I wasn’t kissing her, I was whispering in her mouth.
~Chico Marx

As a late teen first visiting Paris, I was struck (even smitten) by the provocative public displays of affection on the streets, in parks and cafés. Passionate and intimate — open mouthed, deep kisses, with cuddles and caresses. Face dwellers. Blissfully awesome came to mind then and now. In the puritanical States though, you are ridiculed, derided for such shameless ardor. Frowned upon here, public kissers are brusquely advised to “get a room.” I mean, God forbid you be so deeply enamored with each other that you really do not give a damn about those leering, envious “get a life” voyeurs. Just that kind of “refulgent” act that no doubt makes Sarah Palin feel “squirmish” (sp?). Maybe she should stick to more basic, monosyllabic words, like “dolt.”

Thankfully, face whiffing and canoodling in public venues have now become national pasttimes in Mexico. In 2009, nearly 40,000 people gathered at Zocalo Square in Mexico City to break the tally for the most people kissing at one moment. This Valentine’s Day simultaneous smooching was dubbed Besame Mucho or “Kiss Me A Lot”. The intense, overt sensuality of young and old has continued forward with lovers inveterately kissing and ardently embracing in and near squares and promenades in Mexico’s most populus city.

Ah, to create a culture of sweet, tender mercies with those ever expressive, soft yet hot kisses…panochitas.

While my preference would be fresh tomatoes or tomatillos or both, the earthy sundried ones are a luscious substitute in the off season. Then, fast forward to late summer and replace the sundried ones with home grown or farmers’ market beauties—even heirlooms. A third option is to boil about a half dozen fresh, husked and washed, medium tomatillos in salted water until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain well and zip in a blender or food processor.

GUACAMOLE & SUNDRIED TOMATOES

1/2 medium white onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/3 C sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 C loosely packed, chopped fresh cilantro leaves

4 medium large ripe avocados
Sea salt
Fresh lime juice

Queso fresco crumbled, for garnish
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Radishes, halved and thinly sliced, for garnish

In a medium bowl, mix the onion, garlic and chiles with the sundried tomatoes and cilantro.

Close to when you are going to serve, halve the avocados lengthwise by cutting from stem to stern and back again, then twist the two halves apart. Dislodge the pit with the blade and scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl with a spoon. Roughly mash the avocados into a coarsely textured, thick mash. You probably want some chunk.

Taste and season with salt and lime juice to suit your personal preferences.

Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate until ready to serve. Mound the guacamole in a serving dish, and serve with queso fresco, cilantro and radishes.

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Without rice, even the cleverest housewife cannot cook.
~Chinese proverb

Another culinary history debate? Another being of undecided ancestry? Another grain in progenitor limbo?

Some claim rice was introduced to Mexico during Spanish colonization via the galleon trade route from Manila to Acapulco, known as the Nao de China. The story goes that over a millenium before, marauding North African Moors acquainted the Iberian peninsula with rice which ultimately led to this Mexican import centuries later. Others, however, fervently assert that the region’s earliest rice cultivars arrived in slave ships from West Africa. Is this yet another example of black history erased? There are ethnographic, historic and genetic markers supporting, fusing and refuting both theories which just cannot be fully fleshed out here. Common threads exist though: conquest, occupation, ships and food.

Polemics aside, rice is and has been extensively cultivated in Vera Cruz, Campeche and other flood plain regions in Mexico. The two basic varieties of rice grown in Mexico are Sinaloa (long grain) and Morelos (short grain), joined by a number of sub-versions.

Arroz a la Mexicana does differ from Spanish rice, although some use the names interchangeably. The Mexican version derives its reddish hue from tomatoes, while Spanish rice is tinted with saffron.

This is simple, almost requisite, table fare. A traditional rice sidled up to tomatoes, onion and garlic all blithely bathed in broth. This version adds a poblano chile and carrot—maybe even peas or giblets if the urge strikes.

The initial browning is essential and imparts a rich, nutty flavor to the rice.

MEXICAN RICE (ARROZ A LA MEXICANA)

3 C chicken broth

2 T canola or extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 C long grained rice
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

1 15 oz can high quality peeled tomatoes, drained and seeded
1 t cumin, toasted and ground
Pinch of sea salt

1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 large poblano chile, roasted, peeled and chopped
1/2 C chicken giblets, chopped (optional)

Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Heat chicken broth to a gentle simmer.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and onion and cook, stirring, until both are just lightly browned, about 7-10 minutes. During the last minute, add the garlic.

