Empanadas–Worth the Work!!

I’ve been eyeballing the Empanada recipe in Nourishing Traditions for a while, but couldn’t set aside the time (or energy) to make them.  They aren’t complicated…per say…?  but because they have to be individually made an my family of six eats like a family of 10…well it wasn’t a Rachel Ray 30 minute meal for sure.  From start to finish I think it was about 2 hours with some additional bake time for the last few.  But I would count it well worth the effort.  There was some down time during the process and I did take the time to make these with my 9 year old daughter, attempting to teach her as many basic kitchen skills as possible.   

We’ve had 2 different versions of Empanadas in St. Augustine.  And I must say if you are there you must try The Spanish Bakery.  They’ve been in business for almost 40 years and run a killer lunch special of just over 5 bucks for an Empanada, a cookie, a roll, and a drink…all homemade.  I know that is a ton of carbs, but it would be perfect for a day of walking through Old City and the Fort.
After trying a couple different ones and talking with a Cuban friend of mine about what she put in her Empanadas, I came up with this.  I doubled the recipe, and my enormously hungry family ate 19 of the 32.  If that gives you any reference point.  It may also take less time if you aren’t doubling it.  This recipe can be made and then frozen (before baked) on a cookie sheet and then transferred to a container to be baked for a quick meal later.
Recipe makes 16
The Crust:
2 1/2 cups of unbleached flour (I haven’t tried sprouted flour, but I assume a 1:1 ratio with unbleached would work okay)..Nourishing Traditions also has a recipe for Yogurt soaked pie crust that would be interesting to try.
1 tsp. of sugar
1 1/2 tsp. of sea salt
1 cup of fat ( I like a combination of animal fat and butter at a 1:1 ratio.  Butter for flavor, animal fat for texture.  I used 1/2 tallow and 1/2 butter on this…delish!  All butter will work fine, lard would also be a great option.)
A small amount of cold water
Add dry ingredients to food processor.  Pulse to mix.  Add in fat, cut into pieces.  Run processor until fat is incorporated.  My tallow took a little work to get mixed in because I had it in the fridge and it was super hard.  Drizzle in water slowly.  A little at a time until the dough forms a ball.  Remove dough from food processor, wrap double in plastic wrap, and place in the fridge.  (Your dough is done when the texture is consistent throughout.  If parts are still crumbly, just put it back in the food processor and add a little more water and mix a little longer.)
Be very careful not to add too much water at once or you will ruin your dough.  Pie crust takes a little practice, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it and you can whip up a crust without thinking!  My rule of thumb with pie crust is a generous pinch of salt and sugar both.  A larger pinch of salt if I’m making something savory, a larger pinch of sugar if I’m making something sweet.
The Filling:
1 1/2 lbs of ground beef (choose grass-fed if you can)
2 carrots, shredded
1 yellow or white onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 small jar of green olives, chopped
1/4 cup (or a handful) of raisins, chopped
1 1/2 tsp of oregano
1 1/2 tsp of cumin
2 tsp of sea salt
1 small can of tomato paste
Brown ground beef.  Add in carrots, onions, and peppers.  Cook until they are soft. Drain some of the fat/liquid if it is in excess.  I usually never do this, because I believe in the nutritional value of saturated fat, especially from animals raised on grass, but if your mixture is too greasy, it will leak out and ruin your crust. Add in the olives, raisins, spices and tomato paste.  Turn off heat.  Mix until incorporated. You may have to add a tsp of water to get the tomato paste mixed in.  Your final product should be thick, but not runny and mixed well.
Now for the fun part.  Each Empanada will take about a handful (or golf ball) sized ball of dough.  Roll out your dough in to hand-pie sized circles.  I used the 6″ circle on my Pie board and rolled each one out between layers of plastic wrap.  Add 2 TBS of filling and fold over gently and then pinch the edges shut. Don’t press around the filling.
My daughter and I worked together on this part.  Whether that saved time or not…there’s no telling.  But it did make for good quality time.  If your dough gets too warm or sticky.  Put it back in the fridge for a little while.  If all of it is too sticky, just dust with flour as you go.  You probably added a bit too much water.
I baked mine on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat.  But I don’t think the mat is totally necessary, neither is greasing the pan.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  I used the Quick Bake (convection option) on 1/2 of my Empanadas, but couldn’t really tell the difference.  It still took 30 minutes to bake them. When a couple of brown dots appear on the surface of the crust they are done.
Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool until you can hold them without playing “hot potato”.  Enjoy!  We had ours with Blue Corn chips and lacto-fermented salsa.
I wish I had more time to prepare things like this, but that just isn’t my reality right now.  I must say when I do take the time to do something really special for my family, I never regret it.  We spent the night watching a movie and talking about our trips to Old City.  It was well worth it!