Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Why are some foods so expensive in New York City? Somehow the rustic, home style dishes of other countries are miraculously transformed into pricey, complicated confections the minute they hit Manhattan. Take something like gnocchi or lamb shanks; these were once considered simple peasant foods in Italy, but often manage to become the most expensive thing on the menu of your local trattoria. Sometimes this has to do with the exoticism of the dish (if it's new to you it must be worth the 30 bucks a plate, right?) and sometimes it has to do with the updated permutations of this foreign fare. Take for example, the humble empanada. They began as street food, primarily for workers, due to their portability (kind of like the original hot pocket), and generally had cheap, albeit delicious fillings like ground beef, tuna, or chicken. Nowadays you can find entire restaurants dedicated to just empanadas, and their fillings can vary from the traditional to the contemporary and in some cases, wacky.
I'm not quite sure what it is about these delicious pockets of tasty meat that says, "Yes, it's okay to pay $12 for a small, inauthentic version of me. In fact, order 4!" But it seems that people continue to eat them by the handful. Most people must not be aware of how painfully easy it is to make these hand held treats at home. Although every country has it's own version of a traditional filling, my favorite has always been the classic ground beef topped with hard boiled egg (although tuna and tomato comes in at a close second). I generally don't even bother to make the pastry since Goya has done the work for me and conveniently frozen the coral discs in individually wrapped packages. All you have to do is lightly roll each disc to thin it out a bit and sauté up some filling. All that's left is to fold the pastry over, crimp the edges with a fork and quickly fry them up in a pan. I like to make a very basic and traditional filling that reminds me of the ones I ate when I was little and could barely hold an entire empanada in my tiny little hand. Most of the ingredients are probably already in your fridge and freezer, so go ahead and give them a try, I promise this classic recipe won't disappoint.
3/4 lb ground beef
1/2 an onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
2 Tbsp olive oil (not extra virgin)
3 Tbsp pimiento stuffed olives, chopped
1 can whole or diced tomatoes, drained
2 hardboiled eggs, diced
1 package empanada pastry
vegetable oil for frying (or your favorite light colored oil)
parsley (for garnish)
1. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until soft, but do not allow to brown. Add cumin and oregano and cook another minute.
2. Add beef and sauté until almost completely cooked through. Add tomatoes and olives and cook another 2 minutes or until flavors come together.
3. Remove meat mixture from heat and allow a few minutes to cool.
4. Lightly roll out a sheet of pastry and fill with two tablespoons of the slightly cooled meat mixture. Top with hard boiled egg (about a tsp). Fold sheet over so edges meet and seal by pressing around the edge with the tines of a fork. Repeat with remaining pastry sheets.
5. Heat a 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet and cook empanadas in batches, about 2 minutes per side. Remove them to a paper towel covered plate and sprinkle with coarse salt and parsley. Enjoy!