Apr 11

Viv’s Great Big American Food Adventure: Empanadas







Exciting times in the kitchen today … I never knew empanadas were so much fun to make! Plus, I learnt a brand new type of dough, one that uses beer, which turned out pretty spectacular. It reminded me very much of the mini mutton pies my aunt makes every year for Christmas, which made me happy coz I have always wanted to master the art of recreating that particular dough. By the way, I learnt the most interesting thing the other day while researching the history of these delectable pastries (pies??). I have always looked upon the pastry as being south American in origin, but after some digging I discovered a whole lot more in regard to its true roots.



The empanada is considered  ‘…a stuffed bread or pastry’, popular in many south American and south European countries. The name itself comes from the verb ’empanar‘, which means to coat or to wrap in bread, crumbs or pastry. Empanadas look very much like curry puffs which we have in my country. The same methods apply; pastry is rolled out and filled with various spicy fillings. Some have curried meat and potatoes while others have sardines and onions. If you want the vegetarian option you can buy the ones with sweet potato. Thing is, all my life I was under the impression that the curry puff (karipap) was a traditionally Malay pastry, until I read up more on empanadas. So here’s the low down.



Malaysian Curry Puff with Potatoes.  Picture source: Cooking Crave blog @ blogspot.com

Malaysian Curry Puff with Potatoes.
Picture source: Cooking Crave blog @ blogspot.com



Food historians are pretty positive empanadas originate from the Spanish community of Galicia, and from Portugal a long, long time ago. A Catalonian cookbook written in 1520 mentions these little goodies filled with seafood. Often, fish like tuna and sardines are used, but variations do include the use of pork which has been cooked in a garlicky onion and tomato sauce. These pies were considered hardy food for the working classes, chock full of protein and carbs. When the Spanish and Portuguese set sail to explore and eventually colonize new lands, they introduced empanadas to the indigenous people, and that is how I believe Malaysia got the recipe for curry puffs. In 1511 (God, I wish I had paid better attention in history class), Malacca was invaded and conquered by the Portuguese who wanted control of trade routes between southern Asia, Europe and China. If you are interested in further reading on the subject, click here.



The Spanish and the Portuguese went on to conquer many other cities and ports around the globe thus, you will find similar pastries like the empanada all across Latin America, Goa, the Philippines and parts of the Caribbean islands. From Argentina to Bolivia, Chile to Mexico, each country has its own version which includes various fillings to reflect the local taste and culture. It is not uncommon to find fruit and dried nuts included as filling.



But this explains a lot. It does make sense now that my aunt (Dad’s sister) would make her pastries every year for Christmas. I never thought about it before, nor have I asked her where she got the recipe from. But if I did, I am sure she would simply say it was passed down from the generation before her and she has simply continued on with the tradition.




Malaysian peninsula ~ red star indicates the port city of Malacca.
Picture source: Asienrisender 2012




The infamous Portuguese Admiral, Alfonso de Alberquerque, who subdued the city of Malacca (1511). Picture source: Wikipedia.org



For those of you who don’t already know, I am of Portuguese ancestry and have many distant relatives who still reside in the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca itself. The other part of my lineage is Dutch. I seem to be from strong sea-faring roots, which is pretty interesting. Perhaps that helps explain, to some extent, why I keep venturing further and further from home; this is my third country of residence. Seems pretty apt that I reside in the Netherlands now, eh? I speak very little Dutch tho. I get by on what I like to call “supermarket Dutch” … just enough to converse with the checkout lady and to count spare change. Anyway, we best be getting on with the recipe.



I found the glorious recipe for the pastry on YouTube and it worked like a charm. Big shout out to lorenalara144 for sharing her amazingly educational video on the Tube.





For the filling I decided to use my very own recipe for curried ground beef and potato, not unlike the versions they make back home … a sort of marriage between the Spanish pastry dough and Malaysian filling.





