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.
It appears that many cultures have a traditional stuffed pastry snack, at least in the Mediterranean. In Greece, Spanakopita is a popular appetizer made with phyllo dough, spinach and feta cheese. I also just learned about an Israeli stuffed pastry, Bureka, pronounced börek. Like spanakopita, it originated from Greece and Turkey but landed in Israel. Essentially, Burekas are individual stuffed pastry made with puff pastry or phyllo dough and filled with a savory filling of meats, cheese or vegetables.
Earlier this week I really wanted to bake, but I was in the mood for something savory. Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of savory baking recipes in my memory box, so I looked to a new cookbook I borrowed from the library, Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft. Uri Scheft is a baker from Israel and owns bakeries in Tel Aviv and New York City. His cookbook focuses on Israeli bread baking. This is a wonderful cookbook with clearly written instructions along with photographs featuring each step. Reading this cookbook is like having Uri Scheft standing at your side and calmly teaching you how to bake bread.
Savory Stuffed Pastry
I did not have the time to bake bread and go through the different proofing stages so I decided to bake one of the burekas recipes featured in his cookbook. The photograph of the Swiss Chard bureka was so appealing and I could clearly visualize a group of friends sitting around a table, having drinks, eating burekas with tahini, olives and pickles. It was an all are welcome greeting with a large platter of delicious bites.
At the time, there were three things that attracted me to the recipe: the photograph as mentioned earlier, Swiss chard, and store-bought pastry dough. As Uri points out, puff pastry is very difficult for the average home baker to make, so buying puff pastry is a great time-saving alternative. I like to make a lot of food from scratch, but now puff pastry dough is out of my league. Buying it saves me a lot of time and worry.
I love braised Swiss chard. This leafy green is not as soft and mild as spinach, or bitter and tough like kale. It stands between the two in flavors and texture. I also love the vivid yellow and purple stems in rainbow chard. Swiss chard has a great balance of body and flavor that is not too bitter. With a sprinkle of lemon zest over Swiss chard and this bitter green vegetable really brightens up.
More recipes with Mediterranean Feel
Uri Scheft’s recipe had all my favorite ingredients with the convenience of store-bought puff pastry dough and I was eager to try it. This is not a difficult recipe to make, but working with puff pastry has its challenges. Each time I bake with it I get a different outcome. So clearly, there is more I should learn. However, listed here are a few key considerations when baking with puff pastry.
Good to know tips working with stuffed pastry
Look for good quality puff pastry made with all butter. The butter helps the laminating process of the pastry and creates the flakes.
My purchased puff pastry came in a one pound box with 2 sheets. The recipe calls for 5 strips of pastry cut at least 4 inches wide and about 12 inches long. How you figure the placement and division of the strips is up to you. I pinched the two pieces together and rolled out the pastry to the dimensions I needed. Unfortunately, I did not achieve a lot of puff. This could be for many reasons, one being the pastry dough is made with vegetable oil and not butter. Or, the dough was too warm. I often find the layers stick together. Here is a great article from Bon Appetit about working with puff pastry dough.
Remove as much of the liquid from the cooked vegetables drained out. Excess liquid will make the pastry soggy and weigh it down. Gently press on the vegetables in a fine mesh strainer with the back of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to mush the vegetables.
Make sure the prepared filled pastries are cold before you put them in a preheated oven. Either place in the freezer for twenty minutes or refrigerate for one hour. Don’t skip this step. The butter in the pastry dough must be cold to create a nice flaky pastry.
Advance preparation: Make the bureka and place them on a rimmed baking sheet in the freezer. Once they are frozen, put the burekas in a freezer bag and keep in the freezer for up to a month. When you are ready to bake, paint the egg wash over the frozen burekas and place them directly on a hot baking stone or an upside rimmed baking sheet in the preheated oven. Bake until golden brown.
For the Love of New Discoveries
I am sure by now you know how much I love learning about new foods and techniques. Cooking and baking is always a process of discovery, whether I made the dish for many years or just for the first time. New discoveries energize me and make me more curious. I was thrilled to learn about this savory stuffed pastry and hope to perfect my technique as I continue to make them. Happy cooking.
As always, I would love to hear from you and about your culinary adventures. You and follow me on Instagram @lemonthymeandginger, Facebook or leave a comment under this recipe on my blog.
Stuffed Pastry with Swiss Chard and Feta
Stuffed pastry with Swiss chard and feta cheese makes a great appetizer or serve for any meal of the day. This recipe is an adaption of a traditional Israeli snack called Bureka. Serve with yogurt tahini spread, olives, and hard-boiled eggs, to create the perfect al fresco meal. Please don't be discouraged by the long prep time. Most of the prep time is waiting for the dough to chill, or the vegetables to cool. With the cooling and chilling time in mind, just make sure you have plenty of time to make these savory stuffed pastries. This stuffed pastry recipe can be made in advance and frozen for up to one month for your convenience. This recipe is slightly adapted from Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft.
