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Feed: Empanadas and Me - An Endless Pursuit

Andrew Gant is a director at tinygiant but, outside of work and inspired by his marriage to a Uruguayan, he obsesses over these “hot pockets with class”

Feed: Empanadas and Me - An Endless Pursuit

My kitchen is a battlefield. To the untrained eye, it might look like ‘a mess’ but, to me, it’s a hub of innovation and creativity. I can’t help but tie this state of affairs into my work as a director. Any creative endeavour will involve many half-baked ideas and laughable mistakes along the way, until you land on perfection. Such has been my quest for the perfect empanada.


My obsession with empanadas began in Uruguay, where my wife is from. My first visit to South America opened my eyes to a whole new world of culture, language, and, I’m happy to say, food. This is what travel gives you: a new lens with which to see the world. Sure, I had eaten empanadas before that first trip, but I never truly appreciated them until I was immersed in South America - and especially Uruguayan culture - where several different styles and flavours of this comfort food have been perfected. 

Each visit to Uruguay became a fun game of trying out empanadas from all the restaurants, kiosks, and even gas stations for the best ‘nada in town. They were uniform only in their transcendence. Once we were back in the States, away from our delicious treats, my desire for empanadas grew. I began hunting down every empanada near our home in Los Angeles. I also wouldn’t be embarrassed to tell you that I’ve redirected several location scouts to be closer to my favourite spot on the west side near lunchtime. Once we empanada-mapped Los Angeles, we worked on finding them in neighbouring towns. Roadtrips would be planned with just one goal: empanadas. Next up was New York. Watching NYC empanada-crawl YouTube videos plotting empanadas against each other in the city became a favourite pastime (okay, obsession).

Once that got old, the final frontier was to make them myself. My wife gave me my first lesson, but since then, I’ve taken off to the stars. Researching, testing, learning, and observing, all to find the perfect empanada recipe. You may ask, why all the fuss about something so simple as an empanada? To you, perhaps they are just hot pockets with class, but to me, they are an envelope filled with goodness, comfort...basically a love letter. They symbolise a world of endless possibilities, fuelled by adventure and discovery. 

Speaking of endless possibilities, what I love the most about empanadas is that they offer endless possible combinations. They can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They can be used as a meal, a snack, or even dessert. You can make them with meat, or vegetarian, or vegan. Clearly, the word has gotten around because empanadas are a global phenomenon. You will find several different types and styles throughout South America, but also around the globe, some under the name of empanadas, and others under names such as turnovers, pastechi, pastelitos, bolani, kibinai, and so on. Keep your eyes peeled out there travellers!

To make empanadas, first, you must choose if they will be fried or baked. Obviously, anything fried is delicious, but if you want to take a more healthy route, go for the baked. Next, you will choose your type of dough. There are a range of options here, but if you want to go with the classics, you can choose criollas (a flakey crust) or hojaldradas (the classic softshell). Making the dough yourself can be pretty cumbersome, so I recommend buying the tapas or empanada dough premade at first. Finally, you must decide on your fillings. This is where you can really let go. You can do your best at perfecting the classics such as beef, chicken, spinach and cheese, or ham and cheese. I am still at this stage in my empanada journey. I’ve only been cooking them for the past two or three years, and I’m still finding new creative ways to innovate the classics. However, once you’ve graduated past this level, you may try your hand at something completely different. 

Take any dish you can think of in your head and try and apply it to an empanada. In the end, I’ve come to realise there is no perfect empanada, no perfect recipe exists. Each day is different, and in the end, you will find that the perfect empanada recipe for you is the one you create yourself.


THE EMPANADA STARTER KIT



For the Dough:

I recommend purchasing around 10 tapas or empanada dough discs per recipe below at your local grocery store. If you live in a town that has a global, international, or a latin america style market, check there. They will be inside a freezer or in a freezer section. My favourite brand is La Salteña. Goya is a strong second. Also, be sure to double-check the type of dough you are buying. I recommend getting one for baking first (para al horno - the oven). The others will be for frying (frier).


SPINACH AND CHEESE EMPANADAS
(Uruguayan Style with a few additions)


10 oz of fresh spinach
3 garlic cloves
1 yellow onion
8 oz of ricotta cheese
1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
3 tbsp of parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 tbsp of sugar
1 tbsp. of all-purpose flour
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of oregano
2 tsp of red chili powder (optional if you want it spicy)


Steps:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (170 celsius).

