Clever food: Picadillo Empanadas

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I am a huge fan of fun food. I love things that can be carried and snacked on. Empanadas are a perfect example of clever food. A pastry hand pie (for lack of a better descriptions) that is filled with all kinds of delicious sweet treats like pineapple, pumpkin, sweet potato, apple, nuts and raisins.  My favorite flavors for empanadas, however, are savory combinations.

Picadillo, a savory-sweet meat dish, is a perfect filling for empanadas.  There are many traditions of picadillo all through Latin America and Spain. Each region has its own favorite meat, spices, and complimentary ingredients.  My dad first introduced me to picadillo when I was a kid. He is the family chef and from whom I’ve learned most of my cooking skills. He would use ground beef, add chili powder, cumin, garlic, onions, tiny diced potatoes, and other good stuff. This is the picadillo that I know best.

Surprisingly, it is not my favorite. I actually enjoy the savory-sweet combination of a more Caribbean picadillo from Cuba or Puerto Rico. The recipe below is my version on that.  I use spices like cumin, coriander, and oregano as well as sweeter tastes like cinnamon and golden raisins.  Keep in mind that in the recipe below, I have purposefully made this filling drier than a picadillo that you might serve as a main dish. To make it as a main dish, increase your liquid by not draining the diced tomatoes before crushing them in the food processor or blender. Serve with rice.

Now let’s get started on picadillo empanadas!

Picadillo filling

Ingredients:
1lb ground beef, about 93% lean (too lean and the meat is less flavorful. Too fatty and you lose a lot of the bulk.)
1 small onion, diced small
2 gloves of garlic, minced
1 can of diced tomatoes, drained and pulsed smooth in a food processor or blender
1/4 to 1/3 cup of sofrito*
3/4 to 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried thyme, crushed fine
1 tsp dried oregano, crushed fine
1 tsp of sugar
1 cup of golden raisins
1/2 cup of chopped green olives
salt & pepper
Olive oil

*A word about sofrito. Sofrito is a wonderful mixture of various aromatics such as tomatoes, onion, garlic, sweet peppers, and other flavors. It adds a richness to any Latin dish.  In this recipe I did not plan on making my own sofrito and used a store bought product by Goya.

1. In a large skillet, heat oil on medium-high and add onions. Saute on medium heat until translucent but not brown. Add garlic and saute about 1 minute more. You want the garlic to release its flavor and aroma but not brown or burn.
2. Add beef and cook until browned.
3. Once beef is browned, add tomatoes, sofrito, spices, sugar, raisins, and olives. Allow to simmer slowly on low until flavors begin to meld; about 20 minutes. You want to stir it frequently so that it doesn’t scorch. Be sure to taste the mixture for any needed seasoning. I find that with the olives, very little additional salt is needed.
4. Allow mixture to cool completely and then refrigerate until ready to fill the empanadas.

Empanada dough

Ingredients:
3 cups of flour
1/2 tsp of salt
1 1/2 sticks of cold unsalted butter, cut in to several pieces
1 egg
6-8 tablespoons of cold water

1. In a food processor, pulse mix the flour and the salt for a few seconds then add the butter.
2. Process the butter and flour until you have pea sized pieces. Add egg.
3. While mixing the flour and butter and egg, slowly add the cold water until the dough forms a ball.
4. Remove the ball from the processor, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Assembling your empanadas

What you will need:
Picadillo filling
Emapanada dough
1 egg, slightly beaten
A pastry brush
A small fork
Rolling pin
Round cookie cutter for cutting circles, abut 4″ to 6″ in diameter (I just use a small cookie tin lid.)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. On a clean surface, liberally flour your rolling pin and counter. Begin rolling out the dough.
3. Roll to about 1/8″ thick and then begin cutting your circles. This dough is similar to biscuit dough and can become tough if over worked. You want to be careful not to over handle the dough.
4. When you have cut out your circles, place 3 to 4 Tbs (eyeball the dollops. You don’t have to be precise) of filling on one half of the dough and about 1/2″ from the edge of the circle. Using your finger or a pastry brush, dab a bit of cold water on the free edge, fold the remaining dough over and press firmly.  With your fork, press along the edge of the dough to seal it.
5. Repeat step 4 for the remaining empanadas.
6. Arrange empanadas on a large cookie sheet. With your pastry brush, brush a light coating of slightly beaten egg across the top and along the pressed edge. This will give your empanadas a beautiful golden color and help seal the edges.
7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

I hope you’ll try this recipe and even play around with the various ways one can make picadillo. If raisins aren’t your thing, try diced mango or currants. If you want a spicier, more savory dish, leave out the fruit and add chili powder or diced fresh chilies or even a couple of chipotle peppers.  Try your hand at making sweet fillings for your empanadas. Experiment with various fruits and even fruit and nut combinations.

Buen provecho!

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