Friday, August 8, 2014

Empanadas with Chicken, Corn and Zucchini

Last Year's Post: Tomato Crumble
Two Years Ago:  Summer Pasta Salad with Fresh Tuna

Empanadas are one of those foods found in many cultures and with many different names.  Basically they're baked or fried turnovers made with bread or pastry dough folded into crescent shapes that enclose a savory meat, cheese and/or vegetable filling. The name "empanada" is used in Spanish-speaking countries of Europe and South America as well as in the United States.  In South America they're very popular as street food, usually fried and eaten out of hand.

I wanted to post this recipe primarily because it's really, really good, but also because it's a baked version (good news), the dough turns out amazingly crisp and light (even better news), and you can freeze them for a really easy dinner during the week (best news).  If you make your own empanadas you can vary the fillings to your taste, and you can make them larger or smaller.  For example, this particular recipe makes ten medium empanadas, which will feed five people (two per person) for a meal with a salad or rice on the side.  One empanada would make a great lunch with some sour cream for dipping plus fruit and carrot sticks, which is what's nice about this particular size.  You could make larger empanadas if you want, or you could make smaller ones as appetizers for a party that would be great as a finger food dipped in salsa or sour cream.

Regarding the filling, I found a recipe for "Three Sisters" empanadas (the three sisters are corn, zucchini and black beans) and substituted some leftover grilled chicken for the black beans.

 If you want a vegetarian version, go with the beans.  I also used pepper jack cheese rather than cheddar, and substituted smoked paprika for chile powder.  All the variations are listed in the recipe below.  You can make the empanadas as mild or spicy as you want by varying the cheese and spices, and you could also add jalapenos for an extra kick.  The way I made them, they were mild but very flavorful which would be good if some of the people you're feeding don't like spice.  The spice-lovers could always use spicy salsa as a condiment to jazz them up.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that this is a somewhat fussy (read time-consuming) recipe.  First you make the dough - which by the way is fast and easy - and let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour.  While the dough rests, you roast the zucchini and corn and make the filling.

Then the fun begins - rolling out and filling 10 individual dough rounds (sorry no pictures of the process - I was covered in goo).  That's where it would be an advantage to make larger or smaller empanadas - there are simply fewer of the larger ones to roll out, and the smaller ones could be made by rolling out a big sheet of dough and using a cookie or biscuit cutter to cut small rounds.  I guess theoretically you could do that same thing with the 5-6" rounds for this recipe, but you would waste a fair amount of dough.  Whatever.  All I can tell you is that I would do it all over again in exactly the same way, which tells you how pleased I was with the results.  The empanadas are totally worth it, you just have to be in the right mood and know it's a two hour project.  (If you're not in the right mood, you could cheat and use refrigerated pie crusts, but the crispness of this dough makes it worth the effort.)

Three guesses as to which one I rolled out and filled first .  :-)  As I said, they freeze beautifully and can then be tossed in the oven frozen and allowed to bake until golden and hot for a really easy dinner.

Next week we're going to a new restaurant that specializes in Mexican seafood, and I noticed that they have empanadas on the menu with a filling of crab, chorizo, goat cheese and corn with a tomatillo verde sauce.  If they're as good as they sound, I'll try to re-create the recipe and post it.  I guess I couldn't have been too emotionally scarred from all that dough-rolling if I'm already contemplating the next batch.....

printable recipe
Empanadas with Chicken, Corn and Zucchini
Makes ten medium empanadas

For the dough:
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½“ cubes
1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

For the filling:
½ pound zucchini (2 medium), cut into ½“ cubes
1 cup corn kernels (from 1 medium ear) or 1 cup frozen kernels, thawed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup shredded cooked chicken (or ¾ cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained)
¾ cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese (or cheddar cheese)
½ cup thinly sliced green onions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons canned diced green chiles, drained
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika (or chile powder)
Sour cream for serving, optional
Salsa for serving, optional

For the egg wash:
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon water

To make the dough, combine the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse briefly.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some small butter lumps, 6-8 times.  Beat together the egg, water and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork and add it to the flour mixture, pulsing a few times just until incorporated.  Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with the heel of your hand once or twice to bring the dough together.  Shape into a disk or rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour.

To make the filling, first preheat the oven to 400d.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Dump the zucchini and corn on the parchment, then drizzle with the olive oil and a few grinds of salt and black pepper.  Toss everything together with clean hands and spread out into a single layer.  Roast for 20-25 minutes until the zucchini are softened and slightly browned around the edges.  Transfer to a bowl.

Add the chicken (or beans), cheese, green onions, cilantro, chiles, cumin, and paprika (or chile powder) to the bowl and toss.

In a small bowl, prepare the egg wash by mixing together the beaten egg and water.

To assemble the empanadas, divide the dough into 10 equal portions (about 52 grams each).  Shape each portion into a ball and roll into a 5-6” circle about 1/8” thick on a cool, lightly-floured surface.  Working one at a time, moisten the edge of half the circle with egg wash.  Place a ¼ cup (packed) filling in the center of the circle.  Fold the side with the egg wash over the top of the filling to create a half-moon shape and crimp the edges to seal.  Place the empanada on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush the top with egg wash, and repeat with the remaining dough and filling.  Slice a few small slits in the center of each empanada to help release steam while baking.

Bake at 400d for 22 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned.  If desired, turn on the broiler for a few seconds at the end until the empanadas are browned to your liking.  Serve with sour cream and salsa, optional.

To Freeze Empanadas:

Prepare the empanadas and freeze on a baking sheet or plate, then transfer to a zip-top bag or aluminum foil.  To bake, preheat the oven to 400d and bake on a parchment-lined pan for 30-35 minutes until golden brown and hot all the way through.  Do not thaw before baking.

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