Tango's dinner thread gave me the idea to start a thread for all of us to share our favourite recipes. I love learning to cook dishes from different regions, and would love to read about any of your own creations (or how you tweaked a classic recipe to better suit your taste).
I'll start with an Argentine classic: empanadas. These are extremely popular here, meat filled ones are the most common.
I wrote this recipe a few years back for some of my gringo friends living in Buenos Aires, so it has some advice (like which cuts of meat to ask the butcher for) that won't do you any good in the US. But I included all the info needed to make them outside Argentina, where things like the ready made empanada disks might not be available (although I've found "La Salteña" brand disks in the States).
FRANCISCO’S FAMOUS EMPANADAS
Empanadas are very easy to make, you just have to keep a few tips in mind. This is the recipe for traditional meat empanadas.
-meat. You can use any kind of lean meat, lomo, bola de lomo, anything without too much fat. If you're in Argentina you can get any kind of meat that's cut for milanesas, it's easier to dice since it's already sliced. Half a kilo of meat is enough for a dozen, or a dozen and a half empanadas (depending on the size of your empanada disks and on how much filling you use in each of them).
-potatoes (optional, used often in Northwest of Argentina)
-dried chile peppers (if you want them spicy)
-salt and pepper
-lard, butter or vegetable oil (corn or sunflower oil works best). The traditional way to make them is using lard, but those of you who insist on clinging to life might want to try regular cooking oil.
-olives (green or black, although green ones work better)
-empanada disks (I know, you just can't walk into a supermarket in Geneva and get them, will address that in a minute)
The empanada dough disks are quite important. In Argentina you'll find them easily at the supermarket. I like "La Salteña" brand because they are super easy to work with, their "criollo" disks are the best to learn with.
You'll find several different kinds of empanada disks, first you've got to choose whether you want to fry or to bake your empanadas, and choose "masa para horno" (for the oven) or "masa para
freir" (the one you can deep fry). Your next choice will be between the regular, sometimes called "tapas para empanada criollas" or the crunchier, crispier, “tapas para empanada hojaldradas". It's just a matter of personal taste, but bear in mind that the regular disks are easier to work with.
If you're in one of those sad countries that don't know the pleasure of empanada eating, you'll have to make your own dough or--and this is a great option for the lazy cooks--buy a pie crust and just cut the disks out of it.
This is what you'll need to make your own "masa criolla":
-1/2 kilo of flour
-1 egg (some people use two, that's up to you)
-75 grams of lard or butter
-A spoonful of oil (don't use olive oil)
Make a small volcano with the flour, and place the egg (do I need to tell you to crack it first?), lard and salt in the crater of your formidable flour volcano. Get your paws in there and kneed the dough
until it's nice and smooth. Let it sit for half an hour, ideally an hour, covered with a moist cloth before using it. I don't know why you've got to let it sit, but that's how my granny does it and she
makes killer empanadas.
Use a rolling pin to spread the dough on a counter and cut out the disks, a diameter of between 10 and 15 centimeters is OK. Just remember that bigger empanadas are more difficult to handle. Another method is to roll the dough into a cylinder then cut it in 3 centimeter long pieces and then spread them. Do it however you like it, cookie cutters are allowed (there are even some empanada cutting gimmicks out there).
Cooking the filling
Chop the onions, peppers, green onions, olives (don't chop them too finely). Boil the eggs and chop them, dice the potatoes and boil them. Chop the meat. So, in nutshell, chop the living crap out of everything within your reach (try to spare the empanada disks, though).
Be careful with the potatoes, you don't want to make them too soft and mushy. In fact, since the empanadas are going to be in the oven for about 20 minutes you can boil the potatoes just a bit less than normal (don't leave them too raw!). It's easy; just don't screw the damned potatoes up.
