Sunday, August 15, 2010

Back to my roots...recreating the Ecuadorian Empanada

Empanada: it is a Spanish pastry filled with all sorts of delicious fillings that are either baked or deep fried to perfection. Empanadas are made in many countries and each country has their own special fillings, doughs, etc... Most commonly enjoyed with a sprinkling of sugar on top or a special dipping sauce, they are simply divine. I have recently been on a quest to recreate my family's non-vegan Ecuadorian empanadas and can quite happily say that I have finally succeeded! My family has only ever made meat and cheese stuffed ones, (though I hear people get a lot more creative with fillings these days) and I figured that it's high time, I try veganizing the family recipe so that I too can enjoy their deliciousness once again!

I still remember many long Saturdays of my youth spent in the kitchen slaving away with my family. When your living in a house with 4 other siblings, in which everything needs to be categorized in a "fair-share" manner, the only solution for preventing petty arguments over the empanadas is to make sure you cook more than enough! Indeed we did. It was often a whole day affair but worth every minute of our time. You'd think with all of the extra hands in the kitchen it would be a quick task, but for us, making empanadas was a labor of love that required supervision at every step of the way. Someone to help cook the fillings, someone to help mix the dough, someone to roll out and press the dough in the tortilla maker, someone to fill each pastry, someone to seal each one (in the special way that only my mother and grandmother could do), and then of course someone to cook the empanadas. It goes without saying that there were always enough hands and mouths to help eat, no wait, devour the empanadas once they were finally cooled. Yum!

In our various family adventures in making empanadas we have baked and deep fried them. Both are delicious cooking methods, though not surprisingly the latter offers an unrivaled crispy crust flavor with the drawbacks of higher calories. Once in a while though, everyone deserves a deep fried treat. ;) Today, I decided to stick to baking for the sheer fact that I think it is a heck of a lot easier to simply put a large tray in the oven rather than to heat oil and dip the pies into it only a few at a time.

As for the fillings, I decided to go with two very different flavors. The first being a vegan recreation of the traditional beef filling that included a medley of vegetables and beans with some veggie crumbles. (Um, so can I just let you know that I definitely spent a few minutes just eating this stuffing right out of the bowl after I cooked it. Yes it was THAT good. Want to know another secret? Apparently, so did my omnivore sister! If that's not proof to the deliciousness of this filling, then I don't know what is! Haha.) The second filling I created was a vegan spinach, onion and ricotta mixture. Also very tasty!

Here's a shot of my prep station including: the dough, beef filling, spinach & ricotta filling, and the tortilla press. Now feast your eyes on the finished products:

Vegan Beef Empanadas

Vegan Spinach, Onion & Ricotta Empanadas

All in all, today was definitely a success! I'm happy to say that these tasty treats were enjoyed by vegans and omnivores alike! Definite win! I will certainly revisit the vegan empanada as there are a whole host of other fillings I'd like to try out. Perhaps a fruit flavored filling or maybe even something with chocolate?! I'll keep you posted... =)

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