul's grandmother's recipe is undoubtedly her method for making puff pastry. Kneading paprika into the dough is a great idea and gave the flour a lovely warm color and her method of making puff pastry was quick and easy.

I'd like to extend my thanks to Paul Paredes again for his generosity in sharing this heirlooom recipe with me. It has been a real privilege getting to make his grandmother's secret recipe!

Other References:

Empanadas Mendocinas : The author gives step by step directions with photographs on how to go about making empanadas.


Dorte said...

Mmmm they look so delicious ... I think there must as many variations of empanadas as there are cooks making them.

I have been living in Colombia and they have wonderful empanadas, but I have never been able to re-make them as I remember them.

However, I always use my old mexican recipe and I fill half of the portion with meat and the other half with potato filling. My kids really liked them, but I have actually not made them since they were quite young - and that is some years ago :-)

Oh, and the best part (I think) is the ají -fresh chilli/ tomato/ cilantro/ onion salsa - to accompany them

Zabeena said...

Great post! And yes, isn't it hard to re-create something from childhood? I hope they hit the spot,they certainly look fabulous! In fact, to me, they look like "Cornish pasties" - the filling of which varies a lot these days, but would originally have been beef, potatoes, carrots, maybe swede on the one end, and a sweet filling on the other, thereby providing two courses at lunch time in one tasty packet.Presumably,pasties are bigger than empanadas?
(Oh, and thanks for stopping by!)

Zabeena said...

Great post! And yes, isn't it hard to re-create something from childhood? I hope they hit the spot,they certainly look fabulous! In fact, to me, they look like "Cornish pasties" - the filling of which varies a lot these days, but would originally have been beef, potatoes, carrots, maybe swede on the one end, and a sweet filling on the other, thereby providing two courses at lunch time in one tasty packet.Presumably,pasties are bigger than empanadas?
(Oh, and thanks for stopping by!)

Murasaki Shikibu said...

Dorte: Have you been to that Colombian cafe near the Fuengirola bus station? They have corn flour empanadas there and they serve it with a spicy sauce that sounds like the one you mentioned! It was delicious. :)

Zabeena: Pasties are bigger than L.American empanadas generally speaking but you'll find empanadas larger than pasties in Spain! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment - it means a lot to me. :)

Trish said...

These do look delicious! My son had to make a Spanish dish for his Spanish class about three years ago. As my sister lived in Bolivia for quite a few years she forwarded us an authentic recipe. Even my 14 year old son was able to make these....sigh...not sure why I have so much trouble with pastry myself...grin! Anyway, Dorte is right...there must be a gadzillion recipes for empanadas but this looks very good dearie!

PS...thanks for your concern about my health...just muddled brain with water behind the ear...no 'infections'...thanks kiddo. Have a great day!

Dorte said...

Yes I do - Café Andino. I usually have a very nice cup of coffee there when I am in Fuengirola - with a Pan de Bono (goes better with the coffee).
The empanadas are OK - but they are not crisp as they heat them in the microwave and the sauce is not as fresh as I remember from Colombia.
By the way, there is a kind of international fair in Málaga these days at Plaza Marina and in one the stalls they sell "Empanadas del Mundo" :-)

Murasaki Shikibu said...

Trish: Glad to hear you're doing better for awhile I was worried there!

Dorte: Thanks for the information. I thought those empanadas were the steamed variety. lol I guess they were just 'cheating' :p

Natashya said...

They sound fantastic! I have only made empanadas once but I look forward to trying different recipes and techniques.

Lori said...

These sound amazing Murasaki. I love empanadas. I have made them many times but I think I only posted one or two to my blog. What a dissapointment - that big tray of layered empanadas. So glad you made them and could enjoy them once again.

What are those puto bong bong made out of? Is it purple potato?

Elra said...

I really like Empanadas, delicious snacks to have in the afternoon. I am shy to admit that I eat this with spicy sauce. My husband like to tease me about it. Oh well, can't help it though...

Yours look delicious!

Murasaki Shikibu said...

Natashya: Thanks. :)

Lori: I love empanadas too. Never mind that they're loaded with lard and butter...lol

Elra: Why be shy about eating them with a spicy sauce? Isn't that normal? :)

Anonymous said...

Your empanada sounds good! filipino empanadas are normally fried (yikes but yummy)
It normally contains a mix of beef, pork, peas, potatoes garlic onions and some rasins from what i can remember....

Justin Schwartz said...

wow, epanadas! that's something i'm not brave enough to try at home.

Katie said...

I agree with you, I think of empanadas shaped like hand pies, not squares. I haven't had any for a while, but I'm most definitely craving some now!

Murasaki Shikibu said...

Pariszambales: Thanks for the tips. Not sure about what spices are int here though if any. There might have been slight curry flavor but I'm not sure!

Justin: Thanks for stopping by. I'd say the only thing you need to be careful when making any kind of 'wrappers' is the amount of water. I guess you get a feel for this after different kinds of wrappers. :)

Katie: If you want a more vegetarian option I'd just fill it up with some kind of a Samosa filling or buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil leaves and fresh tomatoes. I'll bet it will be good in a different way. ;)

Anonymous said...

Yes curry! That's chicken curry puff from i think rustans supermarket :-)

Murasaki Shikibu said...

Pariszambales: Thanks for confirming that my memory of some kind of curry flavor wasn't totally out of whack! ;) I'm talking about a fragment of a memory from back in the 1970s so I really wasn't sure whether it was accurate at all!

Trish said...

Grin...as I don't have your email let me say....uhm...replacements - dates would be my first one, chopped apricots? Something like that but which is still moist. Maybe dried cranberries but soak them slightly first I would think. Worth a try...those cookies ARE yummy.

Marta said...

I just found your blog and I'm glad I did! I really like it! I love the concept of it and the recipes I browsed quickly looks amazing! I'll keep reading you :)

Trish said...

Hey.....your recent post is not 'linkable'....having computer problems? I think it was titled Paper Chef?

Murasaki Shikibu said...

Trish: Oh no...I deleted that post. Sorry! I don't think I retained any copies either...it is a wandering somewhere in cyber junkyard now.

Jude said...

I miss puto bumbong and lechon. The recipe looks great but empanadas are a bit too intimidating for me at the moment. Will file this for later :)

Anonymous said...

You are very creative in the kitchen, I have not had Empanadas is such a long time- I wish I could get on-hand fresh Cilantro here in Japan... "sigh"