Argentine Empanadas

Beef, Vegan, Vegetarian

empanadas-ii

Adapted and translated from cocinerosargentinos.com

Empanadas are at the core of Argentine cuisine. Of course, other South American countries also claim empandas as their own but each country has a different style. Logically, since I’m from Argentina, I make Argentine-style empanadas. So anyway, as I was saying, empandas are a staple in my country. You can’t be an Argentine and not have tapas de empandas (the dough rounds for empandas) in your freezer or refrigerator. Last year, my first year in college with my own kitchen, I brought from home a package of store-bought tapas (yes, you can get Argentine tapas in the U.S. and elsewhere). However, this year I decided to be adventurous and make my own. I started researching and found a few recipes I liked but then I remembered that I had whole-wheat flour. I tend to prefer whole grains but I had never thought of making whole-wheat tapas. I did some more research and liked this recipe that I found on a website I use frequently. I then needed to find the right utensils. I looked around Davis, my college town, in every store I could think of and could not find a rolling pin or a cookie cutter large enough (a typical size for empandas would be 10-12 centimeters or around 4 inches). What did I do? I rolled out the dough with my metal Aggie water bottle and cut the rounds by hand. Hopefully you will have the right utensils. At this point the knights from Monty Python will be saying, “Get on with it!” so without further ado, here is the recipe for the tapas, followed by some suggestions for fillings.

Yields around 12 tapas

Ingredients:

  • 300 grams whole-wheat flour (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 1 tablespoon of olive or vegetable oil
  • 150 milliliters of water (about 2/3 cups) and more if necessary
  • Juice from 1 lemon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F (204C). Grease a baking pan and set aside.
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Add some more water if necessary so that the dough is not dry and will hold together. Knead the dough with your hands to combine well.
  3. Cover the bowl with a dishtowel so it will not dry and let rest for about half an hour.
  4. On a clean counter, roll out the dough very thin, about 1 millimeter of width. With a 10-12-centimeter cookie cutter, cut out rounds. Pile the rounds on a clean plate, placing a piece of plastic wrap between each one so they will not become dry or stick to one another.
  5. One by one fill each round with the desired filling. To close, moisten the edge of each round and fold the dough over to wrap the filling. Press down on the edges. To finish, you can crimp the edges (like the edge of a pie crust), crimp the edges with the twines of a fork or simply fold up the edges as seen in the pictures. As you finish shaping each empanada, set them on the prepared baking pan.
  6. Place the empanadas in the preheated oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until the dough is golden and no longer soft.

empanadas-plato

Fillings

  • Beef: The classic filling would have to be beef. There are several variations, depending on what region in Argentina you come from. The way my mom makes them is by mixing ground beef with onion, red pepper, green pepper, green onion, oregano, pepper flakes, a hint of cumin, pepper, salt and a generous amount of paprika (pimentón). You must first cook the beef and then add the vegetables and seasonings. The secret to a juicy beef empanada (even if using very lean meat) is to use the same amount of beef and onion on a weight basis.
  • Ham and Cheese: Probably the second most popular filling would be ham and cheese. This is pretty straightforward and self-explanatory. You mix cubes of cheese with cut up ham. Some people used diced ham though I used to hate it when they made them like that. It’s up to you.
  • Fugazzeta: One of my favorites is cheese and onion. Slice an onion thinly and sauté with spices such as pepper, oregano and paprika. Then you mix it with cubed cheese.
  • Capresse: For this filling, dice a tomato and mix it with cubed cheese.
  • À la Lucienne: This is not actually thing. I gave the filling this name because it was my own invention the first time I made empanadas while at college; the empanadas in the pictures have this filling. It contains eggplant, onion and goat cheese. All of my favorite things, right? You first slice the onion thinly and sauté it in a saucepan until it softens and begins to turn golden. You then add an eggplant, cubed, as well as oregano and ground pepper. You continue cooking until the eggplant is tender and both vegetables have a nice golden color. Let the vegetables cool down a bit and then mix with goat cheese.

 

Comments: This recipe was quite easy and straightforward. Of course, it would have been a lot easier if I had the right equipment but you do what you can. I think you should get about 12 tapas; I got tired of rolling out the dough with the water bottle so I froze about half of the dough. The amount you get will depend on how thin you roll out the dough. Tapas de empanadas are typically very thin; you want to be able to taste the filling and not get a bite of just the dough. For the fillings, I recommend using a good melting cheese. In Argentina, my personal pick would be Por Salut, which you don’t typically find outside of the country. Mozzarella is always a safe pick but I have found that I really like the Mexican cheese Oaxaca. Above I only gave a few suggestions; I could go on listing fillings indefinitely. You can definitely do some research of your own to find other fillings. Some other ones that are popular in Argentina are humita (corn), spinach and chicken. I hope your empanada adventure turns out well!

