How to make empanadas (Argentine style)

empanadas

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. IMG_8297

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!

Empanada dough    

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

Preparation

  1. 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.
  2. Put the dough on the table and knead it for a good ten minutes until the dough has a really good elasticity.
  3. Cover the dough and allow it to rest for 30 minutes in the fridge.
  4. Remove the dough from the fridge, divide it and roll into 10 small balls.
    balls
  5. 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.

Beef filling

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

Preparation

  1. 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.
  2. Stir in all of the spices and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the beef and cook fully. The mixture should be moist but not dripping so drain off any excess liquid.
  4. Combine the spring onions, stir and season before turning off the heat.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
    filling
  8. Brush the empanadas with egg before baking at about 200 degrees for ten minutes or until golden before serving.
    bake

Insider tips!

  • 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.
    caprese
  • 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.
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Peru on a plate: ceviche

In April of this year, I spent two weeks in Peru where gorging myself on ceviche – a typical Peruvian dish of fish marinated in lime juice – became a daily ritual. The abundance of fresh seafood meant each time I ordered the dish it was different; from simple white fish selections to more elaborate combinations of plump scallops, tender octopus and fleshy prawns. Usually, ceviche was served with sweet potato, avocado and cancha – toasted corn that double up as a popular bar snack. I’d always add a generous dollop of aji – Peru’s hot-chili salsa. On my return home, I was delighted to find that recreating the dish was as simple as the locals out there had promised. It makes a delicious summer starter that, for me, brings back wonderful memories of living the Latino high life.

Ingredients

–          500g of fresh white fish (cod, halibut, sea bass, snapper) diced into chunks

–          Juice of 8-10 limes

–          1 red onion, thinly sliced

–          3 red and green chillis, thinly sliced

–          Bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

–          2 large sweet potatoes

–          1 avocado

–          Virgin olive oil

Method

1/ In a large bowl, combine the fish, lime juice, onion and chilli. Make sure the lime juice completely covers the fish. Cover and leave in the fridge for 1-2 hours.

2/ While the fish is macerating, boil the sweet potatoes and slice the avocado lengthways. When cooked, skin the potatoes and slice

3/ Remove the fish from the fridge and discard the juice. Add the chopped coriander and a large pinch of salt 3/ Assemble the ceviche on a plate with the sweet potato and avocado on the side, drizzled with olive oil. Garnish with a slice of lime and tuck in!

Top tip: First-timers tend to leave the fish marinating for longer than necessary – in Peru they say it only needs 20 minutes and leaving it overnight  ‘overcooks’ it.

Read my article on eating out in Cusco here 

Summer in a glass: Homemade Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower heads

Synonymous with summertime, elderflower cordial is as quintessentially English as strawberries and cream, maypole dancing or Wimbledon tennis. Come June, hedgerows across the countryside flourish with the sweet-scented creamy flowers, and gathering them will give purpose to a leisurely Sunday afternoon walk.  Turning the delicate blooms in a zesty cordial is amazingly easy, and will provide you with the perfect accompaniment to fizzy water or sparkling wine.  Bottles can be kept in the fridge for a number of weeks so making an extra big batch will help savour the last dregs of summer even when the warm weather is long past.

Ingredients:

  •    80 elderflower heads
  •   ¾ lbs of sugar (16 ounces)
  •   50 grams of citric acid (available to buy from most pharmacies)
  •    2 organic, unwaxed lemons

Recipe:

  • On a dry day, collect 80 big elderflower flower heads – they need to be newly opened or in full bloom but not wilting. Trim the stalks as short as possible, and remove all leaves.
  •  Fill a washing-up bowl with cold water and gently swill the flowers to remove any bugs.
  •  Put the flower heads into a large saucepan and pour over three pints of boiling water.
  •  Add in all of the sugar and stir. Cover with a cloth and leave to infuse over night (for at least 24 hours).
  • The next day, squeeze in the juice of the two lemons. Grate in the rind of one of the lemons.
  •  Add in the 50 grams of citric acid and stir well.
  •  Line a colander with a tea towel and place over a large bowl, then ladle in the elderflower concoction. Ring the towel to squeeze out all of the remaining liquid juice.
  • Use a funnel to fill sterilised bottles with the cordial.
  • Chill in the fridge or serve immediately.

Dress to impress: Classic vinaigrette

There is nothing better than a fresh summer salad, lightly drizzled with a zesty vinaigrette. Most culinary connoisseurs will have their version of the simple salad dressing, but it is the French who seem to have mastered the art and a jar of home-made vinaigrette is a staple in their kitchens. Often a batch is made up at the start of the week and then splashed over meals in the days ahead, making a great accompaniment to seafood salads, marinades and steamed vegetables.

In its basic form, French dressing is a simple fusion of three fundamental ingredients: the smooth punch of Dijon mustard is complemented by the sharp acidity of a white wine vinegar and the slick savour of top-quality extra virgin olive oil – genius. The trick is to always start with the French mustard and then add in the vinegar, stirring them into a paste. Seasoning should be added too at this point. The olive oil must always be the last ingredient  added. 

The great thing about vinaigrette is its versatility; the basic recipe lends itself to variation. I like to replace smooth Dijon with a tarragon mustard for fish dishes, use a chilli-infused olive oil or half walnut oil or swap white wine vinegar for cider vinegar.  For an extra kick, finely crushed garlic, chopped shallots, or even a bit of soy sauce work really well. Alternatively for something sweet, try a dollop of honey or a sprinkling of herbs.