Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Recipe From Me to You

Making Colombian style empanadas is one of our holiday traditions at my house. I started making them each Christmas after my son's dad moved to Florida, as a way to help my little boy continue to feel connected to his daddy and his extended Colombian family during the holidays. Now that my son is a young adult, these empanadas continue to be a favorite during the holiday season.

Making these savory treats is not difficult, but it is time consuming. When I made them in Colombia, there were five of us working on them which made the process go quickly. Since I am only one person, I split the process into two parts over two days. One day one I make the filling. On day two I assemble and fry the empanadas.

So, with no further ado, here is my recipe for Colombian empanadas, my gift to you this Christmas.


Beef, pork, and spices go into the crock pot
To make the filling I start by cooking the meat in the crock pot. You can also use a pressure cooker to save time, but I like the crock pot because I can walk away and leave it and it doesn't steam my house up. I use about two pounds each of cubed beef chuck and boneless country pork ribs. Make sure your cuts of meat aren't too lean, you want a little fat for flavor.

I put the meat into the crock pot along with a quartered white onion, several cloves of garlic, the stems from a bunch of cilantro and a pinch of salt and cumin. Add water till it just covers the meat then let it cook on low for six to eight hours.
You'll know the meat is done when you can easily shred it with a fork
Don't throw out the cooking liquid after you remove the meat. Instead, transfer it to a saucepan on the stove and use it to cook your potatoes. The closest potatoes I've found to Colombian papas criollas are Yukon Golds. I typically use about six small to medium sized potatoes. Cut them into cubes, leaving the skin on, and boil them until soft in the cooking liquid left over from cooking the meat. When they are done mash them lightly with a fork, then add them to your shredded beef and pork mixture.

The potatoes added to the shredded meat

While the potatoes are cooking I usually make the hogao. This is a type of a sauce used in many Colombian dishes made from tomato, onion, garlic and cilantro. I start the hogao by putting the tomatoes, garlic and onion into a skillet with a packet of Sazon Goya with Azafron and a little water. I add a generous drizzle of olive oil and then let it cook down till the vegetables are nice and soft.

Since I make these during winter when it isn't easy to find nice ripe tomatoes, I usually use canned. One can of small diced tomatoes, four bunches of scallions and three or four cloves of garlic should about do it. If you don't have scallions, you can use regular white or yellow onions instead. Although the traditional recipe doesn't call for peppers, I also add five or six finely minced Serrano peppers in with the tomatoes and onion, just because we like a little extra bite to our food.

Add the cilantro when the hogao is almost done

Add the cilantro and adjust the salt when your sauce is just about cooked down.

When the hogao is ready, add it to your meat and potato mixture and combine it thoroughly with a spatula.

Now the filling is ready to use

The assembly and frying is the most time-consuming part of the process, so make sure you have plenty of time to devote to this step.

Start by mixing up your dough. You will need white or yellow pre-cooked cornmeal, usually found in the Latin section of your grocery store or in  your local Latin market. There are many different brands, but the one you want will usually be in a fairly small packet and will have the word "arepa" somewhere on it.

Goya Masarepa brand masa harina precocida

If you are using yellow masa precocida you don't need to add any color, but if you are using white you will want to add a bit of Sazon Goya. Mix up the masa according to the instructions on the package, using hot water and salt to make a soft dough. I usually use about two packets of the size shown above. Although it takes some practice to recognize when the dough is "right," you'll want it to be wet enough that the edges don't crack when you form a patty between your palms, but not so wet that the dough is too sticky. You want it to be firm, but supple.

Cover the dough with a damp towel to keep it soft

To form the empanadas you will need a couple of tools. The first is a plastic sandwich bag cut at the seams, leaving a long rectangle. The second is a small rolling pin and the third is a cup or glass with a fairly sharp edge. The top from a wide-mouth thermos bottle is ideal, but you can use whatever you have handy.

To form the empanada take a golf-ball size piece of masa and roll it out into an oval on your plastic sheet. (Lightly oiling the plastic, your hands and the rolling pin will help keep the masa from sticking). You want to roll it out very thin, about a 1/8th of an inch thick.

Don't use too much filling. A teaspoon is plenty!

Put about a teaspoon of dough at the bottom end of your oval, then fold it over, using the plastic, and use your cup or glass to cut out a half-moon shape. The edge of the cup will seal the edges of your empanada. Resist the temptation to use more filling - if you use too much the seams on your empanada will burst during cooking.

Fry your empanadas in hot oil (around 350 degrees Fahrenheit) for about five minutes. When you put them into the oil the oil will bubble and froth furiously. When the bubbles have mostly died-down you'll know the empanadas are done. I fry mine in canola oil using my beloved cast iron skillet, so I have to turn the empanadas over halfway through cooking.

The empanadas frying
If you have willing helpers, this is the part of the process where you can make the best use of them. With two people filling and shaping the empanadas and one doing the frying, in no time you'll have a lovely pile of crisp, flavorful empanadas, ready to eat!

If you let the empanadas cool completely first, you can freeze some for later. Once defrosted they re-heat very nicely after ten minutes in a 350 degree toaster oven.

Empanadas ready to eat! Buen Provecho!
Disclaimer: As you may have noticed, I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants cook. I didn't give you a formal recipe mostly because I've never used one. If you're that kind of cook yourself, what I've given you here might be enough for you.

For those of you who like a bit more precision, here is a great recipe from fellow blogger Erica, at Erica's blog has many other delicious recipes to enjoy, too, so take a browse around while you're there.

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