Empanadas and Fried Plantains

A year ago, I was in Miami and had some amazing Cuban food at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant.  I don’t know what the dish I ate was called, only that it was delicious and I ate it all.  Also, I remember that is came with mouth-watering fried plantains.  If you’ve never had fried plantains, I’m sorry, but you are missing out.  Plantains are not sweet dessert bananas, even though they look like each other and according to Wikipedia, “there is no formal botanical distinction between bananas and plantains, and the use of either term is based purely on how the fruits are consumed.”  Plantains are less sweet than bananas and have more starch, which allows them to be fried into delicious chips.

After recently talking with a friend about Cuban food, I remembered how much I loved fried plantains.  I decided that I needed a meal to make with fried plantains.  Since I had purchased beef this week from the farmers’ market, I love any kind of dumpling, and plantains originate from South American cooking, I figured why not pair my fried plantains with some yummy beef empanadas.

The first time I made these beef empanadas, I was skeptical of the raisin, green olives, and hard-boiled egg.  I’m sure you are too.  It sounds really strange to be combined together, but it works.  This empanada is an Argentine empanada and the Argentines know what they are doing.

Though the plantains are best the same day and still okay the next day, the empanadas keep wonderfully in the freezer and reheat perfectly in the oven or microwave.  This recipe will make 12 small empanadas that you can make on the weekend and then store in the freezer for later in the week or in the month.  They are also perfect for impressing company, and now that you have read my pie dough post the empanada dough will be a snap for you.  So I invite you to try the flavors of Argentina and enjoy.

Beef Empanadas

Adapted only slightly from Smitten Kitchen  (also, if you haven’t tried Smitten Kitchen recipes yet, you should because they are awesome)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup cold water
1 tablespoon vinegar

Whisk the flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Dice the cold butter and add into the flour.  Combine the butter into the flour with your hands by smushing the butter chunks between your fingers and into the flour (see pie dough recipe for more details).  Once the butter is incorporated into the flour, whisk together water, egg, and vinegar in a small bowl (or 2-cup measuring cup) with a fork.  Add the wet mixture into the flour and stir together with the fork.  The mixture will be shaggy.  Pour the mixture onto a clean work surface and knead it together with your hands.  Once it comes together into a ball, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours (due to the egg and vinegar, the dough does not work well longer).  While the dough is refrigerating, start the filling.

2 hardboiled eggs, chopped*
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 lb ground beef
2 tablespoons raisins (in these pictures I use golden, but I’ve used black in the past and they have worked great too)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pimento-stuffed green olives
1 (14-oz) can stewed tomatoes, mostly drained, except reserve 2 tablespoons juice

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and onions.  Sautee the onions until they become translucent, 3-4 minutes.  Next add the garlic, cumin and oregano and saute for another minute.  Add the ground beef and cook until no longer pink (4-5 minutes), breaking it up with a spatula as it cooks.  Add the tomatoes and 2 tablespoons juice, chopped olives, and raisins and stir together.  Allow to cook another 5 minutes, until much of the liquid is gone, but the mixture is still moist.  Remove the skillet from the heat and add the chopped hard-boiled eggs.  Set the mixture aside to cool.

After the filling has cooled and the dough has been chilled at least 1 hour, preheat an oven to 400 degrees.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on clean work surface.  Shape the dough into a rectangle and cut into 12 pieces.  Take one of the pieces and roll it out into a six-inch diameter circle.  Take scoop of the filling (about 3 tablespoons) and mount it on one side of the circle.  Fold the dough over the filling and crimp the edges with a fork.* *   Place the empanada on a baking sheet and continue with the rest of the dough and filling.  Once all 12 empanadas have been assembled, whisk together 1 egg with 2 teaspoons water.  Brush the empanadas with the egg mixture.  Place the empanadas in the oven for 25 minutes, until they are golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool 5 minutes.  Serve warm.

*I start hard-boiling my eggs before I start my filling, that way when I am ready for them they have cooked and cooled.  (How to hard-boil an egg:  Place egg(s) in a small sauce pot and cover with 1 inch of water.  Bring the water to a low boil/simmer and boil for 10 minutes.  Remove the egg(s) to a bowl with ice water to cool for 10 minutes.)

**If you want them to look fancy, after you crimp the edges you can take a pizza cutter and cut off an excess so it is the same length all the way around.

Fried Plantains

2-3 ripe plantains (they should be black or yellow and black speckled)
1/2-1 cup vegetable oil

Fill a heavy-bottomed skillet with about 1/2 inch of oil.  Heat the oil over med-high heat.  Remove the plantains from their peel, by cutting off the ends with a knife, then slicing through the peel (but not into plantain) longways on both sides.  Pull off the peel.  Slice the plantain, slightly diagonally (to obtain larger slices), in 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.  Place the plantain slices into the hot oil, but do not overcrowd the pan.  Once the plantain slices start to turn golden brown flip them over and brown the other side (1-2 minutes per side).  Remove the plantain slices from the oil once golden brown on both sides.  Place the slices onto a cooling rack over a paper towel and sprinkle with salt.  Once cooled slightly, place the plantains slices on a plate with paper towels.  Repeat with the rest of the slices.  Serve warm with the empanadas and enjoy your South American experience.


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