Food & Drink

Turn to empanadas to feed a crowd

Empanadas with a cheese and vegetable filling.
Empanadas with a cheese and vegetable filling. Anthony Souffle/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS

Empanadas are made for a crowd. To consume them, yes, but also to make them.

These filled pastries are popular in South America, joining a long list of handheld pastries that are a part of many cultures: Think pasties, calzones, turnovers, Hot Pockets – you get the picture. Empanadas likely originated in Portugal, but are believed to have been influenced by India’s samosas, so they’ve circled the globe.

A flaky crust traditionally made with lard, but now more likely butter, holds a filling often made with ground beef, olives, hard-boiled eggs and sometimes raisins. But empanadas are open to all sorts of options, from vegetarian combos to fruits.

Whatever you fill them with, consider the joys of making them with friends or family members – because there’s some work to do.

There’s the dough to make, the filling to mix, then rolling, dolloping, crimping and glazing. There’s nothing wrong with you spending a Zen-like afternoon alone methodically moving through the steps. But when you gather a group, talents emerge.

Someone has a knack for rolling dough into perfect circles. Someone can parcel out the right-sized dollops, while others take on the crimping duties, getting better and more consistent with each empanada.

We’ve chosen a vegetable-cheese filling, mostly because it’s delicious, but also because its creamy nature makes a filling that’s a little easier to handle than the more crumbly ground-meat versions. For traditionalists, recipes for beefy picadillo abound on the internet.

Gather your friends for an empanada afternoon. It’s how communities have cooked for centuries. Come together.

Empanadas With Vegetable-Cheese Filling

Adapted from thewoksoflife.com.

Dough:

2 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 egg

1/3 cup ice water, plus 1 tbsp. if necessary

1 tablespoon white vinegar

Filling:

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 (8-ounce) sweet potato, finely diced in 1/4-inch cubes

1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper

1 1/2 cups sweet corn kernels, fresh or frozen

2 green onions, chopped

2 to 3 tablespoons jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

7 ounces mild feta cheese

4 ounces cream cheese

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

1 egg, separated, for sealing dough and glaze

1 tablespoon milk

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Add the cubed butter and cut in with a pastry cutter or work the mixture with your fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs.

In a small bowl, beat together 1 egg, 1/3 cup ice water and vinegar. Add it to the flour mixture and stir with a fork until it resembles a shaggy mass, adding the extra ice water if there’s still too much unmixed flour.

Knead gently in the bowl a few times, just enough to bring the dough together. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the filling. (Dough can be made a day ahead.)

To make the filling: Heat 1 tablespoon butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sweet potato and saute until just starting to get golden. Add the bell pepper and corn and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the green onions and jalapeno pepper. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Allow to cool for a few minutes. The mixture can be warm, but not piping hot.

In a large bowl, mix together feta and cream cheese. Add cilantro, then stir in vegetable mixture, mixing well. Taste for seasoning.

To assemble the empanadas: Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place parchment paper on 2 baking sheets. Separate 1 egg into separate small bowls for white and yolk. Whisk the white with a fork until frothy; you'll use this to seal the empanadas. Whisk the yolk and milk with a fork until smooth; you'll brush each empanada with the egg-yolk wash for a golden crust.

For large empanadas, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Keep dough covered while working with each piece.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out each piece into a 6-inch circle. Place about 3 tablespoons of filling in the center of the dough. With a brush or a finger, paint the outside of the circle with egg white. Fold dough over filling and press to seal.

Further seal the seam by pressing with a fork, or pleating as you might a pie crust. A classic empanada border looks like a twisted rope, which comes with practice.

Place filled empanadas on parchment and brush with egg-yolk wash. Bake for 30 minutes. They’re best served warm, but are good at room temperature, too.

For snack-sized empanadas, divide dough into 24 even pieces. Roll out to a 4-inch circle and fill with a heaping tablespoon of filling. Seal as directed above, brush with egg-yolk wash and bake 20 to 25 minutes.

To freeze: Lay unbaked empanadas, without the egg glaze, side by side on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Make sure they don’t touch, or the empanadas will freeze together. Freeze until solid, then transfer into a freezer bag. Frozen empanadas will keep for up to 3 months and can be baked straight from the freezer. Brush with egg glaze and bake as directed, allowing 5 to 10 more minutes.

Per empanada with 1 tablespoon sauce: 170 calories, 11 g fat, 260 mg sodium, 14 g carbohydrates, 6 g saturated fat, 2 mg total sugars, 4 g protein, 45 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber

Yield: 12 large or 24 snack-sized empanadas.

Cilantro Cream Sauce

Sauces are a great accompaniment to empanadas. You can use prepared salsa, or make chimichurri sauce. This cilantro cream sauce works particularly well.

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro, leaves and tender stems

1 green onion, chopped finely

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 lime (grated zest and juice)

Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve.

Yield: About 3/4 cup.

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