Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Empanadas are a key part of Salteñan food. They are famous throughout Argentina. We have even been to a whole fair devoted to judging the best empanadas from about a hundred stalls. They are part of the global street food tradition that extends from Cornish pasties to curry puffs or samosas. Is anything quite as tasty as filling hidden in a pastry case?

Empanadas figure in almost all Latin American cuisines, with origins in the eating habits of the conquistadors. This method of preparation dates back to Galicia in the 10th century and was a part of medieval cooking in Europe. There are recipes for meat, and for seafood, empanadas in "Libro de guisados" by Ruperto de Nola (first published in 1525 in Toledo).

Empandas belong to the broad group called "pasties". They are packets of rolled dough containing an infinite variety of fillings. Their edges are sealed and they are then fried or baked according to the recipe. There is a wide range of pastries used for the outer package but an even greater variety of fillings. However for Latin America and especially Argentina the traditional basic formula is diced meat wrapped in a pastry of wheat flour bound with some form of fat. These days there is a diverse range of fillings deriving from the variety of ingredients found in each region. The pastries also offer a gamut of possibilities.

While the basis is simple attention must be paid to a number of factors determining the quality of the end product: The composition of the pastry and the temperature of the oven (or oil if frying) in which it will be cooked; experts agree the most important factor is the filling - especially the meat as about 80% of empanadas are meat ones. Here the question is not so much the composition of the filling as the method of cutting the meat: hand diced meat is much better than machine ground mince. The juiciness of the meat and thus the empanada depend on this.

Almost every province of Argentina have their typical empandas, and are distinguished by a special ingredient or combination of ingredients. Hard boiled eggs, olives, capsicum and potatoes are among these. There are also differences in the spiciness between different provinces. Size is another factor: Salteñan empanadas are spicy and smaller than the milder ones found in Mendosa. The northwest, especially Salta and Tucuman, is a nucleus where the recipe resembles that which arrived from urban "creole" Peru. In Salta empanadas are often served with "salsa picante" a mildly chili spiced tomato sauce.

Recipe: Salteñan Empanadas a la Color Maïs

500g beef (any thin, about 1cm thick, low fat cut)
1 medium onion
1 medium potato
Lard or oil 50g
3 eggs
Spring onions
Pimentón (paprika)
Ground chilli
500g Type 000 Flour
100g lard (fat from under the skin of the animal)
200mL Boiled water
10g salt
Note: the key to a great filling is everything being carefully cut into fine cubes.
Place the meat in steaks in a pot of boiling water and simmer until changes colour to white (this makes the meat easier to cut into cubes). Drain and cut into fine (1/2cm) cubes.
Meanwhile, cut the onion into fine dice and sweat in fat and a little salt until translucent but not caramelised. Add the previously chopped meat. The potato is also cut into small cubes and then boiled in a separate pan, just covered in water with a little salt, and set aside until the end. Boil the eggs for 9 minutes and then set aside.

Once the meat and onion are cooked add chilli and paprika and cook another 2 minutes. Finally add the cumin and remove from heat.

Incorporate the potato and its cooking liquid into the meat mixture. The addition of the water lends the potato starch that helps to thicken the mixture while keeping it moist. Spread the mix in a wide dish and top with mashed boiled eggs and the finely chopped green portion of the spring onions. Set aside to cool.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and add salt, melted fat and incorporate flour. Finally add the water.
Form into a dough and knead for 5 minutes. Rest for 5 minutes covered.
Roll out to 1-2mm think and cut into rounds using a number 10 cutter (about 8cm). This is much easier if you use a pasta machine (to setting 3). Alternatively balls of mixture can be hand rolled with a pin.

Forming the empanadas:
Place a spoonful of mixture (incorporating meat, egg and spring onion) on pastry round. Enclose mixture and seel edges firmly to form a semi circle. Fold edge over and over to give the rounded pleat edge. If this proves too difficult a pastry wheel or the tongs of a fork also work to seal the edge but don´t look as pretty.

This is easier to understand if you watch the video below.

Bake in a very hot oven until brown - about 10 mins.

You can experiment with the fillings. Some ideas I´ve tried with success are pumpkin and goats cheese and leftover quinoa and charqui stew.


At July 2, 2007 at 6:21 AM , Blogger Benjamin said...

I'm so glad we found this entry. Hopefully Shannon will try cooking them before you come back.


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