Purée the tomatoes in a food processor or blender. Add the puréed tomatoes, cumin and salt to the browned rice mixture and cook for a minute, stirring. Add the warm broth, carrot, poblano chile and optional giblets. Stir, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Resist the urge to peek, but the rice is done when small dimples appear on the surface, sometimes called “fish eyes.” Set aside off heat, still covered, to allow the rice to absorb the rest of the moisture in the steam and swell, about another 10-15 minutes.

Add cilantro to the rice, fluffing with a fork. Serve.

For years, I have consistently held that fear will be the bane of the 21st century. Well financed, unfettered fearmongering is America’s true threat. Fear and ignorance—those two tawdry bedmates ever entwined on that grimy mattress askew on the floor in that lurid, dimly lit room—are always breeding racism and bigotry. Fear and ignorance of things large and small will prove to be our downfall.

This evening, I watched the Phoenix Suns (led by immigrant Hall of Fame guard Steve Nash) in the Western conference semifinals game proudly wearing their jerseys emblazoned with Los Suns. The players were honoring the Latino community and the diversity of the league. The gesture also was protesting an anti-immigrant bill enacted by the Arizona legislature which they found intolerant and incompatible with basic fairness and equal protection under the law. Kudos to their sensitivity and willingness to step beyond the arc to deliver a timely shot on Cinco de Mayo.

Fittingly, the Suns’ game was preceded by a documentary called Inside the Reich.

Last month, Arizona’s El Gobernador Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, sophistically entitled “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” A deceivingly kind and gentle name for such a loathsome law. This measure obligates police to ascertain a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an illegal alien. If you look like an illegal alien, and have no papers on your person, then you are simply taken into custody. Even inducing illegal immigration, giving shelter to illegal immigrants, or transporting an illegal alien, either knowingly or while recklessly disregarding the individual’s immigration status subjects you to arrrest. So, not only are police required to profile, but regular citizens are as well. It seems should you heedlessly fail to determine the “immigration status” of anyone in your car or truck, you have committed a crime.

Please do not be duped by radical idealogues or the culturally inane. This bill invites racial profiling and is imbued with prejudice based upon skin color and linguistic variety. This bill is a feeble attempt at legally enforcing homogeneity. In the land of the eternal tan, brown skin has become a basis for interrogation?

Sadly, other state legislatures are eyeing copycat legislation. Legal challenges over the bill’s constitutionality, fevered protests, and economic boycotts are already underway.

(Just a brief reminder. True Arizonans were and are the native American tribes who were summarily displaced by white conquerors. The state was formerly Mexican territory until the Mexican-American War otherwise called The U.S. Invasion by most latinos. This conflict was driven by the imperialist notion of Manifest Destiny. The belief that America had a divine right to expand the country’s borders from sea to shining sea, and his purported concerns over “national security” were the pretenses behind President Polk seeking out military conflict. Sounds eerily familiar. Based on forked-tongue rhetoric, the U.S. government invaded Mexico and unjustly seized large tracts of land, including Arizona…a region which attained statehood merely 98 years ago.)

Arizona’s knee jerk reactionary bill must be replaced by a reasoned policy of understanding — one that makes economic, legal, social, historical, and moral sense.

Ironically and thankfully, Mexican food is supremely genuine and devoid of such duplicity. Tacos al Carbón, meaning tacos cooked over charcoal, are such honest fare. They are quintessential backyard-balcony-picnic-tailgate eats.

TACOS AL CARBÓN

1 medium white onion, peeled and roughly chopped
5 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 C freshly squeezed lime juice
1 t cumin seeds, toasted and freshly ground
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 poblano chiles, stemmed, halved and seeded
4 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, halved and seeded
2 medium white onions, peeled and sliced into thick rounds
1 1/2 lb beef skirt, flank or sirloin steak, trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Cilantro, chopped
Lime wedges
12 corn or flour tortillas, heated

In a food processor or blender combine the chopped white onion, garlic, lime juice, cumin, salt and pepper. Process to a smooth puree and smear the over both sides of the skirt steak in a baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Prepare the charcoal fire to medium high. Leave a lower area of the coals for less intense, indirect cooking.

