Archive for the ‘Empanadas’ Category

Strawberry Jam Empanadas

February 11, 2013

As a child, I looked forward to making empanadas with my mother because I was always welcome to take on small tasks in the creation process of these deliciously, sweet-filled pastries. My favorite part was helping my mother cover the empanadas in sugar and cinnamon once they were out of the oven because this meant that they were almost ready to eat. At this point, all that was left was to wait for them to further cool down. While I anxiously waited, I would consider cracking one open to facilitate the cooling process, but then I would quickly remind myself of the rewarding feeling that came with biting into a whole empanada. First, I could cover my lips with the sugar and cinnamon before biting into the delicately crumbling, textured bread, and finally coming across the sweet gooey strawberry jam with which my mom most often filled our empanadas. Empanadas taught me the value of patience!

While studying abroad in Argentina, I was surprised by the empanadas that were no longer a dessert, but creatively filled with meat, cheese or vegetables. It was my first time coming across such empanadas and I struggled with the idea of eating empanadas at the beginning of a meal. Not until I found Cumana Restaurant’s savory, but mouth-watering empanadas in Buenos Aires was I able to let go of my nervousness of eating something so similar yet opposite to what I was used to.

After my encounter with empanadas in Argentina, I was open to the idea that empanadas exist in different forms across the world. The songpyeon that I attempted to make several months ago also struck me as empanada-like, and I found comfort in approaching something so unfamiliar to me in the routine way that I would make empanadas with my mother. These half-moon rice cakes that were sticky and chewy on the outside with an inner delicate sweet bean paste ended up not having much in common with my empanadas, but I nonetheless found warmth and ease in relating this Korean dessert to empanadas.

Below is my mother’s recipe for Strawberry Jam filled Empanadas which makes slightly over 1 dozen empanadas. Please remember that you are welcome to fill the empanada with whatever you like.

Strawberry Jam Empanadas

Image

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup  all vegetable shortening
5-7 tablespoons cold water
strawberry jam
¼ cup cinnamon
1 cup sugar

Materials:
rolling pin
1 large bowl
1 small bowl
measuring cups
measuring spoons
plastic bag
baking pan

1) Mix 2 cups of flour with ½ teaspoon of salt in a large bowl.
2) Add 1 cup of all vegetable shortening to the bowl and mix.
3) While mixing the ingredients to make the dough, add 1 tablespoon at a time (out of the 5-7 tablespoons) of cold water to the bowl.
4) Knead the dough into a ball and place in a plastic bag.
5) Set this bag aside for 30 minutes.
6) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
7) After 30 minutes have passed, take the dough out of the bag.
8) Form a small ball that is about half the length and width of your palm.
9) Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a flat circle. It is okay if the circle is not perfectly round.
10) Add 1 tablespoon of strawberry jam to the middle upper half of the circle.
11) Fold the circle into a half moon shape by pulling the dough over.
12) Cut some of the dough off while leaving a border edge from the dough that is not filled with jam.
13) Press the border edge down lightly and with a fork press down to decorate the border.
14) Place your empanada on a greased pan.
15) Repeat steps 8 – 14 until you have used up all the dough.
16) Place pan in oven to bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
17) Combine sugar and cinnamon in bowl, mix, and set aside.
18) Remove empanadas from the oven when they are a light golden brown and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
19) Roll empanadas in sugar and cinnamon mixture one at a time. Set aside to allow to cool for another 10 minutes.

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Delicious pork fat at El Biche Pobre

August 17, 2007

As I ate lunch on Wednesday, I thanked God that I had run 2.5 miles uphill towards Monte Alban earlier that day. My judgment may have been clouded by drink, as I started drinking my Bohemia beer and eating tortilla chips like a madwoman before my food came, but I have never tasted such delicious pork fat in my life as I did at El Biche Pobre.

I had spent nearly all morning in the kitchen at Puente, trying to make amaranth-corn tortillas from scratch. I had boiled dried corn kernels with limestone the day before and let it sit overnight, and then rinsed carefully and rubbed away at each husk, almost individually, as per these instructions (which turned out to be wrong since the corn kernels need to be cooked 15 minutes or more). Rather than take a handful of corn and amaranth to the molino, I’d lugged my molcajete to work on the bus and decided to grind away by hand. One of the staff laughed and said I was “una mujer de campesinos,” or a peasant woman. The temperature in the office is cool, even in the kitchen, but I started to get so hot as I mashed away at that corn, and when I tried to grind the amaranth, I had to deal with the sticky paste that stuck to the mortar, the pestle, me, and everything else it came in contact with.

For all that work, since I hadn’t made very much masa or dough, I got 6 measly little tortillas. (They had good flavor, but they were too inflexible to be tortillas, memelitas maybe.) I ate one of them, and other than a banana, nothing else from breakfast to 3 p.m., when I left work. I felt like a crazed, hungry animal.

