Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Friends and Beef Empanadas

I've thought a lot about friendship recently; the friends we keep in touch with from our childhood, and the ones we let slip away, either due to time or distance, or just a diminishing overlap in common interests. There are friends who are more habit than anything else, like a sweatshirt you wear at home that you would never buy today if you saw it in a shop. When you step back and evaluate these friends with fresh eyes, there aren't many things you have in common, but they are comfortable and have seen you through all your many phases, and history goes a long way when it comes to friendships (and sweatshirts). Then there are your rare true friends, the friends with whom you have no pretenses, no qualifiers, no filter. They're your family, the ones you wouldn't hesitate to call in the middle of the night for even the smallest emergency.

And then there are new friends. The ones we choose as an adult, not born of homeroom circumstances, but because we see something we like, and we make room in our lives for them.

This weekend was a reunion party for a group of new friends whom I barely know. Last month, Paul and I traveled to Colombia for a friend's wedding. (You can read my post about our trip to Colombia to get some backstory.)

Now, almost all of the 50 or so people we traveled with in Colombia were complete strangers to Paul and me before we found ourselves in a foreign country with them (we only knew the bride and groom). But riding on a hot bus for four hours through the windy roads of the Andes will make fast friends of strangers. And so for five days, we danced together, shared drinks and laughs, and the shared experiences heightened and accelerated the forming of friendships.

The reunion party this weekend was not unlike our trip to Colombia - nonstop music, overflowing plates of food, and a constant stream of rum and sangria. And although I know so little about the real lives of these new friends (I know not their jobs, or how they voted in the last election, or where they are from), the sharing of meals and laughs and memories is enough to begin a friendship.

The party was a potluck, which I am always such a big fan of; everyone showing up with a casserole dish, hovering around the table sampling each other's food and praising one another. I made beef empanadas, Paul's favorite dish in Colombia, and they were really quite simple and delicious. Don't be intimidated by the long(ish) instructions. I mean it when I say this: If I can make these, anyone can.

There's room in our lives for all kinds of friends. So what if you don't know their last names. Some friendships take a lifetime to develop. For others, it only takes a meal.

Be careful to keep all the ingredients for the dough as cold as possible (that's what keeps it light and flaky). And the beef filling is a flavor trifecta: savory and sweet and spicy all at the same time. A little like life, if you ask me. I added a few shakes of hot sauce to the recipe, because I felt it needed a tiny bit of a kick, and I also used half golden raisins and half regular, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand.

Adapted from Maria Arce (filling) and Anya von Bremzen (dough)


2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup tomato sauce
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste, optional
1/2 teaspoon whole oregano
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons chopped green olives
6-8 dashes of hot sauce, such as Tapatio

3 cups plus 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into pieces
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
2 egg yolks, beaten with 3 tablespoons ice water
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water, divided
Vegetable oil for deep-frying

To make the filling: In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef, tomato sauce, pepper, salt (if using), oregano, capers, raisins and olives. Stir to combine, reduce heat to low, and cook slowly for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool.
To make the dough: Place flour and salt in a food processor and process for several pulses to blend. Add the shortening and butter and process until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, about 12 seconds. Add the yolk and water mixture and process for 3 pulses. Keep adding water, a tablespoon at a time, following with 2 to 3 pulses, until the mixture just sticks together but does not form into a ball around the blades. You may not need all of the ice water. Turn the pastry out onto a cool, smooth surface, knead briefly, and form it into two balls. (The dough can be prepared ahead of time up to this point and refrigerated overnight.)
Flatten one ball of the pastry into a disk. Cover it with wax paper and roll it out to a thickness of 1/16-inch. Cut into 4-inch rounds. Place a pastry circle on work surface. Put a heaping tablespoon of filling on the lower half of each circle. Fold over, moistening the edges with a little water to seal, if necessary. Crimp edges with the tines of a fork to seal.
Pour oil to a depth of 1 1/2 inches into a large, deep skillet and heat to 360 degrees. Fry the empanadas, a few at a time, until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per batch. With a slotted spoon, remove them to drain on paper towels. Keep the finished empanadas warm in an oven on low while the rest fry.


  1. Nice to stumble on your blog via Twitter. Very nicely written and the Empanadas look beautiful. I tried making them once and I found them very heavy. I will listen to your tip about keeping the dough cold next time. Thanks.

  2. i love that photo of friendship. it's such a gorgeous shot.

    thank you for the recipe.

  3. Of course, a mention of my beloved empanadas demands a mention of aji, the Colombian salsa. Aji is a perfect topping for the empanadas. And I agree with adding hot sauce to the meat mixture. I would add even more than you suggest.

    Aji recipe:

  4. Thanks JerseyBites! Empanadas can be VERY heavy -- these are surprisingly light and full of flavor.

  5. I can vouch for that... those empanadas were very tasty but not heavy at all... best with that green mint chutney like sauce...

  6. I'm Mexican and had an aunt that was Cuban that use to make these empanadas. I have been looking for a recipe that resembles hers. Thanks for the recipe.

  7. From one of your newest friends, I can't wait to make them - they were delicious! Thanks Sara You're the coolest cheffy! Wendy Benbrook