Arrange the chiles on the grill, and cook, turning occasionally until the skin is blistered and uniformly blackened all over, about 5 minutes. Remove the chiles from the grill and cover well. After they reach room temperature, remove the charred skin and slice.

Meanwhile, brush the onion slices with olive oil and lay the whole rounds of onions on the grill. Grill until they soften and are lightly browned, about 10 minutes per side. Gently separate the grilled rings.

Remove the steak from the marinade and place it on the grill. Grill, turning once, until medium rare, about 2-3 minutes per side.

Before filling the tacos, heat over the grill until they just become pliable. Alternatively, place several wrapped in aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 400 F for about 8-10 minutes.

Carve the grilled steak on a bias across the grain into thin strips. Loosely mix with the chiles and onions, season to taste and serve with the lime wedges, cilantro and tortillas.

The flute is not an instrument that has a good moral effect; it is too exciting.
~Aristotle

Flautas (derived from Spanish for “flute”) are simply made by tightly wrapping a tortilla around a savory filling and then deep frying the tightly formed cylinder. Now, a soft debate exists about differentiating a classic flauta from a taquito…with some asserting that flautas are made with larger (hence longer) flour tortillas while standard taquitos are made with smaller (hence shorter) corn tortillas. Others believe the flauta v. taquito nomenclature itself is blurred and has little to do with the finished product. For example, flautas are often cooked using corn and flour tortillas. With all due respect to the food gods and as often holds true in life, names seem to end in a distinction without a difference.

With a touch of shame, I do admit to some diversion. Customarily, flautas (or taquitos) are made with shredded chicken, so this recipe veers some. But, should you wish to go traditional—simply use chicken from succulent roasted, braised or chicken-rescued-from-broth pulled into shreds and shards for the filling.

FLAUTAS WITH SALSA VERDE & SALSA ROJA

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Dried oregano

Zest of 1 lime
1/2 C fresh lime juice
4 fresh plump garlic cloves, halved and crushed
2 jalepeño chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced or finely minced
2 T apple cider vinegar
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 cinnamon stick, halved
Cilantro, roughly chopped

Corn torillas
Canola oil, for cooking

Season the chicken pieces with salt, pepper and oregano. Combine 8 remaining marinade ingredients in a bowl and then toss well with chicken in a heavy plastic bag. Seal well and place in refrigerator overnight.

Salsa Verde (Green Salsa)

1 pound tomatillos (10-12 medium), husked and rinsed
8 large garlic cloves, peels left on
1-2 jalepeño chiles, stemmed
1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 C cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Sea salt

Preheat broiler

Spread tomatillos, garlic, onions and chiles on a baking sheet and put under the broiler. Broil for about 5 minutes, until you see blackened, charred spots on the vegetables. Flip them over and roast until they become darkened, juicy, and soft.
Transfer these roasted ingredients and some of the cilantro into a food processor, and blend into a coarse purée. Add a little bit of water if necessary to attain your desired consistency. Add salt to taste, and the rest of the cilantro leaves.

Salsa Roja (Red Salsa)

4 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 pound (10 to 12 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Sea salt
Sugar or honey, about 1/2 teaspoon (optional)

Preheat broiler

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chiles, stirring for 1 minute, until they are very aromatic. Take care not to overcook as they can become bitter. Transfer to a bowl, cover with hot water and rehydrate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, roast the tomatillos and garlic on a baking sheet under a hot broiler until the tomatillos are soft, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes per side, and the garlics are soft. Cool, remove skins from garlics.

Drain the chiles well and add to the tomatillos and garlic, then transfer the ingredients to a blender or food processor. Blend into a coarse purée, then scrape into a serving dish. If necessary, during the blending process stir in enough water to attain desired consistency. Season with salt to your liking.

Flautas

Bring chicken in marinade to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and pound with a mallet until thin. In a heavy skillet, saute the chicken thighs for only a couple of minutes per side until just medium rare, then thinly slice.

Heat heavy, deep skillet with canola oil 2″ deep. Once hot (about 375 F) add corn tortilla for a few seconds to soften and then drain on paper towels. Lay in thinly sliced chicken, roll and secure with with a toothpick. Gently place back into the hot oil and cook until light golden brown; turn and finish cooking. Let cool some and remove toothpicks. Serve with salsa verde, salsa roja and crema or sour cream–all in separate bowls—or spread artfully on an open plate topped with the flautas that are sprinkled with crumbled queso fresco.

