Empanadas are small pastries from Latin America and Spain. They most resemble what English speakers call hand pies or Italian calzones. Typically they are made with wheat flour, butter, lard or oil and a leavening agent may be added. The dough is rolled out, cut into circles and filled with a savory or sweet filling. The pastries are then either baked or deep fried.
The fillings for empanadas are truly and endless possibility of flavors and combinations. In Spanish language websites I read I came across so many varieties of which all depend on the region and country of Latin America and Western Europe. In some parts of Mexico they can resemble Cornish pasties, and in regions of Argentina they can be as simple as filled with fresh cheese or dulce de leche. In the Spanish region of Galicia they are filled with seafood and are as large as an American pie. And to think this all started with a humble meal prepared for medieval Iberian travelers and farm workers.
In my Mexican family an empanada meant a sweet filled pastry with pumpkin or sweet potatoes. The autumn season of course is pumpkin season and that is when we most often ate empanadas de calabaza. They taste amazing alongside a cup of hot chocolate or cafe con leche for breakfast. As much as I love both of them I much prefer my savory and spicy versions to the sweet ones. Additionally mine are easier to enjoy as a meal or prepare as an appetizer for a party.
In the previous paragraphs you read how versatile these little treats can be. Much like the fillings so can the dough ingredients vary. A number of cereal plant flours may be used in combination with either animal or vegetable fats. I typically prefer to use a combination of half white and half corn flour. As for the fats I’ve used everything from butter and shortening to sunflower or olive oil. In the years that I’ve been making empanadas I have experimented extensively to achieve a delicate and crumbly dough. I’ve used everything from ready made pastry dough to various homemade varieties. But it really is up to you to use a dough that works best with the filling and your desired taste.
These empanadas are a fusion of Mexican and Sri Lankan flavours. Quite unique and the taste…is out of this world! I first created this recipe about four years ago. Through out that time I’ve used just about every curry powder I could prepare at home. Every autumn I bake and photograph the empanadas but somehow the season passes and I never shared the recipe. Finally this is the year. As an attempt to make the pastries a bit healthier I’ve used whole wheat flour, which by the way worked great. I finally feel like I have the perfect dough recipe, it is the same dough that I use for my galettes. The empanadas have a crisp and crumbly outer shell with a tender spicy filling –perfection in my book.
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all purpose white flour
- pinch sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- ⅓ cup cool water
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, a fruity variety if possible
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup or 220 g mashed hokaido pumpkin (squash)
- 2 medium potatoes, 2 cups or 300 gm, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tbsp Sri Lankan curry powder
- 1-2 tbs olive or vegetable oil
- 2 curry leaves
- salt to taste
- a little water if needed
- In a large bowl mix all dry ingredients until well combined. Make a well in the center and pour in the water and olive oil. Use your fingers to mix the liquid into the flour mixture, continue until the dough begins to come together. Bring the dough together and kneed into a soft dough. If need be add a little more water or flour to help the binding. Wrap and set aside until ready to use. In the mean time prepare the filling.
- Heat the oil and saute onions until soft, then add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Next add potatoes and curry leaves, continue cooling until potatoes are are soft. Add the curry powder and salt to the pan and stir well. Finally add the pumpkin and mix until well combined with rest of ingredients. If need be add a little water until to help mix the pumpkin into the potatoes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Preheat oven to 200c or 390f and prepare a large baking sheet. On a floured surface roll out the dough to ¼ inch or 6.5 mm. Cut 12 cm or 4.75 inch round circles from the dough. (I use a pierogi mould) Fill each circle with about a tablespoon of filling, fold over and press or use a fork to press dough layers together. Continue until all of the dough has been used up. I usually end up with a little bit of filling left. Place on baking sheet and brush with some olive oil if desired. To keep the recipe vegan I did not brush with beaten egg, but you may do so. Place in center of oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with fresh pico de gallo salsa. (Pico de Gallo recipe found in my archives, http://www.spiciefoodie.com/2009/07/05/mexican-salsa-salsa-fresca-pico-de-gallo-2/ ) For this version I omitted the onions from my pico de gallo salsa, but feel free to use the in yours.
To shape the empanadas I use a pierogie/dumpling kit like this one,Progressive International 4-piece Dough Press Set. Get yourself one, if you don’t have one already, it will make the process go much faster. The Sri Lankan curry powder is homemade and the recipe is from S.H. Fernando’s Rice and Curry cookbook. (Fantastic cookbook by the way.)
I make many empanada versions but I have to say that these are my favorite. The potatoes, pumpkin and curry spices compliment each other so well, as does the tomato and cilantro salsa topping. We have a perfect sweet, salty, spicy combination all wrapped into a crumbly bite.
Really the only way for you to know how amazing they taste is if you try them. If that doesn’t convince you then know that my husband who doesn’t share my enthusiasm for pumpkins (gasp) loves them. See now you have to make some…go on.
NBC Latino Feature:
Today and tomorrow, November 1st and 2nd, is when Mexicans celebrate the Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead holiday. I was invited by NBC Latino to write a guest posts about the holiday and share a special recipe. My special feature “Celebrating Día de los Muertos: Calabaza en Tacha” is part of NBC Latino’s weeklong holiday celebrations. I’d love for you to stop by and check out my article, do let me know what you think. Here’s the link, http://nbclatino.com/2012/10/31/celebrating-dia-de-los-muertos-calabaza-en-tacha/ Thanks:)