Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Cooking the South American Way" - Beef Empanadas - in honor of Pope Francis' visit to the US

Date I made this recipe:  September 24, 2015 – Pope Francis Addresses Congress                   
 Cooking the South American Wayeasy menu ethnic cookbooks by Helga Parnell
Published by:  Lerner Publications Company
ISBN: 0-8225-0925-3
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Turnovers/Empanadas with Beef Filling/Relleno de Carne Picada from Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Chile

Well, His Holiness, Pope Francis, addressed Congress today, the first Pope to ever do so and that occasion certainly calls for Latin American Empanadas, does it not?  Si!

If you haven't had empanadas before, think of them as savory turnovers.  Although they can be made with fruit filling, the most popular filling in Latin America is the beef filling included here, "Carne Picada."  If you've ever had Puerto Rican Picadillo, this filling is very similar.

So Pope Francisco comes to the Vatican by way of Argentina, his native country, although he was born there to Italian immigrants.  The guy is a huge hit world-wide, and, if you ask this very lapsed Catholic, a breath of fresh air.  I can summarize how all the Popes (and bishops and priests and nuns) looked when I was in grade and high school with one word:  "stern."  Some might say "pissed."  Okay, I might say "pissed."  Religion was a serious, serious thing back then, just ask the nuns who taught in the schools.

Back when I was in school (and even before), having a photo of the Pope du Jour was a very popular thing and if memory serves, my grandma had a photo of Pope Paul VI in her room.  Missing though, was a photo of the Pope and JFK the first and so far only Catholic to occupy the White House.   Now grandma was not a snob but she was Sicilian and therefore, an Italian Pope made sense to her so I shouldn't have been surprised – but was – when it was announced that Pope John Paul II from Poland was elected Pope.  Maybe JFK and his Irish background were too much for her to post his photo?  Who knows.

Now I can never, ever think of any pope without thinking of Father Guido Sarduci's (a character on Saturday Night Live) sketch "Find-a the Pope-a in the Pizz-a."  My late friend, Carol, used to laugh about that all the time.  The gist of the sketch was that we were supposed to find photos of Pope Paul VI scattered amongst the pepperoni.  Tempting as it was to make a pizza, I've "been there, done that" so instead opted for something from South America.

My first taste of Empanadas came when I was in college.  I was a Spanish minor – long story, that one – and my instructor and some other Spanish-speaking residents near my university formed a Spanish club that met once a month.  The food was fantastic as everyone brought native dishes and so we sampled fare from Uruguay, Chile, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Spain just to name a few.  Empanadas are big in South America and making them for the Pope seemed as natural as serving spaghetti.  And by the way, although the author of this book, Helga Parnell, moved from Germany to the US, landing eventually in St. Paul, she had help with recipe development from Zila Oliveira of Brazil, Stella Piazza-Ercole of Argentina and Guillermo Moreno of Chile.

This cookbook is part of a series  of "Cooking the XXXX [insert country here] Way" books, a few of which are also in my collection.  All the recipes looked really good but I was determined to make something from Argentina and this fit the bill. And, as the cover says, these are "easy menu" recipes.  And while this was true, this recipe wasn't exactly without peril.

Let's talk about the dough.  The recipe calls for flour, baking powder, butter or margarine, water and eggs but no salt, and I cannot believe I'm saying this, but the dough needed salt.  So I looked at a couple other recipes online and yes, they all had salt.  So this made me then ponder further whether or not "salted butter" was the intended ingredient rather than unsalted which is what I use almost exclusively (as do most other home cooks).  So while the dough was good, if you make this recipe, consider using either salted butter or adding about 1/8 teaspoon salt (add more to taste) before you finish the dough.

As mentioned above, Puerto Rican picadillo is the same type of filling used for these empanadas and contains ground beef, raisins and olives.  You may raise an eyebrow on that combination but trust me, it's good.  I sampled more than a few picadillo dishes when I was in Puerto Rico (along with tostones which I love) and have made a few dishes at home as well.  The recipe calls for you to simmer the mixture for 20 minutes but trust me, that is too long unless you can maintain a really, really low flame on your burner.  I pulled it off early so I wouldn't end up with torched filling.

And so we had our empanadas and they were good and we watched a few minutes of the Pope in his Fiat Popemobile (loved that) and it was good.  Or should I say "muy bien."

Finally, a few years back, I found a greeting card that just made me laugh as it had a drawing of a Pope on skis (wearing a soap on a rope) with the following greeting:  "Soap on a Rope on a Pope on a Slope."  (Artist:  Glen McCoy) This made me laugh and somehow, given what I've seen of Pope Francis' sense of humor (not stern at all), I think he would be laughing as well.

Enjoy your "papal" empanadas!

Turnovers/Empanadas (from Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Chile) – Makes 8-inch or 16 4-inch empanadas
1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons cold butter or margarine
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon water
3 eggs, beaten
*Ann's Note:  Unless you are using salted butter, I urge you to add a bit of salt to this dough, 1/8 teaspoon at a time until you reach your salt comfort zone.  Without salt, which most empanada recipes use, the dough tastes a little flat

Beef Filling
½ pound ground beef
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
10 green olives, sliced
¼ cup raisins

To make the pastry, preheat oven to 400.  Sift flour and baking powder into medium bowl.  With a pastry blender, a fork, or two knives, cut in butter and oil until coarsely blended.

Add water and eggs.  Mix until dough holds together.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness.  Using a saucepan cover, cut 8-inch circles from dough, and place them on a lightly greased baking sheet.  (Use a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass to cut 4-inch circles if the empanadas will be used as appetizers.)

Place 1/3 to ½ cup of the filling in the center of each 8-inch circle, or 1 heaping teaspoon on the 4-inch circle.

Fold circles in half, moisten edges with water, and firmly press edges together with a fork.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

To make the filling, sauté onion in the oil.  Add meat and brown well.  Add seasonings, mix well, and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, add olives and raisins, and mix well.  Spoon onto pastry.  Follow directions above to bake.

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