Swiss Chard Filling
- 12 oz 342 g Swiss chard
- 5 oz 142 g spinach, tough stems removed
- 1 TB 100 g olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion finely minced
- 2 celery stalks and leaves thinly sliced
- 1/2 tomato seeds removed and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- Juice and zest from 1/2 a lemon
- 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
- Fresh ground pepper to taste
- 1 lb 455 g store-bought puff pastry - thawed if frozen
- All-purpose flour for rolling the pastry dough
- 1 1/4 cups 150 g feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 large egg
- 1 TB water
- For Garnishing
- Garnish with sesame seeds poppy seeds, everything bagel mixture, or dried herbs and spices
Swiss Chard Filling
Clean the Swiss Chard and remove the stems from the leaves. Cut the stems into 1/4 inch (.5 cm) chunks and set aside. Stack the chard leaves on top of each other and slice across the width into 1 inch (3 cm) ribbons. Then cut the ribbons in half across the width. Set aside.
Prepare the spinach the same as the Swiss Chard, but discard the stems. If you are using baby spinach there is no need to chop the leaves. However, remove any long stems from the baby spinach.
Turn the heat to medium and heat the olive oil in a large 10-inch skillet. Add the minced onion, celery and Swiss chard stems and 1/4 tsp of Kosher salt to the skillet and cook until softened, about 5-8 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent browning.
Add the chopped tomato, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and a couple of grinds of fresh black pepper. Cook the vegetables until the tomatoes break down about 2 - 3 minutes. Stir the vegetables frequently while they are cooking.
Add half of the Swiss chard greens and 1/4 tsp Kosher salt, and stir and cook until the leaves have wilted. Once the first batch cooks down, add the remaining Swiss Chard and cook until it is all wilted.
Scrape in the spinach leaves in the skillet with the vegetables in two batches. Once the spinach is heated and wilted, add the lemon juice. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and other seasonings if needed. Remember, the cheese in the filling will add a lot of salt to the bureka, so keep that in mind when you are tasting the vegetables.
Transfer the filling to a bowl and cool completely. The cooked vegetables can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for several hours.
Once cooled, place the vegetables in a fine mesh strainer and drain out any excess water. Gently press down on the vegetables without squishing them.
Prepare the Puff Pastry
Make the egg wash. In a small bowl beat the egg, water and a pinch of salt until completely combined. Set aside.
Prepare two large rimmed baking sheets and line with parchment paper.
Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin. Set the puff pastry on the floured surface, long side facing you, and lightly flour the top of the pastry. Gently roll the pastry into a rectangle about 20 inches (51 cm) by 12 inches (30.5 cm) and 1/16 inch thick. When you roll out the pastry dough, roll the pin in one direction beginning from about 1/3 of the way up from the side closest to you. Switch directions and roll the pin across the width in one direction. And switch again. Turn the pastry over and roll in one direction from each side. Repeat this until you have an even shaped rectangle about 1/16 inch thick. Rolling the pin back and forth confuses the dough and you do not get an even stretch. Be careful not to overwork the dough because it could get too warm. If the dough gets sticky and hard to work with, place on a rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Assembly, Chill and Bake
Divide the dough into 5 strips across the width of the pastry dough, about 4 inches (10 cm) wide and 12 inches (30.5 cm) long. Brush each strip with the egg wash. Reserve the egg wash for later.
Divide the sautéed vegetables into 5 equal portions about 1/2 cup (120 ml). Spread the Swiss chard mixture evenly down the middle of each strip. Add about a shy 1/4 cup (60 ml) of feta cheese crumbles on top of the vegetables. (If the dough is difficult to work with, chill it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.)
Fold the right side of the pastry strip over the filling and even with the left side of the pastry, like closing a book from the back to the front. Press on the edges and seal. Turn the filled pastry seam side down.
Twist each pastry into a spiral and make them into a U shape. Place each pastry on the prepared baking sheets. Place in the refrigerator and chill for one hour. Or place in the freezer and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven for at least 30 minutes to 400°F (200°C / Gas Mark 6). If you have baking stones add them on the oven racks when you turn the oven on. Or turn a rimmed baking sheet large enough for two or three bureka to fit, upside down on an oven rack. The stones or the baking sheet will get good and hot and help create a crisp crust. If you only have one stone bake the burekas in batches.
Brush the burekas with the egg wash and garnish with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sea salt, or herbs and spices of your liking. Bake until the burekas are golden brown 30 - 35 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.
Burekas are best eaten the same day they are made. Store any leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.