Long Road Home

April 25, 2017

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I’m back! I’ll be honest – I was really excited about this week’s post; not just because of the food (though that was a big draw as well), but because empanadas are kind of the best of all the really great things about comfort food. First off, they’re portable. Who doesn’t love things that are small and delicious? Filling without being overwhelming, empanadas taste like your mom or grandmother made them, but are simple enough for anyone to make themselves. Plus, they’re the perfect size for stacking on a plate and eating with a warm cup of coffee, tea, or, the way I like to eat them, with a nice, cold soda.

Like many Latin American dishes, the empanada (em-pa-nah-duh) was brought to Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and other parts of the region by Spanish colonists. Originally developed as part of the rich meals of sixteenth-century Galicia, Spain, and inspired by the flavours of cooking from countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the pastries were designed to be transportable and often featured seafood, spices, raisins, and other fillings. Today, these tasty treats have made their way to countries around the world, including Sicily and India, as hand pies, pierogi, turnovers, strudel, Cornish pasties (and, yes, the Hot Pocket), and can be found in a variety of sizes, colours, and fillings in restaurants, street vendors’ carts, and homes throughout Latin America and the United States, perhaps becoming most synonymous with Mexican cooking and comfort food.

So… why the empanada? Well, empanadas are fun and extremely versatile; the flaky outer crust provides the perfect balance for the sweet or savoury fillings that line each one, so you can treat yourself to a few without feeling too much guilt. Not to mention, you can experiment with different flavours, shapes, and sizes to make the recipe your own. Don’t like beef? Use chicken instead. Want the empanadas to be larger rather than bite-sized? No problem; just use a larger amount of dough to form the empanada’s shell. More importantly, I think everyone has a list of favourite things that they like to make in the kitchen or that hold a special memory for them; empanadas are one of those things for me. Full disclosure: I am not Mexican, though it’s one of my favourite cuisines to make food from. This recipe is special to me because it’s one of the first recipes I developed on my own, years ago; I’ve since adapted the recipe to include homemade salsas and have changed the frozen, store-bought dough for a simple pie dough that I made by hand, using just flour, salt, butter, water, and eggs, but this is sort of a “semi-homemade” approach to Mexican-style empanadas. It’s slightly time-consuming, but so worth it.

Here’s how you make them; the dough will give you about 40, 4 inch-sized empanadas, but you can adjust according to your preferences:

DOUGH 

  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup water (adjust as needed to make sure the dough is not too dry)
  1. Add the ingredients to a bowl and combine by hand, until mixture forms a smooth dough; if mixture is too dry, add more water in 1/4 cup increments. If too wet or sticky, sprinkle additional flour into the mix until you reach a doughy consistency instead of a sticky or wet, clay-like consistency.
  2. Form the dough into a ball and let sit while you prepare the empanada filling.

If you prefer to use store-bought dough, you’ll need 3 boxes of the 9-inch, frozen, Ready-Made pie crusts to make the empanada shells.

FILLING

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  • 2 lb. ground chicken (you can substitute ground chicken for ground beef or whatever you prefer; alternatively, if you do not want meat in the recipe, just skip this step)
  • 1/2 large, yellow onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes (with juice)
  • 1 (15 oz.) can corn (with liquid drained)
  • 1 (15 oz.) can black beans (with liquid)
  • 1 tsp. piquin chili powder
  • 3 bell peppers, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  1. Cook and drain meat thoroughly.
  2. Add in all other ingredients and cook until onions and peppers are done; the onions should be nearly translucent and the peppers should be softer and lighter in colour. Mixture will be completely done when the juice from the meat and the vegetables in the bottom of the pan has begun to lightly boil.
  3. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before adding to dough.

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PREPARATION

  • Egg Wash: 1 egg, beaten
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Divide ball of dough in half to make rolling process easier.
  3. Roll out dough into a 1/4 inch-thick sheet.
  4. Cut 4-inch circles in the dough (I use a 4-inch round biscuit cutter form for mine, but a large glass, cookie cutter, or any other similar object will work fine).
  5. Place 1 heaping tsp. of filling in center of each dough circle.
  6. Fold circle over into half-circle shape.
  7. Press edges together with fork and brush top and edges of empanada with egg wash.
  8. Place empanadas on greased baking sheet.

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Bake until empanadas are a light, golden-brown colour (about 10 min.). Let cool and enjoy!

And now, for the salsas…

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SALSA ROJA

  • 4 medium, dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 1/4 cup dried chiles de arbol, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 cloves garlic (or 1 tbsp. minced garlic)
  • 1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes (with juice)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 medium, white onion, coarsely chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  1. In a small pot, add the de-seeded guajillo chiles and chiles de arbol and just enough water to cover the chiles. Cover and cook over medium heat until water is boiling, about 20 minutes.
  2. Take chiles off heat and set aside to let cool slightly.
  3. Remove chiles from pot and discard water.
  4. Add chiles and rest of ingredients to blender and pulse until salsa is smooth.

SALSA VERDE

  • 8 large tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and stemmed
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 2 cloves garlic (or 1 tbsp. minced garlic)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (to taste)
  • 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro leaves
  • 2 tbsp. chopped white onion

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  1. Remove the seeds from the jalapeño.
  2. Add the jalapeño and tomatillos to a medium pot and cover with water.
  3. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until water begins to boil, then lower heat and let simmer for an additional 15 minutes, stirring jalapeño and tomatillos intermittently. The tomatillos will be a greenish-red colour.
  4. Turn off heat and set pot aside to cool slightly.
  5. Remove jalapeño and tomatillos from pot and transfer to blender. Discard water.
  6. Add the rest of the ingredients to the blender and pulse until salsa is relatively smooth, with bits of tomatillo and tomatillo seeds still visible.

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Enjoy!

Fun fact: Mexico is home to a very rare species of rabbit that lives near the volcanoes in Mexico, called the Volcano Rabbit. Descendants of the Aztecs in Mexico speak a language called Nahuatl; many of the words we use in cooking and other aspects of daily life, including tomatl (tomatoes), chocolatl (chocolate), and ahuacatl (avocados) come from this language. 

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