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Spud Sunday: A Chilean Tale

Local Hero Empanadas with Potato & Tomato Filling

Potato Empanadas

Speaking of things that are big in Chile, according to this New York Times article [1], Chileans are truly passionate about empanadas [2] – little pastry turnovers with fillings which can be meaty, fishy, veggie or cheesy. I couldn’t resist giving a potato-filled version a whirl.

For the dough, I used as my guide a recipe for empanada dough [3] that I found on Epicurious [4]. Though I understand that lard would probably be more traditional, this dough, which uses butter, worked a treat. I would definitely consider making a big batch of this and then freezing individual empanada-sized portions.

For the potato filling, I can’t claim it’s entirely Chilean in origin. The tomato base into which the potatoes went was inspired by an Indian tomato sauce by Madhur Jaffrey. I happened to use small, waxy potatoes for this, which meant that the little cubes of potato retained their shape, whereas floury spuds would tend to break apart a bit more. Either works.

For the dough:
  • 300g plain flour
  • 125g cold unsalted butter, cut into approx. 1cm cubes
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 tblsp distilled white vinegar
  • 60ml ice water
For the filling:
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 150g red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 400g fresh tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 large fresh green chili, finely chopped
  • 350g potatoes, scrubbed and cut into approx 1cm cubes
  • 0.75 tsp salt or to taste, plus freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tblsp loosely packed chopped coriander leaves
  • olive oil for frying
You’ll also need:
  • 2 large baking sheets (my 35cm x 40cm baking sheet fit about 8 empanadas – the recipe makes 12 in total)
The Dough Steps:
  • In a large bowl, whisk the flour and salt together well.
  • Rub the butter into the flour until the texture resembles coarse meal, but with some larger (approx. pea-sized) lumps of butter remaining.
  • In a small bowl, beat together the egg, vinegar and water.
  • Add the egg mixture to the flour, stirring with a fork until just combined – the mixture will look a bit shaggy.
  • Turn out onto a floured surface and gather together – kneading gently once or twice just to bring things together.
  • Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.
The Filling Steps:
  • Place a large pan over a medium heat. When it’s hot, add enough oil to just coat the pan. Add the mustard seeds.
  • Once the mustard seeds start sizzling and begin to pop, which should only take a few seconds, add the onion. Stir and fry for about 2 minutes, then add the garlic, chili and ginger and stir and fry for another 2 minutes or so, until the onions start to soften.
  • Now add the tomatoes, potatoes, salt and a couple of twists of black pepper. Stir to mix and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for around 25 minutes or until the potatoes are just tender.
  • Stir in the chopped coriander and leave the filling to cool.
The Put It All Together Steps:
  • Preheat your oven to 200C
  • Take the chilled dough from the fridge and divide into 12 roughly even pieces.
  • To make each empanada, take one of the pieces of dough, leaving the remaining pieces covered in the fridge, and shape into a ball. I did find my dough to be ever so slightly tacky but nothing that rolling with a little flour didn’t fix.
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll the ball out into a disc, roughly 12cm in diameter.
  • Place 2-3 tblsp of the filling on one side of the dough circle, leaving 1cm to 2cm between the filling and the edge of the dough. Fold the other half of the dough over the filling, giving a roughly semi-circular shape, and press the edges together. If you like, you can decorate the edges by pressing down on them with the tines of a fork. Place the empanada on a floured baking tray and repeat the process with the rest of the dough and filling.
  • If you like, you can brush the empanadas with some beaten egg or milk.
  • Bake for around 25 minutes or until golden.
  • Serve hot or at room temperature, with salads and maybe sour cream or a sweet tomato relish.
The Variations:
  • Next time I think I will try stirring some cottage cheese through the filling to give it some added moistness.
  • If you reckon that small is beautiful, then you could divide the dough into 24 pieces and make empanadillas instead.
The Results:
  • Makes 12 empanadas and you’ll be feeling a bit heroic after putting in all of the effort required!