An empanada is a small half-moon or triangular shaped pie, filled with meat, seafood, vegetables, or fruit. It can be baked or fried. The name is derived from the Spanish verb, empanar, which means to surround with bread. Empanadas are hearty and portable, which make them the perfect snack or lunch. Empanadillas are smaller versions of empanadas and are often served as tapas (appetizers).
Empanadas are commonplace in Southern Europe and Latin and South America. The little pie traces its roots to Spanish Galicia and Portugal. Empanadas are believed to be descended from the samosa, an Arabic meat pie.
I was introduced to Argentinian empanadillas more than two decades ago, in Spain. My friends and I were enjoying post-siesta vino and cerveza when the establishment owner offered them as tapas. They were marvellous! The owner went on to explain a bit of their history and their popularity in South America.
I reacquainted myself with empanadas this week. I was browsing the Weight Watchers internet site for new recipes and landed on one for chicken empanadas. Memories flooded in from my first encounter. I searched beyond the Weight Watchers site for more empanada recipes and found a myriad of variations in fillings and dough. The Wikipedia entry describes a few of them.
The dough is about as simple as it gets – flour, salt, some type of fat (oil, shortening, lard, butter), and some type of liquid (water, milk, chicken broth, vinegar, wine). Many recipes also include eggs. Other ingredients include baking powder, sugar, and corn flour. Dough preparation is like pie crust, biscuits, or any other pastry dough. I decided to use my grandmother’s baking powder biscuit recipe (see below) with two ingredient modifications. I eliminated the sugar and replaced half of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour. I also rolled the dough quite thin (1/8-1/4 inch), so I could cut 4 inch circles. Delicious!
Canned diced tomatoes and legumes are staples in my kitchen and I happened to have a mixture of diced tomatoes, green chilis, garbanzo and black beans (with cumin, chili, and chipotle) in the refrigerator. I decided that would make a fine base filling. I sautéed some minced garlic, green pepper, and green onion and combined with the tomato mixture. I cut up a few precooked shrimp from the freezer and added that to the mixture. I cooked it long enough for the ingredients to warm. Be sure to cook down the mixture to evaporate any excess liquid.
Cut the dough into 4 inch circles. Please an ample tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough circle. Use water, if necessary, to seal edges. Fold dough in half and crimp with fork tines. Brush with egg white, if desired.
Bake on baking sheet at 400°F for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.
I found the following cheese empanada recipe during my search and thought it looked and sounded fantastic.
Next experiment will be a dessert empanada – apple, pear, or both!
Grandma’s Baking Powder Biscuits
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup fat free milk
Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut in shortening until flour looks like pellets. Form a small well in the middle of the flour and add milk. Stir quickly with a fork, just until dough forms a wet ball. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together. Knead gently with heel of your hand five to ten strokes, just enough to bring dough together.
Pat dough to 1/2 inch thick. Cut biscuits straight down – no twisting. Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 450°F for 10-12 minutes.