Dice the meat in small chunks, but not too small. Yes, you could save yourself some work and use ground beef, but that's just plain wrong. Knife-cut meat is a lot better than the little pieces of ground beef, any Argentine worth his salt will only resort to ground beef in an emergency. True empanadas use hand cut meat, and that's all there's to it. And yes, I do take my meat seriously.
Heat up a pan, melt some lard (a big spoonful) and fry the peppers and onions (not the green onions!). When the onions are beginning to look a bit transparent throw in the meat and cook it. Add the cumin, paprika, salt pepper and whatever other spices you like (cumin is of paramount importance, that's the only one you shouldn't change), add some chile peppers if you like your empanadas hot and spicy.
The key to great empanadas is juiciness, a dry filling leads to substandard empanadas, and we can't allow that. The trick is using a bouillon cube, just dissolve it in a small pot full of water. After
you’re done cooking the meat, add a few spoonfuls of bouillon to the mix to keep it nice and juicy, don't worry about putting too much broth in there. It goes without saying that you should use beef bouillon.
Once everything is cooked add the green onions, eggs, potatoes and olives. Meat should be the main ingredient, but you have to make sure that if you take a scoop of stuffing you'll get at least a little of each of the ingredients. Remember not to chop things to finely, or you'll end up with a paste instead of a nice chunky empanada filling.
Wrapping it up
Let the filling cool down, put it in the fridge and go read a book or something. You can even prepare the filling the day before, this gives the meat and potatoes lots of time to suck in the flavours from all the spices. Don't try to use hot filling, it makes closing the empanadas a messy business, trust me it's another tip from my granny.
If you're using La Salteña empanada disks, wisely following your teacher's advice, you'll notice that one side of the disk has a little flour on it and the other looks a bit glossy (the glossy side is
covered by a plastic film that keeps the disks separate). You want to put the filling on the glossy side of the disk (which is a bit sticky) and hold the other side (which won't stick) on the palm of your hand.
If you made your own dough (way to go!) or just got cocky and decided to try another empanada disk brand, keep a small pot with water handy (to help you seal the empanadas) and sprinkle a little flour on one side of the disks so they don't stick to your hands.
Hold the disk in the palm of your hand and put a spoonful of filling in the center. If you stuff them with too much filling, they are going to open up in the oven, and that would be a nasty mess. Press the edges together, I find it easier to first pinch the top, then the ends and finally seal the whole thing. The "repulgue" (that fancy looking twist you see on empanada edges) is actually easy to do if you use the right amount of filling and the disk isn't sticking to your hand, but it is hard to explain without actually showing you an empanada. The easiest way to finish an empanada is just pressing over the edges with a fork, this is commonly done with tuna fish empanadas and it's a great way to get lots of empanadas done quickly.
Try to play around with the "repulgues", as long as you make sure that the empanadas are sealed tight and won't open up in the oven, looks don't matter. Good empanada disks and a proper amount of cold filling go a long way in making a nice looking repulgue. The more traditional way of folding empanadas is to use your index finger and thumb, press on the edge and fold that part in, press again on the edge of the previous fold, and fold that piece in. If this makes no sense, just
hold an empanada while you read it and you'll see what I mean.
Make sure to get enough of each ingredient and some juice into each empanada. Some people paint the edges of the empanada disks with egg whites, to make them stick better.
Beat one or two eggs and use a brush to paint the empanadas before getting them into the oven. This will give them that nice golden colour and, once you master "repulgues" they'll look just like the ones at restaurants. You can stick them with a fork so they don't bloat in the oven, but that's not necessary if you did everything right. DON'T PAINT YOUR EMPANADAS IF YOU'RE GOING TO FRY THEM!!
Throw those finished empanadas into a pre-heated oven (with the flames set on high) for about 15-20 minutes. Take them out as soon as the dough is golden. Remember to put some oil on the pan you’re using so they don't stick to it.
That's all folks!
Here are some pics of my latest batch of empanadas, cooked at a small hunting cabin before heading out on a long hike. They make awesome trail food! I added some locally picked mushrooms to the filling instead of potatoes.