I used to work near a small Brazilian market. I popped in to check it out one day, and discovered they had very affordable prepared foods. They were selling beef empanadas for a buck a piece! Naturally, this became one of my favorite places for lunch. One bite of that empanada and I was hooked. What I loved was how simple yet flavorful it was. Main ingredients were ground beef with seasoning, peas, and onion. I ate them for years, but then the market closed and no more empanadas. Inspired by the delicious memory of my first empanada, I embarked on a journey to make my own kind of crispy beef and cheese empanadas.
The Origins of Empanadas
Turns out, thank you Wikipedia, the origin of empanadas is not really known, though there is information in an old cookbook that they are originally from Spain. Argentina is another country where they serve empanadas during parties and festivals; in Belize they are called penades; in Puerto Rico they are pastelillos and in Brazil they are called pastel - though the Brazilian market where I was originally introduced to them called them empanadas. I loved the seasoned ground beef stuffed in a pastry shell and fried in oil. They were absolutely delicious and I couldn't get enough of them. There are many other varieties in terms of what the stuffing consists of: could be beef, chicken, olives, corn, potatoes. They might be spicy or they might be mild. There are a lot of different directions you could go in with flavors.
Crispy Beef and Cheese Empanadas: Seasonings and Dough
I was so inspired by those empanadas from years ago and I tested my own recipe for years. I knew I wanted the beef, but I couldn't get the seasoning right for a while. Then I added adobo and sofrito one time and it was a game changer with the flavor. My best friend in my 20's was from Puerto Rico and she introduced me to adobo seasoning and sofrito tomato sauce. So I think my rendition of the empanada has a little bit of Puerto Rican influence too. Thank you Lynnette!!
As much as I love a great homemade dough, there is a fantastic frozen option right in the freezer section of your local super market. The frozen Goya shells are perfect for this recipe. I tested the recipe with a couple of different home made dough options that I didn't care for, but then again, I'm not a great baker. Dough is not really my thing. The frozen ones work great, they save time and bonus: they are delicious!
Empanadas by the Numbers: Make 30, Trust Me
I usually make about 30 in one batch. Yes, you read that right: 30.
You might think 10 empanadas is a lot, but it's not. We usually devour two or three each the night I make them. If you make 10, you will regret that. Please trust me on that. Additionally, once word gets out that you have an awesome empanada recipe, you'll receive special requests. I usually give some away to my friends and family who have become addicted to them over the years.
If you must, you have the option of making 20 empanadas. If 30 feels like it's too.much.to.handle. Simply reserve one package of the frozen empanada shells (they come 10 per pack) and freeze the remaining cooked empanada beef mixture for later. I have done this many times. The cooked mixture freezes very well. Then, a couple months down the road you can make a small batch of 10.
Empanadas Make Great Leftovers and Freeze Well
Once you've stuffed your face with more empanadas than you thought was possible (my record is 4 in one sitting): freeze them for lunches and dinners when you don't have time to cook. To defrost, simply put them in the fridge overnight and reheat them in your toaster oven with a piece of foil resting on top so they don't burn. Seriously, just as delicious as the night you made them. Not all foods taste great left over and not all foods taste great after they've been frozen. However, empanadas hold up very well in both categories.
If you are cooking a meal, make a little more and take it for lunch. And when making empanadas, freeze a couple of bags and enjoy them on nights you don't feel like cooking. They have rescued me so many times over the years!
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