Curried Ground Beef & Potato Filling

  • 500 g ground beef
  • 2 medium waxy potatoes
  • 1 large red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 12 curry leaves
  • 1 inch fresh ginger
  • 2 green chillies
  • 1 tbsp garam masala or meat curry powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 200 mls water or chicken stock



Chop up the onions, garlic, chillies, curry leaves and ginger in a mini blender. You can choose to omit the chillies if you want to keep the heat down. Finely dice the potatoes into small cubes and set them aside, submerged in cold water until ready for use.






Sautee the onions and stuff in a pot with some oil. Salt the onions to draw out excess moisture. Keep sauteeing gently until fragrant.


Add in all the ground up spices and keep things moving in the pan to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom.


Add in the ground beef and turn up the heat to brown the meat off. Sprinkle with flour and cook out the flour for three minutes.


Stir in the tomato paste and the potatoes.


Add water and simmer everything gently (or bake in oven) for an hour until most of the liquid has evaporated. The filling must not be runny or you will have trouble filling your pastry cases later. I strongly suggest chilling the filling right down by putting it in the fridge for a couple of hours. The consistency should be like the picture below.






While the filling is chilling in the fridge, you will have enough time to make the dough and rest it for an hour or two as well. They will be ready for use at the same time. Pre-heat your oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper. I am baking mine today, but there are people who prefer to use the deep-fry method. Either would probably work; at least it does in Malaysia when curry puffs are made. I wouldn’t know coz I have never had to make curry puffs from scratch before.



Roll out your dough thinly and cut out rounds … about 3 inches in diameter. Place about a heaped teaspoon of filling in the center and paint the edge with an eggwash. Fold the pastry over and crimp the edges firmly with a fork to create a nice half-moon parcel. In Malaysia we use a curry puff mould that makes the task a whole lot easier, and produces a nice, neat and consistent finish. These moulds are made of hard plastic and are pretty cheap. The also come in a wide variety of sizes.



Empanadas7 (436x640)

Curry puff moulds and how to use them.
Picture sources: http://gcl.dunster.nl/ and Sam Tan’s Kitchen 2010



Place the finished parcels onto the baking sheet and brush with eggwash. Whack them in the oven for 12 minutes or until the tops are shinny and golden. Allow to cool completely before serving to avoid getting a blast of hot filling in your mouth. They are pretty good at room temperature, although my boyfriend never wants to wait for anything I pull out of the oven and usually pays the price. I wonder when he’ll learn?







These were very pretty pastries and I couldn’t be happier with the final result … I mean, it was a pretty good first attempt, wouldn’t you say?? The crimping needs work but over all, I think they were a success. If you don’t crimp them properly the filling will ooze out and make a mess of your parcels, so take the time to press firmly with the tines of your fork.



The pastry was flavourful and buttery, and despite there being about 130 mls of beer in there, you wouldn’t know it coz there was no beery after-taste. It cooked all the way through and had a pleasant crumb with a slightly crisp outer shell. It reaaaaalllly reminded me of my aunt Jo’s mutton pies.










So hurrah, hurrah! I feel very productive today, as well as accomplished. No wastage in the kitchen today as I got everything spot on and R. ate like half a dozen of these babies in one seating. For the size of the empanadas I made I managed to get about  24 – 30 pastries with a single recipe, so this will feed a crowd if you are entertaining … unless you have hungry boys to feed.



Anyway, this is me signing off and I think I shall treat myself to another little morsel of meat filled pastry. In the meantime, you folks stay tuned for the next bit of Great American Food Adventures with me. Ciao.



~ Enjoy! ~





1. Capture of Malacca ~ wikipedia.org

2. The History of Empanadas ~ http://www.majuraps.act.edu.au/majp_-_administration/?a=173358

3. Everything About Empanadas: South American Food. About.com http://southamericanfood.about.com/od/exploresouthamericanfood/tp/AboutEmpanadas.htm





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