Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pork Empanadas

I tried to write a catchy sales pitch for this recipe, which I remembered from a conversation a close friend of mine's mom and I had about Mexican food about a year ago, but I think the recipe and even the not-professional photos speak as to how easy and tasty this pretty simple-to-make dish really is.  Most of the ingredients you probably already have in your pantry and refrigerator.  If not, simply omit them, or, go to the store and get them, if it's a non-issue.  Other than the Spanish Saffron, all of the ingredients are regularly low-priced items in your local grocery store.  I had the Saffron on hand, which I use only sparingly, of course, as I wanted to add that wonderful aroma and flavor to this torta-like dish.  

Let's just get to it.  If you a have about an hour or so to kill on a lazy summer or winter's day, this is a great dish to make as an appetizer, snack, even a main dish served up with Mexican corn and chili, or something along those lines.  Bird-walking, here, I know, but one of my favorite little snacks I have ever had was corn kernels with crumbled queso fresco in a cup while waiting to return to the USA in Tijuana, Mexico.

  So here's the starting line-up:

Half a yellow or white onion, finely chopped or grated (the smaller the pieces, the better!)
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 Serrano (or Fresno) chili, seeded and ribbed, and finely chopped
1 small pinch Saffron (this is optional, but as I mentioned, I love the aroma and taste it adds)
1 good tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon Pasilla Chili powder (or your favorite ground chili)
One and a half teaspoons coriander seeds (or powdered)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or powdered)
One tablespoon dried oregano
Half a teaspoon cinnamon (yes, cinammon!)
Salt and Pepper

In addition:
1 pound package of lean ground pork
2 eggs in a small bowl, beaten
3 rolls/sheets fresh pie dough (store bought)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
About a cup and a half of vegetable oil (to fry the empanadas)

Now, I could have made life easier and quicker for myself by using my spice grinder to grind the cumin and coriander seeds, and the dried oregano leaves, but I like using my hands to crush the coriander seed pods and my little mortar and pestle to grind seeds. The aroma is soothing and the grinding , relaxing. If I had been on a schedule, I definitely would have used the electric spice grinder.  I also would have used dried onion and dried minced garlic to save time.

I added salt and pepper to the cumin and coriander seeds, saffron, and dried oregano, to act as an abrasive. 

Once I finished grinding the spices, I added the mixture to the paprika and chili powder in a bowl. I added the finely chopped onion and Serrano chili to the ground pork in a large bowl.  Afterwards, I added half of the spice mixture to the pork, and half to a large fry pan with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and the fresh grated garlic. 

 I gently folded in the onion, chili and spice mixture to the pork so as to not overwork the meat.  I wanted it to crumble, not clump.  Meanwhile, I turned the heat to low to continue to infuse the garlic flavor in the small amount of oil in the skillet, as well as to roast the spice mixture.  When the garlic began to sizzle, I added the pork and cooked.  It crumbled easily and smelled amazing.  The saffron was a perfect addition, filling the kitchen with a warm, inviting aroma. 

Meanwhile, as the pork was slow-cooking in one pan, in my large cast iron skillet, I added about an inch of vegetable oil.  Being a sneak, I added a sprinkle of powdered garlic to the oil, not knowing if it'd be alright or not, to add one more little layer of flavor to my little empanadas. I also set out the my pie crust rolls to thaw, and set up my counter to cut out little circles of dough.  

When the pork finished cooking, I took it off the burner and put it into a large metal bowl to cool.

You can see my garlic powder mess.  Oops!

I rolled out my pie crust on my floured chopping block rather than on my granite counter because I'd be using egg wash.  I used, of all things, not a biscuit cutter (although I have a great set of cutters;
Thanks, Aunty!), but a little bowl that was just the right size for my pie dough circles.  I cracked my two eggs into a small bowl, beat them frothy with a fork, and got out my small brush.

Next, using a long handled tea spoon, I added a heaping teaspoon full of the pork to the center of a dough circle, brushed egg was around the edges, and folded the circle in half.  Using a fork, I crimped he edges of my half moon-looking emapanada.  

We're at the home stretch!  Before frying, set the empanadas on a large plate - try to place them so they do not touch - and chill them in the refrigerator about ten or fifteen minutes.  This allows the dough to firm up and the egg wash to set, which will help the empanadas stay firmly together as they fry.  

You could use a deep fryer, the oil temperature at 350-degrees, or, you could simply add about a cup and a half of vegetable oil (whatever your favorite high heat oil is) to a large skillet.  You are looking for about an inch of oil in the skillet.  Heat the oil to the point of rippling, and drop in a tiny ball of the dough, and if it sizzles, the oil is ready!  This is achieved at a medium heat.  I gently added four empanadas, did not crowd them, so as not to bring the oil heat down too much.  When they were nicely golden brown, I gently rolled them over. When those were golden brown, I gently removed them and placed them on a wire rack over a baking sheet covered with a couple paper towels.  I say I did these things "gently", because the pie dough becomes nicely flaky, and you do not want them to crumble or fall apart when you pick them up. They are just about palm-sized.  A tip:  The darker the golden brown, the firmer the crust is.  There is a delicate balance there, however, because you do not want it so dark that it tastes burnt.  

I served my empanadas with a fresh cilantro garnish and a chipotle mayo dipping sauce.  What will you serve yours with?