Recently I got it in my head that I wanted to try making empanadas (meat pies). This is a standard food group in Argentina, and a quick and easy meal when you lack time. But it’s far from fast food, and I decided to spice up my diet by asking my friend Vero for a recipe. She gave me a simple one and I set myself to the task last night.
The original idea was to make myself an empanada dinner and bring in one for Vero to thank her for the recipe, but once I told my other co-workers last night my plans, they started to ask. I couldn’t just make some and not for everyone, so I found myself having to make at least 17 for the entire office. Add in the pressure of never having cooked them before.
As soon as I got home I went to the store to buy the supplies: ground beef, empanada dough (pre-made), olives, hard boiled eggs, red pepper, cumin, paprika, and added to the onions, ají flakes, and cooking oil I had at home already. This was also going to be my first attempt at making a hard boiled egg (sad but true), so I had two sets of recipes in front of me as I started boiling the eggs and dicing the vegetables.
Normally you would use a precise amount of ingredients and follow a recipe, but I’m no expert cook and something of a rebel, so I went by the cheapest amount I could find ($12 pesos worth) which was probably about a kilo, and simply used it all. I diced up about half an onion finely and chopped up the red pepper into small sections. Once that was ready and the eggs had been hard boiled and left to cool I began sautéing the vegetables, adding in some of the spices.
The recipe said once the onions were soft and browned to throw in the meat, but I have a tiny pan and was afraid of overdoing the vegetables, so I took out the vegetables and left them in a bowl to cool while I cooked the meat in sections. (This was because the pan was too small to cook it all at once). Each time I added in the meat I put on more cumin and paprika, and once put a couple of dabs of spicy sauce I got in Chinatown last week.
Now that the meat was all safely cooked I could put it in the bowl with the vegetables and leave it in the fridge to cool while I de-shelled the eggs. This took some time and patience, but I had good music playing and was doing well. Once the eggs (4 of them) were ready I cut them up into small sliced and mixed them in with the meat and veggies. Again, back into the fridge to cool because you can’t put the hot meat on the uncooked dough or it will screw everything up.
I used two oven pans this time because I knew I was cooking a lot, and prepared them by putting a little oil on the bottom as a base to keep the empanadas from sticking. By this point the meat was cool enough to begin the hardest part, which was forming and shaping the empanadas. The dough circles are smaller than you generally get at a restaurant, so just one large spoonful is all you can fit on in the center. Next, you take two fingers dipped in water and moisten the edges, but being careful to not overdue the water. You then fold it over pinching the sides and folding over the tops. I chose to use a fork on top of that and push down on the edges to mould it more firmly and make the presentation a little nicer.
To be honest, I was hungry by this point and had already been cooking for an hour and a half, so I broke down and ate some food for about 10 minutes. I got back to work and finished the rest of the batch, and loaded them in the over for about 20 minutes. By the time I took them out they were crispy looking and a bit browner, and I was certain that any more time in the oven would have burnt them, but any less would leave them undercooked.
What you can do next is pop a little hole in the top of the empanada to keep them from exploding and burning hotness all over you mouth, but I put the majority in some Tupperware to bring to the office for today. Last night I only actually ate three of them, and I was happy but have to be honest that they all taste pretty good to me, with the exception of some truly bad empanadas I’ve eaten here. So the test would come when my co-workers ate them.
This and the fact that after cooking and cleaning I wasn’t ‘done’ until around 11 pm contributed to my difficulty falling asleep. But when I got in this morning and told my co-workers that I had empanadas for everyone they all seemed eager to try them. Time would tell if they got sick or not…
And with some magical twist of fate, they actually liked them. Maybe the best compliment of the day: ‘For an American cooking them for the first time they’re not bad.’ I’ll take that. After all, I had to be careful with the spices, as Argentinians are very sensitive about that kind of stuff.
Because I made so much meat I will have enough to make empanadas again tonight and probably use the rest in some pasta the day after that. Furthermore, I now have another dish that I can be confident to add to my repertoire that is slowly growing. My brother was always the cook in the family, but I may be giving him a run for his money, especially when you consider that I actually clean up after cooking. The one thing I would recommend if you choose to attempt this is that you do it on a weekend, or when you have plenty of time. It was a bit much for after work and with work the next day. Of course you could split it up into two nights of work, but then where’s the instant gratification?