I find it amazing that I can talk about my history and memories not just in a couple of decades, but in several decades. Over a half century to be exact. That sounds old to me, but I don’t feel that old. It is a momentous feeling to think about a friendship that is over 50 years old or remember an experience that happened 30 years ago. Even my food memories hold a place in my archives situated between remembrances of day-to-day life and momentous occasions. One such food memory that stands out is the first time I ate beef empanadas over 30 years ago.
It couldn’t be any clearer than if it happened yesterday. The sweet and savory flavors of the beef filling warmed my heart and surprised me. At the time I was pregnant with my first child, so this might anchor my taste memory. The sweet raisins made the savory meat filling come alive with each bite. I’ve had braised beef filled with raisins before, like in braciole, but raisins in beef empanadas are an addictive combination. I love it and often crave this Mediterranean flavor. Unfortunately, finding beef empanadas with the sweet and savory meat filling is more difficult than you’d think.
Finally, to satisfy my craving for sweet and savory beef empanadas, I decided to undertake the task of making them at home. What I learned during this process is, just like pot sticker dough, corn tortillas, or pie dough, the process of making the dough is easy in theory and practice. Yet, getting the dough’s texture just right takes some additional practice and helpful suggestions from experienced hands. Fortunately, there are two options: you can make empanada dough or buy it ready-made and shaped.
I tested both options and feel confident recommending buying the empanada dough if you don’t want to make it. I also believe buying pastry might be the difference between making empanadas this weekend or placing it on your bucket list. Believe me I get it, after-all it has taken me 30 years to finally make empanadas for myself. According to my recipe from Bon Appetit, Goya is the recommended brand. Find frozen empanada dough in the frozen food section with other frozen Goya products. They come in packages of 10 pre-cut pastry discs. Another bonus is they are vegetarian/vegan friendly.
Don’t let me stop you from making empanada dough if that is your desire. Click, this link for a recipe at laylita.com. Included with the recipe is a helpful video showing how to assemble the empanadas. I made this recipe by hand, with butter and with a flour mixture of 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour. Empanada pastry is different from pie dough in that it is not flaky, and is supposed to absorb the juices from the filling keeping a crumbly texture.
As for empanada filling, anything goes. There are many traditional fillings from South American and Central American countries, and within these countries each region has another variation. I am not sure of the origin of my favorite beef, raisin and Spanish olive filling so I feel at liberty to play around with the seasoning. The warm spices like cumin and cinnamon give the beef a lot of depth of flavor. Feel free to substitute it with ground pork, ground lamb, ground turkey, or shredded chicken. If you want a vegetarian empanada, substitute the beef with the filling from Swiss Chard and Feta Stuffed Pastry, or make this stuffed pastry as an option. I wonder how my Ratatouille made with Fennel and Chickpeas recipe would taste encased in empanada pastry?
My empanada recipe is slightly adapted from Argentinian Beef Empanadas from Bon Appetit, February 2017. I added additional spices and slightly adjusted their technique.
Where did the time go, and why did I wait so long to make beef empanadas? Beef empanadas are delicious either using homemade or purchased pastry dough. I know Joe is excited about having a freezer full of beef empanadas at his disposal. They make great snacks, appetizers, picnic food, or to eat for any meal of the day. Serve them plain or with chimichurri sauce.
3 Tips for Making the Perfect Beef Empanadas
- To ensure your empanadas have a tight seal and don’t explode in the oven, assemble the empanadas when the filling is at a cool room temperature or chilled. When the filling is cool there is less liquid oozing over the pastry.
- Second, when assembling the empanadas, make sure the filling stays compact in the center and does not roll out to the edge. Making a tight seal along the edge is important to ensure the empanadas do not leak.
- Third, once the empanadas are all assembled, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour. This chilling time allows the dough to relax and secure the seal. Of all the tips to remember, chilling the empanadas before you bake them is the most important.
