Empanadas

“An empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry baked or fried in many countries in Latin America,Southern Europe, and parts of Southeast Asia.” – Wikipedia

Here in Montevideo all the empanadas we have run across have been baked instead of fried. Across the river in Buenos Aires they have baked empanadas that they call “salteñas”. Empanadas are available at a variety of venues in Montevideo. At the supermarket they can be found near the bakery items. Empanadas can commonly be found at rotiserías that also sell fresh pasta and torts, and occupy little hole-in-the-wall stores that are hardly big enough to display their food. Empanadas can also be found at empanada specific restaurants or delivery centers.

At supermarkets and the small rotiserias the fillings are fairly limited and usually include carne (beef), pollo (chicken), acetuna (olives), jamón y queso (ham and cheese), and espinaca (spinach). At empanada restaurants and delivery centers there is much more variety, including dessert empanadas. El Taberna del Diablo (a restaurant and delivery center near our house) has 46 different kinds of empanadas.

One of the confusing things about buying empanadas, especially if you get different varieties, is coming home to a collection of stuffed pastries that all look alike. On closer inspection, each type of filling is shown on the outside using a unique marking. Small rotiserías will sometimes use pieces of dough to make shapes on the tops that correspond to their filling. Large delivery centers will use a combination of small holes punched in the edges and folded corners to distinguish the fillings. Though, without a guide map to the markings, the only thing to do is take a bite. Things could be worse!

Empanadas are so prevalent in the culinary sphere of Montevideo that most supermarkets carry pre-made empanada dough disks. All one needs to do is buy them, stuff them, and bake them to have a delicious snack or entire meal.

So, that’s exactly what we did! I made two types of empanadas, beef and apple. Below are the recipes that I created:

Beef Empanadas (recipe makes about 30 empanadas)

Ingredients:

3 tbsp olive oil

1 med onion chopped fine

1 large green bell pepper chopped fine

1 tbsp garlic chopped fine

2 peppers chopped (don’t know what kind, they call them “picante” here but jalapeños would work great)

1 tomato chopped

1.5 lbs ground beef

1 tbsp oregano

1 tbsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp black ground pepper

0.5 tsp salt

Directions:

1. Saute onions, garlic, bell pepper and hot pepper in olive oil until just browned and soft.

2. Add meat, tomatoes and seasonings. Cook until meat is browned and broken into very small pieces.

3. Cool mixture in the fridge for 1 hour, then add one spoonful to the center of a dough disk. Wet the edges of the disk with your finger and then fold over and seal. There are lots of different ways to seal empanadas including with a fork or with a braid. This video shows how to do it using the different techniques.

4. Brush the tops with egg yolk to help brown them in the oven. Since the oven here is a bit funky… I’ll just suggest that at home you bake the empanadas at 350 F for about 15 min.

 

Apple Empanadas (recipe makes about 15 empanadas):

3 large granny smith apples chopped

2 tbsp margarine

0.5 cups sugar

0.25 cups dulce de leche (like caramel)

1 tbsp flour

Directions:

1. Place the apples, margarine, and sugar in a pan and sauté over low heat. When the apples are soft, add the flour to thicken the mixture. Off heat add the dulce de leche and mix.

2. Place in the fridge for an hour and then fill the empanada disks with goodness! Use the same cooking instructions as above. Enjoy!

 

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The Oven: It Works!

Saying that I have been a little scared of using the oven here might be an understatement. It’s a gas oven, the likes of which I haven’t dealt with in the last 8 years. It’s also about half the size of any oven I’ve ever dealt with. The biggest “scary factor” about this oven is that the posted temperatures are all in degrees Celsius with the lowest temperature equating to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This was all very confusing to me, but this weekend I overcame my fears in the name of cookies!

Some things about cookie making in Montevideo…

1. There is no brown sugar. It just doesn’t exist.

2. There are no chocolate chips. They just don’t exist.

3. Baking powder comes in a baggie… luckily with big red lettering or someone would think we had a lot of drugs in the house. In fact all spices come in little baggies unless you want to pay twice as much and buy McCormick’s.

Some things about cookie making in The Little House…

1. We don’t have a mixing bowl. I used a pot.

2. We don’t have a cookie sheet. I think I used something made for pizza dough.

3. We don’t have measuring cups or spoons. I used a drinking cup and a regular spoon.

4. The posted oven temperatures don’t seem to match their actual temperatures.

So, how did I accomplish this obviously arduous task? Well, I collected all the ingredients from the store including a very large Hershey’s dark chocolate bar. It was just as good as chocolate chips once I broke it all up into little pieces.

Everything got mixed and put onto our pizza tray and into the oven it went. I set the oven to the lowest temperature setting hoping that I wouldn’t burn the crap out of my cookies.

The first batch took forever to cook. The second batch I got tired and lazy so I didn’t even try to make individual cookies. I just spread the dough out in the pan and made one huge cookie. I also turned the oven up thinking that somewhere in the middle was probably a good cooking temperature. It makes me wonder if my temp conversions were wrong (I did check twice), the gas just doesn’t heat up all the way, or if someone had a good laugh putting the wrong temps on the knob.

The cookies turned out great!

I also repeated the baking experiment a couple days later by making an apple crisp which turned out delicious.