The Whole Enchilada

October 5, 2009

If God dwells inside us like some people say, I sure hope He likes enchiladas, because that’s what He’s getting.
~Jack Handy

Keeping in line with the Mexican theme—a cuisine seemingly and sometimes sadly overlooked. To outrightly dismiss, bastardize or usurp a sacrosanct ethnic gastronomy is troubling and almost a form of cultural cleansing. Entiende, comprende Taco Bell?

The word enchilada which loosely comes from the Spanish enchilar meaning “donned in chile.” Do not be fooled by the unadorned nomenclature as it belies this beloved, piquant fare, so despite misconceptions, one classic fine dining experience awaits me.

CHICKEN ENCHILADAS

2 28-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes, drained
2 poblano chiles, stemmed
2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed

2 T canola oil
1 medium white onion, peeled and chopped
2 C chicken broth
Sea salt
3/4 C crema or crème fraîche*
2-3 C grilled or roasted chicken dark meat, coarsely shredded
1 C asadero, chihuahua and/or monterey jack cheese, grated

12 corn tortillas
Canola oil, for brushing

Radishes, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Queso fresco, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 F

In a heavy skillet, dry roast the chiles over medium heat, turning occasionally, until soft and blackened, about 5-7 minutes. Place in a blender or food processor along with the drained canned tomatoes. Blend to a smooth purée.

In a heavy bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until translucent but before fully caramelized, about 7-9 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high, and stir in the tomato purée. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened to a smooth paste, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the broth, and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Taste and season with a pinch or so of salt. The sauce should be like a thick cream soup in consistency.

Stir the crema or crème fraiche into the sauce. Put the chicken in a bowl and stir 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce mixture into it. Season to taste with salt.

Lay the tortillas out on a baking sheet or two, and lightly brush both sides of the tortillas with oil. Bake just to warm through and soften, about 3 minutes. Stack the tortillas and cover with a towel to keep warm.

Spread about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ baking dish. Lay some chicken filling into each tortilla, and then quickly yet gently roll each one up with your fingers. Arrange them in the baking dish in line, seam side down. Ladle evenly with more sauce, then sprinkle with the melting cheese. Allow the ends of the tortillas to be free of sauce. Slip in the oven and bake until the enchiladas are hot and the cheese just browned, about 10-15 minutes. Garnish with radish slices, cilantro, and queso fresco.

Serve promptly as enchiladas tend to turn mushy with time.

*Crème Fraîche

2 C heavy whipping cream
1/4 C buttermilk

In a medium heavy saucepan over low heat, warm the cream, but do not simmer or boil. Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk. Transfer the to a medium bowl and allow to stand covered with plastic wrap until thickened but still of pouring consistency. Stir every 6 hours for one day. The crème fraîche is ready when it is thick with a slightly nutty sour taste. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours before using. Crème fraîche may be made and stored in a jar the refrigerator for up to one week.

(Cooking) is a form of flattery….a mischievous, deceitful, mean and ignoble activity, which cheats us by shapes and colors, by smoothing and draping…
~Plato

The etymology of the word tacos—tortillas rolled around food—was derived from the Mexican Spanish, “light lunch,” or more literally, “plug, wadding.” Taco is a broadly applied generic term much like the English word “sandwich.”

The word has multiple meanings, from the culinary to some nether worlds. For instance, there are over 50 references to the term “taco” in the online slang lexicon Urban Dictionary, some of which are undeviatingly anatomical and may offend a few readers’ sensibilities. So they will not bear repetition, as what some find humorous or titillating others deem crude. Then again, who am I to be the arbiter of the definition of obscene? Even Justice Potter Stewart vainly struggled with the lewdness issue once and was left with the enigmatic: “(b)ut, I know it when I see it.” Now, that is one concrete translation which only leaves you to ponder when he saw it, where he saw it, or what he saw. Somehow brings to mind the image of an elderly, yet scholarly looking man with styleless glasses, a starched collar, dark tie and flowing black robes peering into a poor quality video in a tawdry booth. A neon OPEN 24 HOURS spasmodically blinks outside. “I’ll know it when I see it,” he murmurs into the night.

