I am barbecuing Argentinean beef and I wanted some kind of starchy side dish. Although it is from the other end of the South American continent, I suggested Venezuelan arapas—basically a thick corn pancake—but for some reason Jan said “No.” She was more amenable to empanadas—stuffed pocket bread.
In South America, empanadas are frequently deep fried. With Jan’s diet restrictions, I almost never deep fry anything. I decided I would quickly bake the pockets at a high heat.
While Argentinean empanadas are made with wheat flour, my head was already hooked on using corn flour. Harina P.A.N is a pre-cooked corn flour that takes almost no time to prepare. Looking to Pica Pica’s blog on making empanadas it was just what I was looking for as something quick and easy.
The only question now was, what to filling to put into the pockets. Meat was out, because I was making a large slab of beef. and Jan would not want cheese served with meat. I decided on onions and jalapeños.
Since the corn flour was already cooked, I could not just put the raw vegetables into the pockets. There was no way that the vegetables would be more than slightly warmed before the bread was golden brown. I would have to precook the filling, both to cook the vegetables sufficiently and to drive off the moisture that they would release.
Karl’s Cal-South American Empanadas
2 cups of Harina P.A.N
2 tsp. Kosher salt, separate uses
2 cups of warm water (~135° F)
1+ Tbs. corn oil, separate uses
1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly pole to pole
4 jalapeños, diced finely
1. In a small bowl, put 1½ teaspoons of salt into the corn flour and mix it in well.
Note: I used the recipe on the package, rather than Pica-Pica’s, to reduce the amount of oil.
2. Put the warm water into a larger bowl and slowly sprinkle in the corn flour while stirring.
Tip: You do not want a lumpy mixture. If you just dump the corn flour into the water, clumps of dough will form with dry flour in the center.
3. Knead the dough until smooth, about 3-4 minutes.
Tip: Corn flour has no gluten, so you do not need to worry about over-kneading. You are simply trying to eliminate any clumps that have formed.
4. Let the dough rest, covered with a damp cloth, for 10-15 minutes.
Tip: To fully hydrate the flour.
5. Heat the oil in a sauté pan, over medium high heat, and sauté the onions with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt.
6. When the onions have started to pick up some color, add the peppers and continue sautéing for another two minutes.
7. Add the chili powder and continue cooking, until the chilies are soft, about another 1-2 minutes.
8. Remove the pan from the heat and let the chilies and onions cool for five minutes.
9. Set the oven rack to the middle of the oven and preheat the oven broiler to 450º F.
10. Pinch off a golf ball sized lump of dough and roll it into a smooth ball.
11. Flatten the dough into a 5-6 inch round.
Tip: While this can be done with a rolling pin it is easier, faster, and neater to use a tortilla press.
Note: I used to use plastic wrap to keep the dough from sticking to the press. However, Adriana’s trick of using parchment paper is far more effective. The thicker paper supports the thin fragile dough, as you fold it over the filling, and easily releases the dough when you are ready.
12. Put a tablespoon of the chilies and onions filling in the center of the dough circle and fold the dough over the filling to make a half moon.
13. Seal the edges of the empanadas by starting at one end and pressing down on the outer edge where the dough layers meet.
14. Gently press out as much air as you can out of the pocket, before you seal the final corner.
Tip: Adriana suggests using a ramekin to seal the edges. I found it difficult to do this without cookie-cutting the edge.
15. Lightly brush both sides of the empanadas with corn oil and lay them on a lipped baking tray.
16. Broil the empanada for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.
Tip: Rotate the tray at the half way point so that the empanadas brown evenly.
17. Transfer the empanadas to a wire rack to cool for 2-3 minutes.
18. Place the empanadas on a plate and serve.