I’ve always prided myself on resisting fast food… until I discovered a certain weakness for empanadas. South America’s answer to the Cornish pasty, these crescent-shaped pastry bakes filled with meat or veggie goodness are sold by the bucketload in virtually every country across South America varying from place to place. I particularly like the Argentine versions which are baked rather than deep fried and are usually filled with beef, chicken or caprese (mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil) for non-meat eaters.
After munching my away around most of the empanada shops of Buenos Aires, I decided it was high time to perfect the art of baking them myself and so I booked onto the Tierra Negra cooking course. Run by professional chef Manu and his partner Veronica in their lovely home in Palermo Hollywood, the evening class was a laid-back, intimate affair that introduced us four wannabe chefs to a variety of regional recipes (emapandas, flan, ducle de leche and a spicy tomato salsa). Hands-on preparation was followed by a sit-down feast on at the end of the session.
While Manu took charge of the cooking, Veronica offered a tasting of three delicious Argentine wines from various regions (I use the term ‘tasting’ loosely as our glasses were constantly full and Veronica was quick to uncork another bottle once we’d drained the last). Needless to say, I left the class feeling recipe enriched and slightly sozzled.
The highlight for me, of course, was learning how to make empanadas. I was surprised how easy it was to whip up the dough from scratch and I loved how Manu used a combination of spices, boiled egg, olives, herbs and spices to make the meat filling so flavourful. The only fiddly aspect came right at the end when twisting the edges of dough to ensure the filling didn’t seep out and the finish was smooth involved some skill. Mine looked rather ‘homemade’ but still tasted delicious!
The recipe below is for beef-filled empanadas but can be adapted very easily – try experimenting with the filling or adding your favourite herbs and your empanadas will never taste the same twice. They make a great starter to a latino-themed meal or something to share between friends, with a bottle or two of Malbec of course!
Ingredients (for 10 empanadas)
- ½ cup water
- 2 ½ tbsp oil (I prefer olive oil but you can use sunflower or corn oil)
- 250 gr plain flour
- 1 tsp sea salt
- Mix the flour and oil in a large bowl and then add the water. You’ll probably want to start off with a wooden spoon but then use your hands to mix it well.
- Put the dough on the table and knead it for a good ten minutes until the dough has a really good elasticity.
- Cover the dough and allow it to rest for 30 minutes in the fridge.
- Remove the dough from the fridge, divide it and roll into 10 small balls.
- Sprinkle flour on a clean surface and use a rolling pin to roll out the balls so they are flat, thin and circular. You can then stack them by using flour in between so they don’t stick together.
Ingredients (for a batch of 10-12 empanadas)
- 500 gr of diced or ground organic beef
- 3 medium-sized onions
- 4 spring onion, green part only
- ½ cup pitted green olives
- 3 hard boiled eggs
- 6 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp chilli flakes
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp oregano
- Melt the butter and the oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat and sweat the diced onions with a pinch of salt until they turn translucent.
- Stir in all of the spices and cook for another minute.
- Add the beef and cook fully. The mixture should be moist but not dripping so drain off any excess liquid.
- Combine the spring onions, stir and season before turning off the heat.
- Add the olives and the roughly chopped eggs (If you are planning to keep the filling for the next day then the eggs can be added the following day).
- Lie the dough circles flat on a clean surface and fill with about two tablespoons of the beef mixture. Be sure to leave room around the edges for the dough to be folded.
- Wet the edges of the dough with water and fold over into a semi-circle to enclose the filling. Use your finger to seal the edges. Wet one end and twist into shape.
- Brush the empanadas with egg before baking at about 200 degrees for ten minutes or until golden before serving.
- Rolling the dough edges differently helps differentiate the various fillings. The meat filling is usually braided by twisting the dough at the edges while the caprese is tucked at the edges into a bow shape. To do this, instead of twisting, pull the two sides together so they meet before sealing.
- After mastering the standard fillings, try variations such as blue cheese, mozzarella and celery or tuna, onions, red and green peppers. You can also change the white flour for a healthier alternative such as corn or quinoa flour.