I knew when cooking an Argentine meal that meat would be involved. Not only does Argentina give off that kind of vibe (like South Africa does), but also my dearest friend, who is a very strict and somewhat influential vegetarian, ate steak when she visited Argentina in 2009. This for me is a good indicator that meat there is a staple, and that it’s freaking delicious!
I would love to visit Argentina. As with many other countries I know little about it, but it’s just one of those places that screams ‘Visit me’ when I think about it. I’ve always felt like this, but since meeting two lovely Argentine gentlemen when I was in Dublin, I want to visit Argentina even more. These two guys, Federico and Agustin, told me lots about their beautiful country, and about the cuisine – mainly Mate which Fede spoke about all the time. Mate is tea, but it’s consumed in a little cup/mug and through a straw – because the tea, while you’re drinking it, is being infused from the top little sieve thing. Here’s a picture that may do a better job of explaining…
Ok so anyway, Fede told me about Mate, and he seemed to know his stuff, so I decided to employ some assistance from him when choosing my meal for this week. I already had a recipe for Empanadas but figured I would ask the expert, and he came back and told me that Empanadas are probably the easiest way to go. According to Fede, the most traditional Empanadas are Criollas or Salteñas. I haven’t yet worked out what Criolla means because from the internet it looks like a type of salsa, but a Salteñas Empanada is a baked Empanada. You can also fry them – ‘Tucuman’ style according to Wikipedia. An empanada is, in layman’s terms, a little pie. It’s got a doughy pastry outside, and then a delicious filling (usually meat, but vegetarian options are possible). What I learnt is that different patterns are made on the join of the two sides to differentiate between the type of fillings. (More about this later). During Lent, empanadas are made with fish and are reported to be quite popular.
There are certain meals I’ve made during this cook that I am just super proud of, and this is one of them. It wasn’t perfect, but I always feel so excited when I produce something that does require a bit of work, and especially when it requires making your own dough from scratch (I think that’s the part I feel most excited about). You always see these products in the store, but to think that it’s possible to make it from step one is just very exciting for me.
Here is the recipe I used. I did hit a few snags along the way. I bought beef goulash pieces, because they’re already chopped, but as I started browning them I realised they were WAY too big. So I ended up taking them out of the pan and chopping them smaller. In hindsight I needed something between mince and the little pieces that I ended up having. Although it wasn’t the end of the world. I also really struggle to find meat that is tender enough, or to find ways to not overcook beef. I’m pretty good with chicken but I seem to struggle with beef (although I do think I likely didn’t buy the right stuff, as the recipe asked for beef shoulder, and I just couldn’t find that – or what it is commercially sold as). The dough was pretty perfect (I used butter instead of lard). I naively expected it to rise, and only realise as I’m writing this that there was no yeast, so that would have been pretty miraculous if it had). The combination of red pepper and onion, with the cumin, paprika and chillie flakes was just incredible. I left the boiled egg out of the recipe. As much as I love to eat an egg, I’m really not at all a fan of boiled egg in other foods (like potato salad). This may be sacrilege to say for the Empanada gods, but I don’t feel like it was missed at all. I managed to roll out my dough into circles, place the filling in the centre, and then fold the Empanadas over. I think I made some of the dough circles a bit too big, but they were still great in the end. I did however struggle to make the pattern on the folds – the recipe I used offered a visual explanation which I failed to see until afterwards. So they ended up being a kind of ‘mixed bag’ of patterned empanadas.
They really were so delicious, and I will definitely make them again. I froze a few uncooked ones to cook up again in the future (a dozen empanadas in one go, even with Paula helping me, just seems a big piggy!)