Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Empanada Drama

One of the more thrilling small moments in life is that rare opportunity to introduce someone to something that you know is fabulous. To be present when they experience it for the first time. A favorite movie, a killer new musical group, a restaurant you adore. When I get to introduce and describe a food unknown to a friend, it's the ultimate joy. Last weekend some friends of mine were in town, and were aching to try something new. I met them for lunch, and we headed west towards Hell's Kitchen to see where our noses would take us. I asked, "What do you think about empanadas?" They looked at each other, looked at me... "Huh?"

After a brief pep talk and outline of what they were about to enjoy, I ordered three classic "Brasil" empanadas: traditional Brazilian-style empanadas with a blend of spices, ground beef, olives, potato and sauteed onion. One bite and they were delighted with the fragrant, flavorful pastry treat that was now a part of their culinary vocabulary and their New York experience.

One of my favorite empanada flavor combinations is sweet corn and cheese. I love experimenting with different cheeses.

Recipe for Corny & Cheesy Empanadas:

For the dough:

  • 1 cup corn flour
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg yolk

With the help of a pastry blender to cut the butter, blend all of the dough ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. When the dough can be shaped into a ball, set aside in the fridge to chill. There is no need to knead.

For the filling:

  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup Mozarella (or try grated Manchego) cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Melt 1 tbsp of butter over med-low heat in a small saucepan, and sauté the onions and corn until soft. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, and remove from the heat. In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 1 tbsp of butter over med-low heat, and stir in the flour to make a roux. Stir until foamy, and then add the milk to make a bechamel sauce. Continue to stir as it thickens over low heat, about 5 minutes. Stir the cheese into the bechamel until melted and smooth, then fold the sauteed corn mixture into the cheese sauce.

Roll out rounded handfuls of the dough with a rolling pin on a buttered surface (flour works too, but butter tastes better). Dough should be as thin as possible, but still able to hold together. Drop a spoonful of filling in the middle of the circle, and fold the pastry to resemble a half-moon shape. Crimp the edges to seal. Transfer with a spatula to a baking sheet. Bake at 400 or deep fry until just golden. If you bake, brush each pouch with egg wash (egg yolk + 2 tsp water) before entering the oven. I have to highly recommend frying for a more authentic empanada experience.

For an extra pleasurable snack, serve with fresh guac and a mojito.

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