Sweet and Savory Beef Empanadas
- 3 TB olive oil divided
- 1.5 lbs (750 g) ground beef
- 2 onions chopped
- 2 red bell peppers chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 3 TB ground cumin
- 2 TB sweet paprika
- 1 TB dried oregano
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground clove
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) chicken stock
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt plus more for seasoning
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) raisins
- 1/2 cup Spanish green olives pitted and rough chopped
- 3 packages Puff pastry dough for Turnovers/Empanadas* preferably Goya or homemade empanada dough
- You will need 2-3 large rimmed sheet pans. If you only have 2 sheet pans bake the empanadas over two batches.
If you are making homemade empanada dough , make it first then refrigerate it while you make the meat filling.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a12-inch (29 cm) skillet (or Dutch Oven), at medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the meat and cook until browned with no visible pink spots. While the meat cooks, break it up using the side of a wooden spoon. Season with a pinch, about ¼ tsp, of Kosher salt and stir to mix.
Remove the ground beef using a slotted spoon and place on a plate and loosely cover aluminum foil. Reserve for later.
Lower the heat to medium then add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the chopped onions and bell peppers. Stir to evenly coat and cook until the onions and peppers have softened, but not browned, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently so the vegetables do not stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the minced garlic, stir and cook for about one minute.
Add the browned meat and any juices, bay leaf, cumin, paprika, oregano, ground cinnamon, ground clove and cayenne pepper to the meat mixture and stir to evenly mix. Cook for about one minute.
Add the chicken stock, sugar and a 1/2 tsp of Kosher salt, and several rounds of freshly ground black pepper. Stir the mix, scraping along the bottom of the pan with your spoon to loosen up any browned bits. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is evaporated.
Stir in the raisins and olives then transfer the mixture to a medium mixing bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper or sugar if needed. Remove the bay leaf. Allow the filling to cool down to a cool room temperature or cover and refrigerate for about an hour or more. The beef filling can be made up to 3 days in advance and kept in an air tight container in the refrigerator.
Assemble the Empanadas
Remove the defrosted purchased dough, or homemade dough, from the refrigerator and let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
For the homemade dough, follow the instructions given with your recipe.
Pre-heat the oven for 375°F / 190°C and place the racks in the upper and lower third position in the oven. Line two large sheet pans with parchment paper.
Fill a glass or small bowl with water and keep at your work area.
Place 6 pastry discs on a work surface. To prevent the pastry from sticking to your work surface keep the paper divider under the empanada pastry.
Add 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of each disc. Dab your finger in the water and paint the edge of one pastry with water. Bring the two sides together by picking up the center points of the top and bottom of the pastry circle making a half moon shape. Starting at the center, pinch the edges together and move your fingers down both sides, pinching along the way to seal the edges.
Lay the empanada flat on the work surface and run your fingers over the mounded part of the pastry to work out any air around the filling. Press down to secure the edges. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork.
Place the empanada on a parchment paper lined rimmed baking sheet and continue until all the filling is used up. Loosely drape the assembled empanadas with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, so they do not dry out.
Each sheet pan holds about 12 empanadas. When one sheet pan reaches capacity, loosely cover the empanadas with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. Continue assembling the remaining empanadas and refrigerate for 30 minutes – 1 hour.
Remove the empanadas from the refrigerator and baste each empanada with an egg yolk and water wash. Bake for 25-35 minutes, rotating the sheet pans front to back and top to bottom, half way through. The empanadas are done when they have a nice golden brown color and slightly darker around the edges.
Do ahead note: Unbaked empanadas will keep for 3 months in the freezer. Freeze them on a sheet pan until they are frozen solid, then transfer them into freezer bags and keep in the freezer.
Goya makes puff pastry dough for turnovers/empanadas. They are found in the freezer section of your grocery store with other Goya products. This product should not be confused with puff pastry dough found in the dessert freezer section of the store.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
There are many Christmas Eve traditions in this country and the holiday menu is only one part of it. My childhood Christmas Eve dinner was traditionally a beef dinner. Mom would put together a simple but elegant meal of beef stew, rice or potatoes, a green vegetable, and salad. For dessert she made persimmon pudding with hard sauce. Mom steamed the persimmon cake in a clean repurposed coffee can. Why bother to buy another pan to bake one cake, when there was a perfectly useful container right at home?