2. Mince the 3 cloves of garlic. Dice the yellow onion. Chop the insane amount (10 oz) of spinach, trying not to let them fall on the floor.

3. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and saute the garlic and onions until they are translucent or tender. This should take around 8-10 minutes. Move on to the next step while they saute.

4. In a large bowl, mix all the cheeses, 1 egg, the 1 tbsp of oregano, and if you desire some spiciness to your empanadas, add the 2 tsp of red chili powder. If you know your spice level well, feel free to add more or less.

5. Once the garlic and onions are done, add in the chopped spinach to the skillet until it wilts. Toss in the flour at the end to apply a nice coat.

6. When the spinach is done, mix and stir it into the large bowl with the cheese mixture.

7. Finally, we will prepare to build the empanadas. Lightly coat a baking sheet with oil and place it aside. This is where we will put our completed empanadas. 

8. Take out your tapas or empanada disc. Put the disc in your hand and place a fair amount of the filling inside. 

9. Next, we will fold the empanada over, and close it using our fingers. Sometimes using water on the edges of your empanada dough helps it to stick together, but usually, I do not have a problem with this. Folding the empanada is a journey itself, so it’s best to watch this YouTube video here to do it correctly. I’m still learning how to perfect this.

10. Once all your empanadas are built and on the baking sheet, crack open 1 egg into a small dish or bowl. Put in 1 tbsp of sugar (or more depending on how you are feeling today) and mix. This will be the sugary glaze that we use to coat the built empanadas. This slight sugar kick is one of my favorite parts of the empanada, so don’t forget it. Brush the egg glaze across the uncooked empanadas and then place them into the oven.

11. Let the empanadas bake for 25-30 minutes. Continue to monitor them until they are a golden brown then remove them from the oven. Let them cool off for 5 minutes, and then enjoy!



BEEF EMPANADAS
(Uruguayan Style with a few additions)


1 ½ lbs of ground beef
½ red pepper
½ yellow onion
¼ green pepper
4 eggs
One 15 oz can of tomato sauce, no salt
Salt
Pepper
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of dried oregano
1 tbsp of sugar
¼ cup black olives (optional)
2 tsp of curry (optional)
2 tsp chili powder or any ground hot pepper (optional if you want it spicy)


Steps:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Dice the onion and peppers and then saute them until the onions are translucent or tender. This should take around 8-10 minutes. Move on to the next step while they saute.

3. Start the process of hard boiling 3 eggs and move on to the next step. Once they are finished, let them cool.

4. Once the onions and peppers are finished, place the meat into the skillet and cook. When the meat is starting to change colour and become cooked, begin mixing in the 15 oz can of tomato sauce, 1 tbsp of oregano, 2 pinches of sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and if you desire some spiciness to your empanadas, add the 2 tsp of red chili powder. An optional ingredient here is to also add 2 tsp of curry depending on your taste.

5. Next cover the skillet and cook for 5 minutes or until the sauce dries. When it's finished, place it aside to let it cool.

6. Grab your hard-boiled eggs and take off the shells. Next, you can chop or shred the eggs into the meat mixture. When that is finished, if you are an olive person, add in the sliced or chopped olives.

7. Finally, we will prepare to build the empanadas. Lightly coat a baking sheet with oil and place it aside. This is where we will put our completed empanadas. 

8. Take out your tapas or empanada disc. Put the disc in your hand and place a fair amount of the filling inside. 

9. Next, we will fold the empanada over, and close it using our fingers. Sometimes using water on the edges of your empanada dough helps it to stick together, but usually, I do not have a problem with this. Folding the empanada is a journey itself, so it’s best to watch this youtube video here to do it correctly. I’m still learning how to perfect this.

10. Once all your empanadas are built and on the baking sheet, crack open 1 egg into a small dish or bowl. Put in 1 tbsp of sugar (or more depending on how you are feeling today) and mix. This will be the sugary glaze that we use to coat the built empanadas. This slight sugar kick is one of my favorite parts of the empanada, so don’t forget it. Brush the egg glaze across the uncooked empanadas and then place them into the oven.

11. Let the empanadas bake for 25-30 minutes. Continue to monitor them until they are a golden brown then remove them from the oven. Let the cool off for 5 minutes, and then enjoy!

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Category: Food , Savoury Snacks