Empanadas and one whole year!

Well friends, this is it. One year of blogging has passed. And with these empanadas, my one wild week of baking and cooking in DC all those months ago is over. It’s been quite a trip from the day when I decided I needed a new hobby that didn’t revolve around school or work, and it’s been an effective distraction trying to keep up a somewhat consistent pace of food posts despite my current location.

This is the last (and in my opinion, the best) dish I cooked during my random stint back home. At the same time, it’s the end of a chapter for this humble blog. I have plenty more tasty travel stories to share, but as far as posting home-cooked goodies, there will likely be a baking pause for a little over a month.

Stick around! I swear the next chapters, back in DC, in Kyrgyzstan, and beyond, will be even better.

Empanadas, strangely enough, were the first things I wanted to try cooking when I arrived back in DC.

Why empanadas? Well…that’s sort of irrelevant, because when are empanadas not a great idea? Never.

Specifically, I was inspired by Julia’s Empanadas. Whenever I visited friends in Adams Morgan, the night always seemed to lead to a late-night snack at Julia’s. One Halloween I waited in a line that snaked and swirled around the block, guarded by cops, to get my hands on those empanadas. A friend and I took over the only two seats on the inside (it’s just a take-out place), and watched many drunk Sarah Palins stumble through the doors.

Ahh, good times. Julia’s empanadas are great for many reasons. They’re humble and familiar. I mean, can you think of a culture that doesn’t have a dish that incorporates tasty filling stuffed inside some sort of dough? They’re inexpensive and hearty; perfect for a college kid’s wallet.

Most of all? They’re absolutely delicious. I probably wouldn’t have rambled on about these little pockets of joy if they didn’t taste so good!

I wanted to learn how to achieve Julia’s perfection at home. I wouldn’t say these are up to her level, but they are definitely an exceptional substitute.

Ingredients: (both inspired by Smitten Kitchen)
-Chicken Empanadas-
3/4 – 1 pound chicken, defrosted and diced
half a giant yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic (this can be toned down, if you prefer)
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons sage
1-2 bay leaves (mine were sort of small)
1/4 cup broth or water
handful of cherry tomatoes, approximately 15
handful of olives, pitted and sliced
salt and pepper, to taste

-Beef Empanadas-
3/4 pound ground beef
1 shallot, diced
half a giant yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic
3 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons allspice
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup broth or water
2 hard boiled eggs
handful of pine nuts (approximately 1/3 cup)
salt and pepper, to taste

Whichever recipe you choose to follow (or whichever one you start with, because you should make both), saute the onion and garlic (and shallot, if applicable) in some olive oil on medium-low heat, until everything becomes translucent and soft. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Add spices and bay leaves and let it all simmer together for about 5-7 minutes.

Next, add the meat and broth (or water). Cover the pan and continue cooking on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, or until the meat is cooked. Remove the cover, increase the heat a bit to cook off the remaining liquids for a couple minutes (you don’t want the resulting mixture to be too moist) and toss in the last few ingredients (either the cherry tomatoes/olives or hard boiled eggs/pine nuts). Make sure you taste-test and adjust seasonings accordingly; the spices are everything in this!

Set aside to cool. For the dough, you can buy pre-made empanada wrappers, or you can make them yourself! I haven’t tried store-bought wrappers, but it’s always more fun to make stuff, right? I won’t reprint the recipe here because I used Smitten Kitchen’s instructions word-for-word, and they turned out fabulously. I didn’t change a thing.

Once the filling is cool and the dough is rested, divide your dough into sixteen equal parts and roll them out to be approximately 4-5 inches in diameter. Drop a heaping spoonful of filling in the middle (not too much, or your empanada will burst open in the oven), fold the wrapper and crimp the edges together. If you used a lot of flour when rolling out, like I did, I suggest maybe using a dab of water or egg wash to help seal the edges.

Once all the empanadas are assembled, brush them with egg wash and bake in a 400 F oven for 25 minutes.

Serving suggestions? I found that these are great warm and cold. In my own opinion, the beef mixture is complemented well with a bit of dijon mustard, while the chicken goes well with tomato sauce.