Bored of the same old foods you serve your family? Get ready for some inspiration! Flavor Excursions will be a new series on Barista Kids, written by Alison Bermack, local food writer and the founder of Cooking With Friends. Her new series, which will cull from the culinary inspiration she collects from regular visits to ethnic neighborhoods and markets, will deliver an infusion of family friendly flavors to the Barista community — all just a short jaunt from Baristaville!
One mouthwatering bite is all it took to get hooked on empanadas. It was many years ago at a party when a platter of golden pastries made by my friend’s Argentine mother sat gloriously on a buffet table and beckoned me to taste for myself. To me, this flaky pastry encasing a savory filling yielded the ideal blend of flavors and texture. If you ask me, it was perfection in a pocket.
This one sampling triggered my empanada making itch and sent me the very next week on an adventure to Le Regional, an authentic Argentinian market on Cianci Street in Paterson. My intrepid half Argentine friend Jackie escorted me to this little market, just a short distance away from Montclair (15 minutes at most) past the majestic Paterson falls. So close, yet a world away.
Step inside this unassuming shop for a strong brew of espresso or cappuccino and pick a fresh baked pastry from the bakeshop in the rear to go with it. Be careful though — if the nice lady in the front asks you if you like your coffee sweet, she has a heavy hand with the sugar. There’s nowhere to sit and sip your coffee, but you can take your treats to go after browsing for Argentinian specialties such as Dulce de Leche or the La Saltena brand empanada wrappers, which I promise are far superior to any other store bought brand. You can get the kind to bake in the oven (par hornear) or deep fry (par freir), an important distinction to take note of since the fry version doesn’t bake well. I opt for the baking kind since they are much healthier and actually taste better.
I’ve been taking regular trips to Paterson for years now to stock my freezer with empanada wrappers to support my obsession to create endless varieties of fillings. Jackie rarely turns down an invitation to join me since she loves to bring home her favorite multi-layered ham and cheese specialty sandwich which they sell in the rear of the shop. It’s always a fun and efficient get-away which leads to many meals to feed our families.
Forgive me, my Argentinian friends, for taking creative liberties with the typical beef, egg and raisin filling. I’ve made curried beef, taco style, southwestern chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket, vegetarian bean, chicken pot pie, lobster and corn and even apple pie fillings. My friends and I make them together in big batches, freeze them and then pull them out for after-school snacks, lunches and dinners. My Curried Chicken Empanadas with Tamarind Sauce have made me a popular guest among friends and neighbors, who request time and time again I bring them as an appetizer to parties. Since the wrappers come in cocktail sizes they make delightful two-bite hors d’oeuvres.
I’m so gaga over empanadas that I’ll be teaching another empanada making class at the Adult School in Montclair this coming April. And that’s despite not having a stitch of Argentinian blood in my genes.
The empanada craze spreads easily and has done so around town, as a taste will lead to the must-have need to make them yourself. Most of my friends make them now and I’ll often get last minute calls for wrappers. I’ll either dip into my emergency freezer supply or head out to the market myself. It doesn’t take much to nudge me to Paterson. I have my good friend and her mother to credit and thank for the inspiration. I just hope her mom isn’t too appalled at my modern take on the empanada.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 pounds ground chicken
- 2 large onions, diced
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons curry powder
- ½ cup petit peas
- 20 empanada wrappers
Make the Filling:
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on a medium heat.
- Sauté the ginger, garlic and onions for about 5 minutes on a medium-high heat.
- Add the ground chicken and cook, breaking apart the meat as you go.
- Season with curry powder, salt and cumin. When the chicken is cooked through (about 10 minutes), add the petit peas and carrots. Combine well and set aside.
Crimp the Empanadas:
- Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of an empanada wrapper.
- Fold one side over the other and crimp the edges together, using the rope or fork method.
- Repeat until finished with all of the wrappers and filling.
- Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Brush the tops of the empanadas with egg wash (one egg lightly beaten with a dash of water)
- Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden. Serve with Tamarind sauce or other sweet chutney.
- Crimp each empanada and lay on a baking sheet lined with wax paper (making sure not to overlap or stack the empanadas.)
- Place uncovered in the freezer for several hours until the empanadas are frozen solid.
- Transfer to a freezer bag and seal, squeezing out excess air.
- To cook, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees, brush the tops of each with egg wash and bake on a non-stick baking sheet for 30 minutes until golden.