Latin Turnovers—Empanadas

September 28, 2009

The belly rules the mind.
~Spanish proverb

From Africa to Iberia to Latin America.

Flavorous hot pockets to go. Served with a variety of both savory and sweet fillings, the word empanada derives from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to “wrap or coat in bread.” Empanadas may have descended from muaajanat bi sabaniq maa lahm, the pleasing spinach and meat stuffed pastries introduced to the Iberian peninsula during the lengthy Arab occupation which began in the 8th century. (See Paella, 02.13.09)

Usually, an empanada is made by folding a thin circular-shaped dough patty over a stuffing du jour, creating its typical half moon shape. It is probable that the Latin American empanadas were imported from Galicia, Spain, where they are prepared similar to pies that are cut in slices…making it a portable yet hearty meal for working stiffs. The Galician version is customarily prepared with cod fish or chicken, but empanadas have evolved to include fruits, meats, cheeses, fish, chiles, vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts, eggs—to name a few.

LAMB EMPANADAS

Dough
3 C unbleached all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
5 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg
2/3 C water

Filling
1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
1 poblano chile, stemmed, seeded, roasted, and skin peeled
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1 bay leaf
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 lbs lamb, coarsely ground
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t paprika
5 cloves, ground
1/2 C raisins
1/4 C black cured olives, pitted
1/2 T apple cider vinegar
1 bay leaf

1/4 C slivered almonds, toasted
3 T cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt, to taste

Canola oil for frying

Dough
Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small butter lumps. Whisk together egg and water, and then add to flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then massage gently for a few minutes—just enough to bring the dough together and make it smooth. Form dough into two equally sized balls and chill them, each wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour to rest.

Filling
Place the tomatoes and chile in a food processor or blender and purée.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and bay leaf, and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Add the lamb to the pan and cook until browned. Drain off the rendered fat and discard the bay leaf.

To the skillet, add the pepper, cinnamon, paprika, cloves, raisins, olives, and vinegar. Simmer until thick, about 35-45 minutes. The filling should be firm in texture and moist but not runny. Then stir in the almonds and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and allow to cool to room temperature.

Assembly
Divide first dough and half of second dough into 12 equal pieces and form each into a disk. Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out a portion of the dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 6″ round (about 1/8″ thick).

Lightly brush the edges of the circle with water and spoon about 2-3 tablespoons filling onto one side. Then, fold dough in half, enclosing filling. Expell as much air as possible, and press the edges together to seal. Crimp decoratively with your fingers or tines of a fork. Transfer empanada to a baking sheet. Make remaining empanadas in same manner, arranging on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Pourboire: You may also use an empanada mold to create the pies.

Cooking
Pour canola oil to a depth of 1″ in frying pan and heat to 375 F. Fry the empanadas a few at a time until deep golden, about 2-3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in an oven on low.

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.
~William Blake

The Tour has moved beyond the fluid team time trial in Montpellier, down the coast to Barcelona and has now begun the up the crucial mountain ascents in the Pyrenées into Andorra. Here, the wheat begins to separate from the chaff in the peloton. The sprinters and time trial specialists who mastered the relative flats in earlier stages will now hit the proverbial wall in the mountains while the seemingly indefatigable climbers take center stage.

With its deep canyons, folded mountains and virid upland meadows, the breathtaking Pyrenées form a natural geographic border between France and Spain, separating the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of continental Europe—leaving the independent principality of Andorra sandwiched in between. A rugged, yet supple range. Even if you do not share my regard for the cycling world, it is worth following the coverage for the eye-popping scenery alone.

The Tour organizers classify mountain stage climbs by number based upon difficulty, ranging from category 4 (easiest) to category 1 (hardest). The most arduous climbs are so agonizingly steep, they are considered beyond category, or hors catégorie (HC)…suited only for even the most tireless mountain goats.

Categorizing climbs has both objective and subjective components. There is consistency for the most part, but no hard and fast rules. The length of the climb, the gradient, and where the climb is positioned in the stage are the most common variables considered. The elevation of the climb’s summit and the width and condition of the road are sometimes taken into account.

But, back to food. As we get a last whiff of Spain in this Tour, it seems only natural to add some more tapas (pinchos or pintxos in the Basque Country) to the table.

Piperada, a sauté of multicolored peppers and garlic of Basque origin has a close French cousin called Pipérade (often sans tomatoes)—a condiment which has broad use with eggs, fish, poultry, and pizzas. Ajo Blanco is not some nouvelle creation. Rather, this almond, garlic and grape gazpacho is the Andalucían ancestor of red gazpacho, the renowned tomato based cold soup. Remember, tomatoes were not brought to Spain until discovered by explorers in Peru and Mexico in the New World, so ajo blanco was the forerunner of the red variety which has become so modish.

PIPERADA (EGGS BASQUE STYLE)

4 T extra virgin olive oil
2 small yellow onions, peeled and finely diced
3 Anaheim peppers, stemmed, seeded and sliced into thin strips
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced into thin strips
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 slices serrano ham, cut into strips
2 medium tomatoes, chopped

See salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
6 organic, free range eggs

Sheep’s cheese, such as Idiazabal or Manchego, thinly sliced
Sliced baguettes

Preheat oven to 400

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium high and sauté the onions, peppers, and garlic until tender. Fold in the ham and tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until almost done as they will cook some with the eggs later.

Place cheese slices on bread and place in oven until melted.

Reduce heat to medium low and whisk the eggs together. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the vegetable and ham mixture and cook until the eggs are thick but still soft. Serve eggs with cheese topped baguette slices on the side.

AJO BLANCO (WHITE GAZPACHO)

3/4 C lightly toasted almonds
2 plump cloves fresh garlic, peeled and smashed
2 C white seedless grapes
1 C white grape juice
1/2 C water
1 t sea salt
2 slices baguette, crusts removed and torn

1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
2 T sherry
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Mint, for garnish

Red and white seedless grapes, sliced in halves for garnish

Place almonds, garlic, grapes, grape juice, water, and bread in a blender and purée by bursts until fairly smooth. Do not overblend the mixture. Strain the contents through a fine sieve into a bowl and discard the solids. Chill the soup in a covered bowl for at least 1 hour.

Remove soup from refrigerator and fold the whipped cream into the soup with a few tablespoons each of the sherry and olive oil. Place four grape halves in the bottom of each shallow soup bowl. Ladle the ajo blanco into the bowls over the grapes at the table. Garnish with a couple of mint leaves in each bowl.