Until I came to the US, I had never seen or tasted an empanada, even they are originally from Spain and Portugal. The name comes from the Spanish word ’empanar’, which means to wrap in bread, but more often they are made from dough. In essence an empanada is a pie (British sense of the word) in a crescent pocket shape, similar, but smaller than a Cornish pastie.
Empanadas filled with everything from meat to fruit can be found in various forms throughout the world from Spain, all of Latin American to the Philippines and Nigeria, Britain and India. It is believed that Empanadas were originally influenced by samosas from India.
I first made my own empanads about a year ago, when we were invited to a ‘Fry-a-thon’ party for Dutch friends who were leaving Houston. The reason for the ‘Fry-a-thon’ was that Wouter (The Frying Dutchman) bought a turkey fryer when he moved to Houston and would bring it to tailgating parties. At this party he cooked what-ever people took along, from whole chicken, cauliflower, Oreos, etc.
I decided to go with a masa (masa harina – maize flour) dough, which is traditional in Mexico and it gave me a chance to use my new tortilla press. I made a basic chilli from ground bison that I had in the freezer and filled the empanadas. I laid out the un-cooked empanadas on a tray cover with plastic wrap, to prevent the dough drying out and took them to the ‘Fry-a-thon’ for cooking. They were a great success.
Since then I have made some more, but I think I added a little too much water to the dough, because it became very tricky to handle and kept breaking, so I had to forgo the tortilla press and roll them and form them by hand. I don’t have a deep fryer so, I baked them in the oven, and though they weren’t quite as tasty as the original ones, they were still very good.
Masa Empanada Dough
- 1 cup (235ml) of masa harina (Note: this is maize flour, not cornflour)
- 2 tbls of plain flour (all purpose)
- 0.5 tsp salt
- 0.75 (180ml) cup of warm water
Mix the masa harina, plain flour and salt together. Mix in the water little by little until a smooth, but not sticky dough forms (depending on the environment you may not need all the water). Kneed the dough for a minute, form it into a ball and then wrap it in plastic wrap to prevent it drying out.
Chilli Empanada Filling
- 0.5 lb (250g) of ground beef, bison, pork, chicken or turkey
- 2 jalapeños, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 0.5 onion, diced
- 0.5 tin of crushed tomatoes
- 1 tbls of tomato purée
- 1 tsp of ground cumin
- 1 tsp of ground coriander
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
First brown the meat in a little oil. Add the onion, garlic and chillies, sauté until soft. Add the tomatoes and spices and cook until the liquid has all but disappeared.
Break off a ball of dough roughly 1.5″ (4cm) in size and form a disc either with a tortilla press or a rolling pin. Place about a tablespoon of the filling onto one half of the disc, moisten the edges with water and fold in half to form a crescent shape. I use a ravioli press to do this, but it is easy enough by hand too. Crimp the edges with a fork or by hand to seal the edges of the empanadas.
Either fry them in hot oil until they are crispy or bake in a 365F (185C) oven on a parchment paper covered tray for about 30mins or until golden brown. Enjoy hot or cold.