Monday, October 10, 2011

Pocket Food - Part II

Empanadas are another version of a stuffed pastry which I have lately become keen about making (see meat pies and samosas). Popular in many Latin American and southern European countries, it can be filled with meat, vegetables, or cheese, making for a very portable and hearty meal. 

We once went through a phase of a weekly purchase from our local Farmer's Market stand, great to pack for a school lunch. However, their fillings are not consistent and can range from being absolutely perfect, to being way too salty. Then they started deep-frying the pastry which changes things altogether (prefer the soft dough, rather than the crunch). We also used to have a Cuban cafe close-by which was handy for picking something up for road trip, or picnic. Sadly they closed, and we have not found any suitable replacements for a quick, good on-the-go meal. 

Hence, here is a recipe which I have been meaning to try for awhile. Admittedly, I have been procrastinating making the dough, but it really is not that hard, nor is it time-consuming. Frozen dough discs are supposedly available in the freezer sections of some supermarkets, but if you don't know me by now, I prefer to make it all from scratch. The dough is really easy in the food processor, you don't need to knead it for too long. Prepare it in advance so you can freeze your own or assemble and have a stash of ready-to-bake empanadas in your freezer. I can make 14 kids' lunch-sized empanadas out of the dough with maybe a bit of filling left over (my son loves to eat this on it's own). Divide the dough into even more portions to make mini snacky ones. 

(makes 12-16, depending on what size you want)

3 cups (360g) flour, plus more for dusting)
1 tsp sea salt
3 Tbsp vegetable shortening or butter
1/2 cup (120ml) ice-cold water, plus another teaspoon or two, if necessary
1 free-range egg
1 tsp white vinegar
  • Put the flour, salt and shortening into a food processor. Pulse to combine evenly.
  • In the measuring jug, measure the water, add egg and vinegar and beat until well-combined. Slowly add the water-egg-vinegar mixture to the flour mixture, pulsing until a ball of dough forms (add a little more water if it still looks crumbly). 
  • Turn the ball out ont a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes until all the flour in incorporated and the dough feels smooth and elastic. 
  • Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least one hour, (but not more than 24 hours) before rolling out the discs.The dough should be soft when assembling (see below).
1 Tbsp of cooking oil 
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 lb (454g) grass-fed ground beef
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 - 1 tsp chili powder/cayenne pepper, if you like heat! (optional)
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup (120ml) water
1/2 cup (120ml) tomato sauce

Egg wash: (just before baking)
1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 Tbsp water or just 1 egg

  • Coat the bottom of a skillet with oil. On medium-high heat, cook the garlic and onion for 5 minutes until onions are soft. Add the ground beef and cook for a further 5 minutes until browned. Add the salt, paprika, cumin, oregano, chili powder (if using) and flour. Cook for a minute to infuse the flavors. 
  • Add the water and tomato sauce. Incorporate and continue to cook for another minute until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and let cool before assembling. Let the filling cool completely if not baking right away.

  • Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). 
  • Divide the dough into 12-16 even segments. Form each segment into a ball. Set aside to roll out and assemble one at a time.
  • On a lightly floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, gently roll out a ball of dough to about 1/4' (5mm) thick in a rough circle. 
  • Add one to two spoonfuls of the cooled meat filling in the center of the disc. Using your fingertip, moisten the edges all the way around, with egg white-water mixture that you will use for the egg wash. 
  • Fold the dough over, in half, to form a semicircle shape. Pinch the both edges together to completely enclose the filling. 
  • To secure the seal and ensure that there are no gaps, EITHER: Use a knife to trim the jagged edges of dough (if any) and then, using the back tines of a fork, press indents into the edge on both sides (shown above) OR: From one "corner" of the semicircle, fold edge over slightly, press, twist, fold, press and twist... all the way to the other corner, to make a braid-like trim (shown to the right). 
  • Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Continue to assemble each one. At this point, if you're preparing this in advance for a rainy day, stick the tray in the freezer. After a few hours, transfer empanadas to a freezer bag until ready to bake.
  • Just before baking, brush the tops of the empanadas with the egg wash. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes. 
  • Let cool for 10 minutes before serving, or let cool completely before storing in the refrigerator. 

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