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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

National Empanada Day

Empanadas and Other International Turnovers ©1983

Today I would like to share a few recipes which I have gleaned from a recipe book titled Empanadas & Other International Turnovers by George & Sherry LaFollette Zabriskie published by Clarkson N. Potter Inc. 1983. First, a little history about these little bundles of goodness.

What is an Empanada?

In its simplest form, an empanada is a crescent-shaped pastry which is filled with any variety of ingredients. Usually, an empanada is made by folding a thin circular-shaped dough patty over the stuffing, creating its typical semicircular shape. Think stuffed won ton. They are natives of Spain but are also known by a wide variety of regional names. The name empanada reveals why they are indeed the quintessential "finger food". Empanada means: "that which is covered with bread" In Spanish pan is the word for bread ada translates as "ed" and em is the same as the English im, therefore em-pan-ada is literally "im-bread-ed." Think stuffed sandwich. This ever popular street food began its travels in Spain and arrived in the New World via the Spanish conquistadors. Here is a nibble from the above book.

The empanada, like flamenco dancing, bullfighting and paella, comes from Spain. We can be certain because in a twelfth century cathedral honoring Spain's patron Saint James in Santiago de Campostela in the province of Galicia is a statue of a man eating an empanada.

The Galician Empanada (Empanadas Gallegas) is traditionally baked large in a round or square shape. They are cut into individual pieces and served. Usually they are filled with fish, meat or chicken that has been smothered with lots of red and green peppers and tons of onions. In Spanish speaking countries, empanadas are sold everywhere!

I have been known to indulge on empanadas at many a New York City street fair. The infinite varieties and fillings available in Manhattan are as diverse as the people themselves. At home, empanadas are the perfect leftover pouch. They can be presented as a "gourmet" meal and no one will ever know you cleaned out the fridge. The best part is you can use anything from store bought won tons to pizza dough as your pastry. Heck, I've even used those refrigerator rolls you find in the dairy aisle in a pinch. I "Italianize" them by sauteing ground up sausage meat, (not ground pork it doesn't have the same flavor for this) in home made pasta sauce (which is always in the freezer.) I add hot & sweet peppers and tons of onions. You would be surprised how well they stay together with a bit of coaxing and straining. My version has to be baked but you can fry empanadas also. Of course, my in a pinch way, doesn't produce the desired light, puffed up crust which is traditionally hoped for but, the leftovers are eaten and no one is the wiser. I suppose, that's why I'm a big fan of Empanadas. Sometimes, I go on an empanada kick concocting all sorts of fillings and pastries. They are just so versatile. I can't tell you how many times they saved dinner when I was working outside the home. A quick trip to the grocery store salad bar provided me with most of the ingredients and a mixed salad to boot! In my book, empanadas and salad are a perfect marriage.

Entertaining with empanadas is also quite rewarding. The smaller turnovers, empanadillas, are a wonderful addition to an evening tapas. They can be garnished with assorted sprigs and glazes and placed proudly among the other bite-sized treats. If you are worried about them not being warm enough, try a dessert empanada. Filled with fruits and dusted with powdered sugar the pastry turnover becomes a delicious dessert. Whether you prefer an English Cornish pasty, a Polish pierogi, tiny half mooned Russian piroshkis or an Indian samosa there's an infinite global variety of empanadas to experience.

The following recipe from the Empanada book mentioned above is for the pastry used to prepare the turnover. The authors claim that after years of experimenting with a number of different pastry recipes, the following recipe "is as close to perfection as they will ever get." It is also quick and easy to make only requiring about 10 minutes. The dough is elastic and tolerates a lot of handling without becoming either tough or brittle. Once baked, it stores and freezes well.

Quick & Easy Pastry
1/4 lb. unsalted butter or margarine @ room temp.
1/4 lb. (4oz) cream cheese @ room temp
1-1/2 c. unbleached flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. coriander (optional)
1/4 tsp. cider vinegar
2 tbs. very cold water or milk
1 tbs. vegetable oil
1 large egg beaten with 2 tbs. water (glaze)
  1. Preheat oven 400 degrees
  2. Using fork, combine butter or margarine and cream cheese
  3. Sift flour over this mixture. Add the baking powder, coriander if desired, vinegar, and water or milk and combine with fork.
  4. With generously floured hands, work the dough until you have a smooth, resilient ball, 3 to 4 minutes. At first the dough will stick to your fingers but keep working the flour into the other ingredients until the dough suddenly hold together.
  5. Flour both the work suface and your rolling pin, then roll out the pastry dough to about 1/8 to 1/16 inch thickness. Entree size should be thicker, hors d'oeuvre size thinner. Cut disks the desired size and set aside.When you have cut as many as possible, gather up the scraps and roll out again. Continue this process two or three times until there is not enough left to cut a disk. If you do not have at least 8 entrees or 20 hors d'oeuvre disks, you have not rolled out the pastry thin enough.
  6. Oil a large cookie sheet. Spoon 2 tbs. filling for entrees or 1 heaping teaspoon for hors d'oeuvre size empanadas on the disk, making sure the filling is in the center. Moisten the edge of the disk with the egg glaze. Carefully fold the pastry over the filling and crimp the edge seam with a clean, dry fork.
  7. Glaze the top of the pastry with the beaten egg mixture.
Bake in preheated oven 10-15 minutes for hors d'oeuvre, 15-20 minutes for entrees, or until golden brown. Cool on racks. Ed Note: Most filled empanadas can be made in large quantities, baked and frozen. To reheat, place frozen empanadas in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. No need to defrost them first.

Okay, so I have to include the following recipe for Baba Gannoujh Empanada.
1) I'm a HUGE eggplant fan. 2) I'm even a bigger Baba Ghanouj fan. 3) I didn't know Baba Gannoujh meant "spoiled old papa" in Lebanese. The recipe link above provides a charming story as to why...

Baba Gannoujh Empanada
1 large eggplant
3 tbs. finely chopped onion
2 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 c. chopped parsley
Fresh ground white pepper to taste
  1. Bake whole eggplant 1 hour at 350 degrees or until cooked through. Cool and set aside
  2. When eggplant is cool enough to handle, cut in half and scoop out pulp with a spoon into small mixing bowl. Discard the skin.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and mash together.
  4. Now you are ready to roll out and fill disks. Sprinkle with dried parsley, dillweed or paprika after you glaze.

I just couldn't resist including this recipe for Rumtopf Renouf Empanada also from the Empanadas book above.

Rumtopf Renouf Empanada
revised March 2013