One Christmas Eve stew I remember very well, is Beef Stew with Horseradish Sauce. It is different from traditional American beef stew and beef bourguignon, but no less worthy of recognition. Beef Stew with Horseradish Sauce had more pizzazz than American beef stew, not as rich as beef bourguignon. I can distinctly remember loving it upon first bite.
I get very nostalgic when I think about my childhood Christmas Eve celebrations. It has been a long time since I celebrated Christmas at 10 Barner Lane, but despite the years gone by, I can clearly visualize the evening. On Christmas Eve, Dad always wore his red plaid wool vest along with his blazer and plaid bow tie. Mom wore a long red wool skirt, white ruffled blouse with black embroidered trim, and a wide black belt. The rest of us wore our best clothes that were au courant for the season. For us “kids,” getting dressed up on Christmas Eve was never a chore, or formality. Putting on one’s “party clothes” symbolized a special occasion was here and we were going to celebrate.
When dad was all finished dressing for the occasion, he would kneel by the dining room cabinet, reach inside to turn on the record player, place Joan Baez’s album Noël on the turntable, and turn the volume up. Her soprano voice would confidently but gently sing out, “O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel … Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee Israel….” With the beginning notes of her enchanting voice the party began.
I would wait in the dining room for dad, anticipating his arrival and turning on the Christmas music. As soon as he was near the record player I would stand by his side and watch him turn on the “Victrola” as he called it. Next to the our tradition of singing Christmas Carols around a candle lit tree, playing Joan Baez’s album was one of my anticipated events of the evening. To me it signaled the beginning of our Christmas festivities and all the glory that was to come. Joan Baez’s clear voice filled our home for all to hear.
As Mom finished preparing the dinner in the kitchen, we built a fire in the fireplace, then Dad and I would sit on the couch in the living room, he with his wassail and I with my hot cider. We sipped and listened to Joan Baez sing, and waited for the rest of the family to gather and our guests to arrive. Dad was just as excited about Christmas Eve as I was. I could always count on Dad’s routines and traditions, as I could always count on him.
Mom acquired the beef stew recipe some time the in the 70’s and it has been a favorite of mine ever since. It has a simple name, Beef with Horseradish Sauce, but don’t let the simple name fool you. There are deep, subtle, and warm flavors in the stew. Hints of curry and ginger meld with the rich seared and oven stewed beef. To add more subtle layers of flavor I added orange zest and cinnamon to infuse in the stew. I also wanted to coax out additional natural sweetness and added carrots and extra onions. The warm caramelized flavors of the spiced beef contrasted nicely with the tang of the sour cream and the bite of horseradish.
Helpful Hints Making Beef Stew with Horseradish Sauce
To start the stew off, I recommend cutting the beef into three large pieces, sear the meat until golden brown, then cut the meat into smaller bite size chunks. This technique encourages the meat to sear properly and not steam in the pot. It is also a technique recommended by Serious Eats. I found this method to be very effective and not a lot of extra work.
For the most part the stew will cook unattended in the oven, but you cannot forget about it. It is possible to overcook the meat in a stew despite the fact the beef is cooking in all that wonderful liquid. If cooked too long, the beef will get very dry and stringy. It is worth the extra effort to check on the progress of the stew meat after an hour and a half of cooking, then every 30 minutes thereafter. There is a possibility that the stew meat will reach the desired tenderness before the specified cooking time is up.
If you are making this stew a day or two ahead, you especially want to pay attention to the consistency of the stew. The additional cooking to heat the beef stew up again, for at least 30 minutes, will continue to cook and break down the beef. Stew should have discernible chunky tender pieces of beef that are just beginning to break down, not shredded and falling apart, as if for a pulled meat BBQ or a meat ragu.
I am unable to find the origin of Mom’s recipe. Most likely it was given to her from a friend, and from there is anybody’s guess. I have hopes that this mystery recipe will develop into its own identity and begin a new life with all of you. A new American stew. A hodgepodge stew of many possible origins, with each ingredient dependent on the other to accentuate its best features, and gel together into one big interesting and flavorful stew. Enjoy!
