December 25, 2010

Beef Empanadas

The empanada is a staple of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American cuisine.  It is, essentially, a pastry dough wrapped around some sort of filling, usually including spiced meat of some sort... more or less a meat turnover, to use familiar American terminology.  Different traditions and regional cuisines favor different sorts of fillings.  The version I made a couple weeks ago is probably more typical of the Argentinian version of the dish than any other.  Based on recipes I've looked at, the combination of hard-boiled eggs, olives and raisins with the spiced meat seems to be particularly common as a filling in Argentina. 

The basic recipe I went with is one of my own, which I made a few times several years ago, fine-tuning it during that time.   Instead of the crust recipe I'd been using, though, I went with one presented in the May, 2010 issue of Cook's Illustrated.  That recipe, which is a variation of CI's deservedly famous vodka pie crust, looked likely to be better than the fairly bland one I'd used in the past.   It turns out I was right.  Just as when one makes it for pie, and despite the inclusion of masa harina corn flour, the crusts of the empanadas turned out nicely crispy and flaky.

Unfortunately, since the crust part of the recipe is direct from Cook's Illustrated, I can't include it here.  I did write the CI editors and ask for permission to include it in this post (with appropriate credit given, of course), but since that was over two weeks ago and I've heard absolutely nothing in that time, I'm going to take their lack of response as a denial of my request.  So, I present my recipe for filling, assembling and baking the empanadas below, but do not specify a crust recipe.  If you're interested in seeking it out, you can check out the CI recipe on their website with a paid or free (temporary) membership.  Otherwise, you might go with a favored pie crust recipe, or use a pre-made pie crust (Cook's Country recommends Pillsbury Just Unroll Pie Crust in their recipe for Quick Beef Empanadas).

Beef Empanadas

yield = 12 empanadas (serves 6 as a main course)

1       tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil + 5 tablespoons for cooking
2       medium onions, chopped fine
4       teaspoons minced garlic
1       teaspoon ground cumin
1       teaspoon Mexican oregano, crushed
1/2    teaspoon cinnamon
1/2    teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/2    teaspoon salt
1/4    teaspooon cayenne pepper
2       tablespoons tomato paste
1       pound 85% lean ground beef
2       hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped
1/2    cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2    cup raisins, coarsely chopped
1/3    cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
1       tablespoon cider vinegar
         pie crust dough of choice (see above)

Heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add onion and cook, stirring often, until it is starting to brown. Add garlic, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, pepper, salt and cayenne and cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. 

Stir in tomato paste and cook 1 minute then add beef and cook until browned.  Transfer mixture to a bowl and cook 10 minutes or so, then stir in eggs, cilantro, raisins, olives and vinegar.  Refrigerate until cool.

Place two baking sheets in oven and heat to 425 degrees.  While the oven is heating up, assemble the empanadas by putting about 1/3 cup of filling into the center of round pieces of pie dough about 6 inches in diameter.  Brush the edges of the dough with water, fold the dough over the filling and seal the edges by pinching or crimping w/ a fork. 

 Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over each baking sheet then return to the oven for 2-3 minutes.  Brush the empanadas lightly with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Arrange 6 empanadas on each baking sheet and cook until well-browned, about 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheets (front to back and high rack to low) after about 15 minutes.  Cook on a wire rack and serve.

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