Empanadas are meat pies popular throughout the Latin world. They probably originated in Galicia in the northwest corner of Spain.
Spanish settlers introduced empanadas to the New World, and they are a special favorite in Chile and Argentina. The variety of fillings for empanadas is endless and includes stewlike mixtures chicken, beef, ham and cheese, fish and seafood. Other fillings include spinach, peas, potatoes, pumpkin and beans.
Yield: 6 servings (2 empanadas per person)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup lard, shortening or oil
1/2 to 3/4 cup milk, water or broth, as needed
2-3 tbsp oil
1 onion, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp Oregano
1 cup water or stock
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/4 black or green olives, pitted and chopped, optional
1 tbsp flour
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Rub the lard or shortening into the flour with your fingers, breaking it up into small pieces. If using oil, simply stir it in.
Stir in just enough milk, water or broth to form a kneadable mass. Remove it to a floured work surface and knead for about 5-10 minutes, or until it is silky smooth. Add a little flour if it is too sticky. Cover it with a towel or bowl and let it rest at least 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting, heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium flame. Sauté the onions until they are translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, paprika, cumin seed and oregano, and sauté 1-2 minutes more. Add the ground beef, salt and pepper and sauté, breaking up the beef until it is cooked through, 5-7 minutes.
Stir in the water or stock, raisins and olives and bring to a simmer. Sprinkle flour over all and stir in well. Simmer for another 5-8 minutes, or until lightly thickened. Adjust seasoning, remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the rested dough into 12 equal portions. Lightly flour a work surface and roll each portion out into a 6- to 8-inch round. Add about 1/4 cup of filling to the center of the pastry round, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Wet the edges with a finger dipped in water, fold over into a half moon and seal the edges with the tines of a fork or by rolling them up into a scalloped edge. Lay out on a baking sheet.
Brush tops with an egg beaten with a little water if you like. Bake for 30-40 minutes until browned on top. Serve warm.
Empanadas al Horno (Chile and Argentina): The filling above is called pino and is typical for empanadas eaten in Chile and Argentina. Usually the filling of each empanada is topped with a sliced hard-boiled egg before it is encased in the pastry and baked. Chileans add a little more onions, Argentinians a little more beef.
Empanadas Mexicanas (Mexico): the pino filling, known as picadillo in Mexico, is common. Other possibilities are chile-seasoned and shredded chicken or beef topped with grated cheese. Moles are a popular filling in Oaxaca. Fruit filled empanadas are favorites everywhere.
Empanadas Venezolanas (Venezuela): made with the same dough used for arepas. Roll the dough out into rounds between plastic wrap, fill, seal and deep fry in hot oil. Popular fillings are meat, cheese, black beans and seafood.
Pastelillos (Puerto Rico): fill with pico (known as picadillo in Puerto Rico), shredded cheese or guava paste (guayaba).
Salteñas (Bolivia): a favorite for breakfast in Bolivia, sold by roadside vendors. Mix a little paprika or achiote oil into the dough to give it an authentic reddish-orange tinge. Make a chicken or beef stew with potatoes and peas. Spice it up with some cumin and hot chiles or cayenne pepper. Sweeten it with a big pinch of sugar. Then thicken it with a packet of plain gelatin (follow package directions) before cooling. Fill and bake as directed above.
Empanadas Dulces (Dessert empanadas): fill with fruit preserves (apple, pineapple, guava), dulce de leche, arroz con leche, or canned pumpkin. Sometimes a beaten egg is added to the pastry dough. Other recipes call for the addition of about 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Roll the dough out into large 6- to 8-inch rounds for individual portions sizes, or into 3- to 4-inch size to make appetizers. The pastry for empanadas is usually a pie-crust-like short dough made with lard or shortening. But recipes for the pastry vary as much as fillings. Puff pastry (hojaldre) is often used as a shortcut and can be found in pre-cut rounds in many Latin markets.
When you go ashore during your South America cruise or see these tasty treats being served onboard, be sure to give them a try.