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Greek Yogurt Pumpkin Muffins

Cupcakes and Muffins

greek-yogurt-pumpkin-muffins

Adapted from voskos.com

Here’s the final recipe for today (find the two portobello ones here and here). Finally pumpkin season is back. Trader Joe’s already has its magnificent Pumpkin O’s as well as several other pumpkin products. Autumn leaves and colors are everywhere you look. Autumn isn’t autumn without some pumpkin recipes. Am I right? Of course I am! Here’s my first one for this year. I was about to head off to college in a little over a week and I had a huge tub of Greek yogurt in my fridge that I didn’t think I would be able to finish before I left. So I decided to use them in muffins or a bread. I found this recipe that also satisfied my longing and craving for anything pumpkin.

Yields 12 muffins

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon almond milk

greek-yogurt-pumpkin-muffins-plato-lado

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F (163C). Grease a muffin tin and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and cinnamon.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, Greek yogurt, pumpkin purée olive oil and almond milk.
  4. Add the yogurt mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until well incorporated.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool for five minutes in the muffin tin before removing.

 

Comments: I just love the warm feeling of autumn spices and pumpkin; it warms your soul, truly. These muffins were not particularly sweet though still good. To make them a little sweeter, you can sprinkle some turbinado sugar on top before baking to create a crunchy top. I also had mine warm and topped with dulce de leche; the dulce de leche melted and impregnated the muffin, creating a delicious mélange of flavors. They may also be good with some Nutella though I haven’t tried it. I also liked an idea the website mentioned of replacing cornbread with these muffins; I think these muffins could be a great addition to any meal on a chilly, autumn night.

greek-yogurt-pumpkin-muffins-plato-mordido

Portobello Patty Melts

Other, Vegetarian

portobello-patty-metl-iii

Adapted from cooking.nytimes.com

Here I continue to try to make up for my absence with the second portobello recipe (find the other one here as well as the pumpkin one here). In The New York Times magazine an article came out a few Sundays ago about the history of the patty melt. Of course, mostly everyone associates the patty melt with a thick, juicy beef burger. Nonetheless, the magazine also offered a vegetarian version that used portobello mushrooms as the “patty.” A lovely surprise on their part and a truly delicious dinner.

Yields 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 8 slices rye bread
  • 8 ounces Gruyère cheese (8 slices)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 4-8 clean portobello caps

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F (204C).
  2. To caramelize the onions, melt the butter in a large skillet over high heat.When it foams, add the onions. Do not stir immediately. Wait for one minute and then stir frequently over high heat for about 5 minutes until the onions start to release liquid and begin to look translucent.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the onions are fully melted and dark golden brown. Set the onions aside.
  4. In a baking dish, mix together the olive oil, soy sauce and vinegar. Add the portobello caps and cover the dish with aluminium foil. Roast in the preheated oven for 30 to 45 minutes, turning once.
  5. Grease an electric griddle and set it at medium heat. Place 4 slices of rye bread on the griddle. Top each piece with a slice of cheese, 1-2 portobello caps, some caramelized onions  and finally another slice of cheese and a slice of bread. Press down on the packages with a spatula. After a couple of minutes, carefully turn over each sandwich to brown the other side. Cook until the cheese is fully melted and the bread is golden brown and crisp on both sides.

 

Comments: A truly satisfying and filling vegetarian meal with three fabulous ingredients: portobello mushrooms, Gruyère cheese and rye bread. The original recipe only says to use seeded rye bread. I went a step further and chose the original German rye bread that has a good bold flavor that suits the portobellos and the Gruyère. If using the German rye bread, cut each slice in half. You can caramelize the onions up to a day before and reheat slowly when you’re ready to cook. This is not a complex recipe though it does intimidate a little due to the extensive cooking time. I recommend preparing and roasting the mushrooms while you caramelize the onions. Though it does take some time to prepare, there isn’t a whole lot of hands-on time. The trickiest part to this recipe is flipping the sandwiches over and keeping them in shape. As the cheese melts, the bread tends to start to slide off; have patience and keep the sandwiches in shape with your spatula if this happens. These sandwiches are surprisingly satisfying, even for meat-eaters. The soy sauce in the portobello marinade gives them a delicious umami taste. Dig in!

