We recently had empanadas on the menu at work and I made the dough and helped to assemble them. It was much easier than I imagined, and they were so flaky and delicious. I couldn't stop thinking about them and I decided to make a vegetarian version at home. They are typically cooked in a deep fryer, but you could definitely bake them. I chose to shallow fry them in a sauté pan, and that worked just as well. Empanadas usually have a meat filling that can be flavored with onions, raisins, olives, and a variety of spices. Courtney doesn't eat meat, so I made a spicy filling with corn, black beans, onions, and chipotle peppers. You could really fill them with anything you wanted. You can even make mini dessert fried pies using apple pie or cherry pie filling. They would be amazing dusted with cinnamon and served warm with vanilla bean ice cream.
First, I made the dough so it would have time to rest. It's ideal to let it sit for at least 30 minutes before making the empanadas. Here's what you will need for the dough
- 3 cups flour
- pinch of salt
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 3 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 cup lard or shortening
- 3/4 cup warm milk
- 1 egg
In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder. Add the lard or shortening and use a pastry cutter or 2 butter knives to cut the fat in with the flour mixture. We usually have a lot of smoked duck fat on hand at the restaurant and I happened to have some in the freezer. I used that and it worked perfectly for these savory empanadas. Don't be shy about using other fats, as long as they are solid at room temperature.
When the dough is ready, use a rolling pin, or an old wine bottle like I did, to roll it out. I didn't measure how thin I rolled the dough, but you want it to be thick enough that it doesn't break apart when you try to seal the empanadas. You also don't want it to be too thick, because they will become too brown before all of the dough has a chance to cook all the way through. Then break out those round cutters that you use once a year. Pick a size that you feel good about, and keep going until you use all of the dough. This recipe makes quite a bit, about 15-20 depending on the size.
If you are going to fry them like I did, heat some canola or vegetable oil in a pan. It will take 2-3 minutes. Test the oil with one of the empanadas. If it starts to sizzle, then it is ready. Place about 4-5 in at a time. Keep an eye on the temperature, if they are starting to brown too quickly, turn the heat down slightly.
If you aren't sure if they are done, you can take one out and make sure the dough is cooked thoroughly. Them take them out and drain on a plate with paper towels. You can keep them warm in the oven until you have finished with each batch. If you decide you don't want to cook them all, they will freeze very well.