I’d never heard of “El Biche Pobre” until that day, but I caught a mention of it in a TripAdvisor thread and when I Googled it, it turned out to be one of Rick Bayless’s favorites. As I am becoming increasingly maniacal in my devotion to him, that was enough to get me lurching towards Calzada de la Republica 600, at the corner of Hidalgo, just two blocks east of El Llano park.

“El Biche Pobre” calls itself a “comedor familiar,” which I assume means “down-home food.” They’re particularly famous for their botanas, or bar snacks, and instead of getting a proper meal of soup, rice, meat, and tortillas, I opted for the botana plate for one, one of all of the above. Of course, since I was eating bar snacks, I had to have a beer.

Immediately, I knew I was somewhere special. The chips that came in the plastic basket were perfect, crispy, completely dry and without grease, with so much flavor they didn’t need salt, maybe just a dab or two one or the other of their salsas, green and red, and their guacamole. I was also given a little bowl of pickled dried peppers, onions, and garlic. I sucked the garlic out of their little papery jackets, licking my fingers and not caring what I looked like. That was probably the beer. I’d had pickled garlic before, but not like this, where they had been softened by cooking and then marinated in a vinegary sauce, like an escabeche. The dried peppers were also fantastic, smoky and intense but not so hot that I couldn’t taste anything else.

When my plate came, I honestly felt the slightest bit of disappointment. I’d read that their botana plate for one was huge, and this, while ample, wasn’t actually incredible. And then they brought out the second plate.

On the first plate, clockwise from the top: a fried taquito with guacamole; a piece of cold pork with avocado, tomato and pickled jalapeno; a quesadilla with cheese and epazote; a chile relleno; some pieces of pork milanesa; a bocadillo de papas or potato croquette; and the piece-de-resistance in the middle, “carne frita” or fried meat.

On the second plate, clockwise from the tamal: a tamal of frijoles sitting on top of another piece of cold meat; a memela with lard and crumbled cheese; a tostada with potatoes; and another tostada with beans, cheese, tomato and avocado.

I will only touch upon what truly moved me.

When I put a small piece of the “carne frita” in my mouth, I almost shouted, “What is this?” When I asked the waiter, all he could say was “meat of the pork,” “meat of the pork,” so I still don’t really know what made it so delicious. I am not normally a huge pork fat eater. I love fat for the way it conveys flavors, not so much in and of itself, but this made me realize that just plain old fat could be wonderful. It wasn’t like carnitas that melt in your mouth, or the porchetta-like roast I made last winter that practically collapsed in its own fat. It held itself together, with a good chewy texture, a lovely crispy exterior, and a melting layer of fat in the middle. Such a tiny piece to pack such a punch.

The chile relleno was my second favorite. Instead of using a fresh chile, they had taken a dried pasilla chile and filled it with more pork, shredded this time. It had a slightly sweet flavor, but almost the flavor of sweet hot peppers rather than a more straightforward, insipid sweetness.

The memela was very simple, just a crunchy, almost tough, corny little oblong, brushed with nothing more than “asiento” or lard and garnished with a little crumbled cheese. Its simplicity was its charm, like eating a perfect baguette with butter from French cows.

I loved the pork milanesa, more than any other I’ve had here, because the breading was greaseless and well-salted. Is “milanesa” really mean that it’s from Milan? And is “milanesa” preparation related at all to Japanese fried pork cutlet, donkatsu? Sometimes, I’m embarrassed to say all my lefty politics goes out the window when I think about the food benefits of globalization.

Everything else was very good, except the bocadillo de papa which was just boring.

I staggered out of the restaurant almost dazed. I had to get home as quickly as possible so I could lie down, but having woken up at 6:30 in the morning to go running with my neighbor and her friend, my legs hurt. But I still stopped for a cantaloupe paleta at Popeyes.

Fighting malaise at El Tule

August 9, 2007

Last Sunday, eating an empanada de mole amarillo in El Tule, I realized that as long as I have an appetite, I will always be able to cheer myself up. There are those times when even I lose my appetite, like when No-No dumped me and I stopped eating for a week. But general malaise, pshaw!, I can easily get rid of just by going someplace I’ve never been in search for something good to eat.

Sunday morning, my last friends from ICO, who were also my neighbors, left Oaxaca. It had been a difficult, emotional time for them, and even watching them leave as a bystander was so exhausting, I considered forgetting my plans to go to El Tule and just getting in bed with “Black Lamb and Gray Falcon,” the book that will not end. I felt a little sad about being alone in Oaxaca and a little sorry for myself. But after I’d mopped the tiny footprint of my apartment, I was hungry, and I thought I should seize the opportunity to go try one of the famous empanadas de mole amarillo of El Tule, only available on Sundays.