Open-Faced Portobello Sandwiches

Other, Vegetarian

open-faced-portobello-sandwiches

Adapted from vegetarian times.com

I know, I know. I have been horrible. I haven’t published a new recipe in two weeks and I am truly sorry. I have  had a crazy couple of weeks but now I am back. To make it up to you I am publishing two spectacular portobello recipes (here’s the other one) as well as a pumpkin one to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, that is Pumpkin Season. To start off, we have these magnificent stuffed portobellos. It is a Greek-inspired recipe with a delicious feta cheese filling. It literally melts in your mouth wit just the right amount of meatiness from the mushrooms.

Yields 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 large portobello caps
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 8 oz crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano (or 3 tablespoons fresh oregano)
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 12-16 grape tomatoes, halved

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425F (218C). Cover a baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Wipe mushroom caps clean, snap off stem ends and carefully scrape out black gills. Brush each mushroom cap lightly with oil and set aside on the prepared baking dish.
  3. Combine the egg, feta and ricotta in a bowl. Mix well and stir in oregano and pepper. Divide the cheese filling evenly between the mushroom caps.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes or until tops are golden. Remove from oven, garnish with the grape tomatoes and serve.

 

Comments: Mine is quite a cheesy family so these mushrooms were very satisfying. The mild taste of the ricotta blends well with the bold flavor of the feta cheese. As I have said before, I encourage you to use original Greek feta made with goat or sheep’s milk. The difference in flavor between the original and one made with cow’s milk is vast. Vegetarian Times recommends pairing these mushrooms with Pinot Noir.

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Polenta Pizza with Gorgonzola and Spinach

Pizza, Vegetarian

Polenta Pizza with Gorgonzola and Spinach

Adapted from cooking.nytimes.com

And so my obsession with polenta continues. At home we often bake polenta into little rounds topped with some tomato purée and cheese. I also just like plain polenta. It never occurred to me to use polenta as pizza “crust.” This was a wonderful discovery and I look forward to trying out different combinations. Even my father, who doesn’t really like polenta all that much, liked this pizza.

Yields 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup milk
  • Salt
  • 1 cup coarse cornmeal (see Comments below)
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 pound spinach, washed, trimmed and dried
  • 1 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Polenta Pizza with Gorgonzola and Spinach, masa II

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450F (232C). Grease a pizza pan and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk with 2 ½ cups of water and a pinch of slat. Bring just about to a boil, reduce heat to medium and add the cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking all the while to prevent lumps from forming. Turn heat to low and simmer, whisking frequently, until thick. The consistency should be similar to thick oatmeal. If it becomes too thick, whisk in a bit more water.
  3. Stir 1 tablespoon of oil into the cooked cornmeal (polenta). Spoon it onto the prepared pan, working quickly so polenta does not stiffen. Spread it evenly to a thickness of about ½ inch all over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for about an hour or until it is firm.
  4. Put the polenta in the preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until it begins to brown and crisp on the edges. Meanwhile, put 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft. Use a slotted spoon to remove the onion from the pan and set aside in a bowl or plate. Add the spinach to the skillet and sauté until it releases its water and the pan becomes dry. Sprinkle with lots of pepper.
  5. Remove the polenta from the oven and sprinkle with the Gorgonzola. Spread the onion and spinach evenly on top of the cheese. Put the pizza back in the oven for two minutes or until the cheese begins to melt and the vegetables are warmed through. Cut into slices and serve hot.

Polenta Pizza with Gorgonzola and Spinach, costado

Comments: As in previous recipes, I did not use cornmeal as I have instant polenta from Argentina (Presto Pronta). If using this, you need only follow the instructions on the package: you boil the liquid, turn off the heat and add the polenta in a steady stream while whisking. It makes the job easier but it may not be available to you. When refrigerating the pizza pan with the polenta, you may refrigerate it overnight if you prefer. The original recipe also uses 4 ounces of chopped pancetta, which you cook with the onion. As I have never liked pancetta and am vegetarian, I omitted it. Some other suggestions from the recipe are to top the polenta with thin slices of fresh mozzarella before putting it in the oven, topping it with thinly sliced Roma tomatoes or some tomato sauce and fresh basil leaves. I think, however, that in the future I may just use some of my regular pizza toppings with polenta as the crust.

Polenta Pizza with Gorgonzola and Spinach, pedazo