Sunday, August 30, 2009

Chard Empanadas with Zebra Tomato Salsa

I share my little garden plot in the backyard with my next door neighbors, and we have a free trade policy regarding the veggies. They've taken a few zucchini and tomatoes off of my hands, and their patch of swiss chard has provided me with greens since the spinach gave up earlier this summer. The chard is still growing like crazy, so I picked a bunch to make these empanadas over the weekend.

Empanadas take on a variety of forms and fillings around Latin America. Basically, it's a dough of wheat or corn flour - sometimes mixed with cooked and mashed plantains or potatoes - stuffed with a sweet or savory filling. They're either baked or fried, and we went the baking route here since it was cool enough to use the oven.

I love cooked savory greens in tacos or enchiladas, so empanadas seemed like a great place to put a mess of greens. Here's my simple filling ingredients and recipe:

5 or so cups swiss chard leaves with thick stems removed, or any other greens like kale, collards, or spinach
2 tbsp. raisins (optional, but I love raisins with greens)
1 medium white onion, diced
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
salt and black pepper to taste

1. Heat oil over medium heat, and saute onions until soft and translucent - 5 minutes or so - mixing in cumin and cinnamon towards the end, just to toast the spices a little.

2. Add greens and raisins, and just enough water - no more than a tbsp. or so is necessary - to steam the greens a little. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes until the leaves wilt, and then turn heat to low and continue cooking until most of the moisture has evaporated, another 5 minutes or so. Cooking the greens until they're a bit on the dry side helps keep the empanadas from getting soggy during baking.

My shortcut here is a set of plastic turnover makers my mom gave me - old school empanada cooks probably would never use anything like this, but I love my kitchen gadgets. Here's what I'm talking about:

My mom and I used these to make sweet pumpkin turnovers when I was home last fall (can't remember the German or Norwegian name for them right now). They're like little omelette makers - you drape a disc of thinly rolled dough over the turnover maker, fill with a couple spoonfuls of greens, and fold together, applying enough pressure to seal the edges. You could do the same thing by hand, but these things eliminate all stress from empanada production.

What about the dough? I used about a half cup of masa harina, or fine corn flour, and about one and a half cups of all-purpose flour, along with 2 tbsp. olive oil and 2 tbsp. canola oil. This was mostly guesswork, like most of my work with bread dough. Mix the flours and oil, along with a little salt, until the flour and oil are well-combined. Add just enough water, mixing constantly, until the dough no longer sticks to your fingers. I chilled this overnight, covered with plastic wrap so it didn't dry out.

Letting the dough rest overnight, or at least a few hours, seems to make it easier to work with, and less prone to tearing or falling apart during assembly of anything like this.

Writing instructions for working with bread dough or baking always intimidates me a little - I just won't pretend to any expertise - so let's talk about salsa. Salsa I can handle :)

I have three varieties of heirloom tomatoes in the garden - Arkansas Travellers, something French, and Green Zebras. The zebras are ripening first, and they're amazing. I didn't want to overwhem their flavor in this salsa, so it's just the basics. A cup of diced tomatoes, 1 tbsp. diced white onion, 2 tbsp. cilantro, and a tiny splash of lime juice, with a sprinkle of salt.

If you're still with me, I baked the assembled empanadas for about 25 minutes at 400 F, turning them over half way through. You'll know when they're done, as the edges turn golden brown. This is a good recipe for making ahead of time, and the assembled empanadas would keep well covered with plastic wrap in the fridge for a day or so before baking or frying. This is nice stuff to make for friends or family, but it's just as good tearing into a pile of piping hot empanadas and fresh salsa on your own. It's a little trouble, but worth it.


Anonymous said...


Why are you so cool?

Your own empanadas...come on! That's some serious cooking skills you've got there!

I bet it was muy delicioso!

Tami (Vegan Appetite) said...

Your green zebras are gorgeous. Ours still aren't getting red! I love that you barely dress them up in the salsa, using just the essentials. That's how we use our heirlooms, too...such luxury!

And those empanadas? Wow doesn't begin to cover it.

Sophie said...

What lovely & tasty Swiss chard empanadas!!!

I love all of your yummie flavours!!

Beautiful presentation too!

miss v said...

Whoa! Great idea - i've never though of chard stuffed anything. yum!

The Voracious Vegan said...

I love the ways greens taste when combined with a dough, like on a pizza or a tarte, and I bet I would love these empanadas too! What a beautiful idea! Can't wait to try this for myself - thank you for the inspiration!

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Daphna said...

Awesome post. I love the photos! I make empanadas too but when I started making them i didn't know what they were called so I coined the name pinched tacos, as I do them with Mexican filling.

Thanks for sharing~Gigi

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