El Tule is otherwise famous for its giant cypress tree, over 2000 or 4000 years old depending on who you talk to. I don’t know how tourism from the tree can be so lucrative when the entrance fee is 3 pesos, but the town seemed to be profiting well from the tree, as the buildings in the center were fresh and brightly painted, almost like Disneyworld, right down to the white-maroon-and-blue church.

I walked right by the entrance booth and around the church, looking for the empanada place recommended to me by my homestay mother, Patty, as “muy limpia.” I don’t know if it was the right place, but it was clean and airy, and I could imagine my middle-class homestay family eating there. It was little more than a straw-roofed shack with plastic tables and chairs, with an arcade attached to it playing loud American rock music, but it a pleasant place to sit on a sunny Sunday afternoon. There was a surly girl working the comal and an older woman swatting flies away from the chicharrones and a sweet-faced man watching a soccer game on TV. I sat down with a bottle of grapefruit soda, in a really good-looking bottle, and waited.

It was my fourth taste of mole amarillo, and if not the best, it was very very good. Instead of cilantro, it had the herby scent of hoja santa, the heart-shaped leaf. The mole sauce was thicker than at Iglesia de Carmen Arriba, but spicy, the kind of spiciness that doesn’t hit you right away but grows in the back of your throat. The tortilla vehicle was perfect, hot and toasty. I was so happy, I ate another empanada, of flor de calabeza and quesillo. I didn’t like it as much, but it didn’t matter.

I walked through the Mercado de Antojitos, or “Market of Appetizers,” across the street but was too full to eat anything else, but next week, I am eating barbacoa, or barbecued goat, for sure. Why don’t we have markets of appetizers in the U.S.? I’m sure it would do a great deal for depression.

The best street food in Oaxaca, possibly the world

July 25, 2007

I believe God or the fates have impressed upon me the great responsibility of declaring and describing with exactitude how riquíssima are the empanadas and tacos in one corner of Oaxaca City.

Lina had told me about this little stand of empanadas and tacos near the church on Garcia Vigil. “You’ll know it because of all the cars double-parked around it every morning.” But it took me over a month to finally get there.

The fateful day was Thursday, July 12th, the day after my cooking class at Seasons of My Heart. After my enormous day of eating, I had gone to my Spanish teacher’s apartment to watch the Mexico-Argentina Copa America game with her. I was already so full, but Lety had prepared all this food, and when I woke up the next day, I felt the food equivalent to a hangover. I didn’t even want to get out of bed, but I realized I had to call my mother before I got on the bus to Mexico City that night, and I dragged myself out with the intention of going to an Internet place with Skype and having a light breakfast of fruit at a wireless café.

But my usual Skype place was closed, and I had to trudge my way to the other one on Garcia Vigil. As expected, the connection was painfully slow, and I barely managed to communicate to my mother that I was alive and well. I left frustrated and tired, but then, there it was, the famous food stand outside of Iglesia Carmen de Arriba.

I wasn’t expecting much. I knew the empanadas de amarillo were famous here, but I had tried mole amarillo at Patty’s and not liked it much. But when I took a bite into this empanada, what we would probably call a quesadilla, I swear the heavens opened and angels sang. It was so toasty, just off the comal, and hot enough to satisfy the most scaredy-cat street food eater, but so good I had to ignore the burning of my tongue. The amarillo sauce was enlightening, the perfect example of the maxim my friend Mimi and I firmly believe, “If you don’t like a food, you just haven’t tried a good version.” Spicy, saucy, assertive, thinner than the sauce Patty had made, and a perfect complement to the shredded chicken. Mexicans know how to cook chicken breast. Every once in awhile, I’d find a bite of bright cilantro. Oh God, it was so good.

I took a bunch of pictures of the church around it, so that any of you, should you find yourself in Oaxaca, will be able to find it. I particularly love this picture of their grill, with the fat sausages roasting underneath the comal.

Like every other empanada and taco stand I’ve seen, they make their tortilla base right there. There’s a big mass of masa, with a giant press for making the giant tortillas. The tortillas, either for empanadas or tacos, are first cooked separately on the grill. When they have the telltale dark spots showing that they are crispy and ready, they’re filled with amarillo and chicken, or squash blossoms and string cheese and folded over to become empanadas, or they’re rolled up with various meaty fillings and salsa.

I hadn’t even been hungry, but the empanada just whet my appetite for more. I considered my options and finally chose a taco wrapped around a chile relleno and had my second revelation. And to think I didn’t like chiles rellenos! The chile relleno was small and skinny and packed with ground meat, and so juicy and flavorful I was sad when there was no taco left, but there was no one to blame but myself.

So once again, the stand is tucked next to the gates of Iglesia de Carmen Arriba that are facing the street of Garcia Vigil, near the corner of Carranza, south of Quetzalcoatl. There are other street vendors nearby, selling fruit or some such, but only one stand selling empanadas and tacos, unless of course, it’s Lunes del Cerro, but that’s another blog post.