Empanadillas are a delicacy popular in Nuyorican cooking. Basically, it’s a stuffed meat pie. Cubans have their own version of it, and they call it empanadas. We also have empanadas. But our version differs from the empanadillas in that the ingredients are traditionally wrapped in plantain leaves and then the stuffed empanada is baked in a medium oven. The most famous use of plantain leaves in our culture is in the preparation of pasteles (for a step-by-step recipe, see my video of 12/4/10). For pasteles, if plantain leaves are not available, we wrap them in waxed paper. With empanadas, you can use aluminum foil which works just as well.
Empanadillas need no plantain leaves or waxed paper. It’s a very straight forward recipe, and depending on the filling, empanadillas can be made large, medium, or small size. It’s just a matter of preference. The following recipe will make about 10 empanadillas, depending on size.
The recipe is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Books, Running Press) which has gone into its 3rd printing.
(Stuffed Meat Pies)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
4 cups flour
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup water mixed with 1/4 teaspoon sugar
Vegetable oil for frying
1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan. Add beef, bell pepper, onion, garlic, salt and ground pepper. Sauté over high heat, stirring constantly, until meat loses its red color.
2. Reduce heat to low, stir in tomato sauce and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 3 cups flour, 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, baking soda, sugar and salted water. Sift through the hands until the flour is moistened and a soft dough is formed.
4. Roll dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently.
5. Break off a small piece of dough and flatten into a patty. Using a rolling pin, roll out dough into a circle 6-7 inches in diameter. Fill center with a tablespoon of beef filling, and fold circle in half. Using a small plate as a guide, trim off excess dough to get a perfect half moon shape. Seal edges by pressing all the way round with the tines of a fork. Repeat until ingredients are used up, dusting the surface and empanadillas with flour, as needed, to prevent sticking.
6. Deep-fry in hot oil until golden (about 3-4 minutes). Remove and drain on absorbent paper towels.