Beef Stew with Horseradish Sauce
- 4 lbs/ ~2 kilos beef -chuck or top round beef
- 4 Tbs/60g butter divided
- 2 medium carrots washed peeled and cut in half both ways to get 4 big pieces per carrot
- 3 large onions divided
- 2 tea/~5g curry powder
- 1 inch/2.5mm piece of fresh ginger minced
- 2 Tb/ 30ml Worcestershire sauce
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon Stick
- 3 pieces on orange zest about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide
- 1 tea Kosher salt
- 1/2 tea pepper
- 1 cup/250 ml chicken stock
- 1 cup/250ml dry white wine
- 1 cup/243g sour cream
- 2 Tb/308g prepared horseradish
- 2 Tb chopped fresh parsley
Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees F /150 degrees C/ Gas Mark 2
Cut the beef chuck into large steak like pieces. I had two pieces of beef chuck at 2.5 lbs each. I cut each piece into three large pieces.
Turn the stove up to medium high heat and melt 2 Tb of butter in a Dutch Oven. Sear the meat on both sides until golden brown. This will take several minutes on each side. Be patient and do not touch or move the beef around while it is searing. If you are using one pot you will need to brown the meat in two batches, adding the remaining 2 Tb of butter in the pot to sear the batch of meat. (See note)
Remove the seared meat from the Dutch oven and cut the seared beef into equal size pieces of around 1 1/2" to 2". Set the cut meat aside and reserve for later.
Cut 2 onions in half lengthwise then thinly slice the halves across the width. Saute the sliced onions in the Dutch oven with the rendered fat from searing the beef, until the onions begin to brown. Remove the sliced onions with a slotted spoon from the Dutch oven and reserve for later.
Cut the remaining onion into quarters and put in the Dutch oven. Add the carrots and brown the vegetables. About 5-8 minutes.
Add the minced ginger and curry powder and briefly cook for about 1 minute. Add the Worcestershire sauce, stock, white wine, orange zest, cinnamon stick, bay leaf and salt, pepper into the pot and stir to mix.
Add the beef chunks and any juices that accumulated in the pan, and heat the stew on the stove until it just begins to boil.
Cover the pot with a lid, very slightly ajar, and put into the preheated oven.
Cook the stew for an hour and a half. At that time check the meat to see its progress and remove the carrots and onions from the stew.
Add the reserved sauteed onions to the Dutch oven making sure to scrape out of the pan any accumulated juices. Stir to combine.
Put the stew back into the oven and continue to cook the stew in the oven and check for doneness every 30 minutes until the meat is tender, can easily be broken up with a fork, but still retains its shape. The beef is not completely falling apart. The original recipe called for 3 hour cooking time, but every oven is different so it is a good idea to monitor the progress to not cook the beef longer than necessary. My stew was done in 2 1/2 hours.
If you are making the stew ahead of time, I would recommend to stop cooking the stew by or before the 2 1/2 hour mark. You will cook the stew at a later time to heat it up and you do not want it to turn to mush. If reserving for later, Cool the stew down and put in the refrigerator, covered in the same pot, until you plan to reheat it.
Before serving mix the sour cream, horseradish and chopped parsley in a small bowl until just combined.
Before adding the horseradish sour cream, remove the orange peels, cinnamon stick and bay leaf from the pot.
Just before serving the beef stew, add the sour cream and horseradish to the stew and stir until well combined. You could also opt to serve the horseradish sauce as a condiment on the side. That way people can opt out of the sour cream if they want to, or add the amount of sour cream they desire.
Serve with buttered egg noodles, or boiled, buttered and herb red potatoes, along with a dark green vegetable like Brussels sprouts, broccoli or green beans.
I used two pans to sear the beef and divided the 4 lbs of beef and the 4 Tb of butter equally between each pan. I used a Dutch Oven and a cast iron skillet. It cut down on my cooking time significantly and if you can manage it, I recommend it. I then sauteed the sliced onions in the skillet and reserved them to add later into the stew.
I continued cooking the remaining steps in the Dutch oven.
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.