Every one knows what an empanada is. It is a half moon fried pocket that may be filled with queso blanco, ground beef, sautéed shredded chicken, really anything savory, that is fried to a golden crisp. Many people remember their first time having an empanada. I don’t remember my first, as I grew up eating them since I was a wee child. I do remember the first empanada I had in Venezuela. It was on my first trip at the tender age of 6, running on the beach without a care in the world besides finding the little boy that sold the fresh empanadas.
Vendors are walking up and down the beach pushing carts filled with water, soda, sandwiches and ice cream. All delicious, but the pinnacle of beach food perfection comes from the little boys and girls walking around the beach from group to group selling freshly made empanadas fritas. Fried empanadas at the beach are incredible because they are big and filled to the point of exploding with fresh cheese, sautéed flaked fish with onion, garlic and peppers, sautéed pulled pork, chicken, ground beef and then more varieties with cheese. They take your order, run back to their hut and return with fresh empanadas. Golden and crisp on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside, this half moon pocket of perfection is unreal and I vowed to recreate it.
The recipe is simple enough. The masa, or dough, is made with flour, water, salt, baking powder and butter. The filling can be as simple or as extravagant as you wish. I love cheese empanadas because the cheese adds a soft, gooey texture and salty accompaniment to the sweeter, crisper dough. You can buy the dough at the super market ready to use, just let the dough get to room temperature and roll out the circles an additional inch before filling and closing. However, you can taste a difference when you make the dough yourself and do suggest you try it once just to know how incredibly delicious they are 100% fresh and homemade.
When I bite into an empanada, I think of the beach, those little girls and boys running by the surf delivering these golden beauties, and my childhood, filled with fun, adventure and lots of delicious food. Now get out your mixer, your frying pan and your bottle of vegetable oil and get cooking, and enjoy a little taste of the beach at home!
Masa – Dough
1 1/2 cups of flour
1/2 tsp of salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
4 TB of cold butter
1/2 cup ice cold water, or more as needed
1 1/2 cups of shredded Queso Blanco
- In a food processor blend the salt, baking powder and flour until thoroughly combined.
- Add butter cut in cubes until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
- Remove mixture from food processor and transfer to a large bowl.
- Mix in water, a little bit at a time, continuously mixing with your fingers until a soft, pliable dough forms.
- On a floured surface kneed dough for one minute.
- Form into two balls and wrap tightly with cling wrap. Transfer to fridge for a few hours or overnight.
- Working with one ball at a time on a floured surface, roll dough out to a 1/8 of an inch thick. Ensure the dough does not stick to your floured surface by flipping it over and turning it occasionally while rolling.
- Using a five-inch diameter bowl cut the dough into circles. Add a sheet of wax paper in-between each disc to prevent sticking. Repeat steps 7 and 8 with remaining dough ball.
- Tip: For smaller empanadas use a smaller bowl. I used a 3.5 inch ramekin.
- Using one disc as a time add 2 tablespoons of cheese to the center of the disc. Fold the disc over until the edges meet.
- Using a fork, press down on the edges. Then fold the edges over and press again with the edges of a fork being careful not to pierce the empanada pocket.
- Heat an inch of vegetable oil in a frying pan until it ripples. Continue making empanadas.
- Tip: Unused discs can be stored in a freezer safe zip lock bag for up to three months.
- Fry empanadas until golden brown and bubbled on both sides, about 2 minutes, carefully flipping half way through. Make sure to not crowd the empanadas or the oil temperature will cool and they will be soggy and oily instead of crisp, crunchy and dry.
- Garnish empanadas with finely chopped cilantro sprinkled on top and enjoy!