The mainstay of the Mexican diet was, and still is, the ever versatile tortilla which is the “bread of life” for tacos. Eaten as an entrée or one of the world’s most supreme street snacks, tacos come in seemingly endless varieties according to geography, local ingredients, and the kitchen itself…folded, rolled, soft, fried…tacos de cazuela (with stew fillings), tacos de la plancha (griddle cooked), tacos al carbón (charcoal grilled meats), tacos a vapor (steamed beef head meat), tacos de canasta (tacos in a basket), tacos dorados (crisply fried), tacos de harina (soft flour, burrito-like).

As with pizzas, pastas and paninis, please do not overburden your tortilla with a spate of insipid fillings. And as a warning to those who fear the wrath of the taco gods, avoid those crisp bent tacos brimming with bland ground beef, iceberg lettuce and cheddar cheese. You know who you are.

To warm tortillas, tightly wrap 6-8 in aluminum foil and place in an oven at 375 F for 8-10 minutes.

TACOS DE CAMARONES (SHRIMP TACOS)

1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined (16-20 count)
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 T brandy
Sea salt
2 T fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1/2 red onion, peeled and diced
1 tomato, cored, seeded and diced
6 radishes, trimmed and diced
1/2 C cabbage, finely shredded
2 T cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1-2 limes
3 T canola oil
3 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Corn tortillas, warmed

In a heavy sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Do not burn. Remove and discard garlic, but retain oil.

Add the shrimp, serrano chiles, and black pepper. Stir well, then sauté, stirring briskly until the shrimp turn pink and curl, about 3 to 4 minutes total, turning once. Pour in the brandy and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add a pinch or two of salt, sprinkle lightly with cilantro and tossed. Slice shrimp into 1/2″ pieces and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the onion, tomato, radishes, cabbage, cilantro, lime juice, canola and olive oils, and sea salt. Add the shrimp and toss to coat well. Serve in corn tortillas.

TACOS DE LENGUA (TONGUE TACOS)

1 fresh calf tongue (about 3 lbs)

8 C+ chicken broth
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
10 black peppercorns
2 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves

Warm corn tortillas
Cabbage, finely shredded
Yellow onion, peeled and diced
Cilantro leaves, chopped
Quartered lime wedges
Salsa verde*

Corn tortillas, warmed

Rinse tongue well. Cover the tongue and remaining ingredients with broth (or equal parts broth and water) in a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Skim off the froth on the surface after a few minutes. Simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove tongue, and very briefly plunge into an ice and cold water bath to cease the cooking process. Drain and dry well, then begin skinning with fingers and a paring knife. The skin should come off easily. Trim away the small bones and gristle.

To carve, place the tongue on its side and, starting at the tip, cut slices thinly on the diagonal.

Serve in warmed corn tortillas with cabbage, onion, radishes, cilantro, lime juice. Drizzle with salsa verde.

TACOS DE PATO (DUCK TACOS)

Tomatillo Salsa
4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled, and roughly chopped
1-2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
2/3 C cilantro leaves
1/4 C water
2 pinches sea salt

1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh removed and cut into 1/2″ chunks

Assembly
1/2 C soy sauce
1/4 C water
1/4 C mirin
3 T honey

2 T canola oil
2 C coarsely shredded roast duck, coarsely shredded

Warmed flour tortillas

Combine tomatillos, garlic, chile and cilantro in food processor or blender. Add 1⁄4 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt. Blend by pulses to a coarse purée. Pour into a medium bowl and stir in the avocado.

In a small saucepan, combine the soy, water, mirin and honey. Simmer over medium heat until it just begins to thicken, 15 to 20 minutes.

In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the duck until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add 1⁄4 cup of the soy-mirin sauce and sauté a bit longer, until the duck meat glistens. Serve duck in warm flour tortillas with the tomatillo salsa and the remaining sweetened soy-mirin sauce.

*Salsa Verde

12 medium fresh tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
3 jalapeño chilies, stemmed, not seeded
8 sprigs cilantro, stems discared and leaves roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 T canola oil
2 C chicken broth
Sea salt

Boil the tomatillos and chilies in salted water for 15 minutes; drain. Place the cooked tomatillos and chiles, cilantro, onion, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until roughly smooth, slightly textural.

Heat the oil in medium heavy skillet over moderately high heat. Pour the tomatillo mixture into the pan and stir for 5 minutes or so, until it thickens. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until it reduces and thickens, about 10-15 minutes. Salt to your preference.

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.