Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Easy Empanada Casserole

PLEASE READ THIS!!  If you are like me, when you see a post that interests you, you scroll to the bottom to check out the ingredients to see if there is a chance you would ever make it.  If you do that with this post you will think to yourself, "Why the heck would I make something with ground beef, eggs, green olives, and raisins?"  Well, because I told you to.

I was first introduced to empanadas in college during a food production class.  Our big class project was to plan, prepare, and host a dinner with cuisine from an assigned country.  My group was assigned Argentina.  Apparently empanadas are like cheeseburgers there.  When I first saw what these were made of I thought there was no way they would be any good and I couldn't believe we were going to make these to feed people who were paying good money for our dinner.  But we tested them, and it turns out they are surprisingly delicious.

Since having these authentic empanadas I have had empanadas at a popular chain Mexican restaurant that will remain nameless.  They stunk.  So if you have had similar experiences and think you've had empanadas before, you haven't.  These have a great combination of salty, savory, and slightly sweet filling with a crisp, buttery cornmeal crust.  When I first made these, I was hoping my husband wouldn't notice the bizarre ingredients and refuse to eat them.  He did notice, but he kept right on eating.  Success!

Empanadas have an I-want-to-eat-these-everyday taste, but an I-never-want-to-make-these-again prep time.  They require making the filling and crust, then rolling the crust out into 16 individual rounds, and then filling, sealing, and crimping each pocket.  I thought there had to be a way to enjoy these without spending all day on it.  So I thought I would try making it as a casserole instead of individual pockets.  I made it exactly the same way except that I just rolled the crust into the approximate shape of my baking dish, added the filling, and then topped with another crust.

I must say, I am brilliant.  A casserole version had the same great taste, and took way less time.  If you want to cut out even more time, both the filling and the crust can be prepared the day before cooking.  Then just assemble and bake.  And enjoy.  I told you it was good!
 I apologize.  The afternoon I made this, I got everything out, got started, and quickly realized my camera battery was dead.  So no pictures!  But trust me, it is really simple.  I do also want to mention that the dough calls for tequila or vodka.  Gluten doesn't form in alcohol, but does in water, so using tequila or vodka creates a tender, flaky crust.  The alcohol bakes out, and you can't taste it. 

Easy Empanada Casserole
For the filling:
1 slice whole wheat bread
2 Tbsp plus 1/2 cup low-sodium beef broth
1 pound ground beef
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup raisins, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
4 tsp cider vinegar
For the dough:
3 cups flour
1 cup corn meal
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp table salt
12 Tbsp unsalted butter, ct into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
1/2 cup cold vodka or tequila
1/2 cup cold water
4 Tbsp olive oil (for baking)
For the filling: Brown beef in skillet.  Meanwhile, process bread and 2 tablespoons chicken broth in food processor until paste forms, about 5 seconds, scrapping down sides of bowl as necessary.  Add 3/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper, and pulse until mixture is well combined.
Thoroughly drain beef.  While beef is draining, add onions to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic, cumin, cayenne, and cloves; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add bread mixture and remaining 1/2 cup broth and simmer until mixture is moist but not wet, 3-5 minutes.
Transfer mixture to bowl and cool 10 minutes.  Stir in cilantro, eggs, raisins, olives, and vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until cool, about 1 hour.
For the dough: Process 1 cup flour, corn meal, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined.  Add butter and process until homogeneous and dough resembles wet sand, about 10 seconds.  Add remaining 2 cups flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl, 4-6 quick pulses.  Empty mixture into large bowl.
Sprinkle vodka or tequila and water over mixture.  Using hands, mix dough until it forms tacky mass that sticks together.  Divide dough into half.  
To assemble: Heat oven to 425 degrees and place 9x13-inch baking dish in the oven to preheat.  While baking dish is heating, form both pieces of dough into 9x13-inch shape.  Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over baking dish.  Place one piece of dough into dish.  Top evenly with filling and then top with other piece of dough.  Brush the top piece of dough with remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  
Bake 25-30 minutes until well browned.  Allow to cool 10 minutes and serve.

Recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated, May/June 2010.

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