You know what they say about variety being the spice of life, and we eat more than our share of empanadas around here, with a variety of fillings. I usually make some variation once a week, whether it's an old standby like Empanadas Mendocinas, or something more atypical. I stock up on pre-made tapas, which makes empanadas an easy week-night meal.
We also eat more bison than beef. It's leaner, has a slightly gamey, slightly smoky-sweet flavor, and is typical here in the West, compared to other regions in the US. So I dared with an inevitable flavor combination: bison, raisins, and fire-roasted piquillo peppers, wrapped into a luscious empanada pastry. The result, I'm happy to say, was a great blend of my favorite tastes from Argentina and the Western United States--(North meets South? Southwest meets South?)
Empanadas, as it happens, are probably the quintessential dish people want to make from Argentina. In fact, to me, it seemed to be such a mystery until I realized that there are no real rules--they can be stuffed with anything that's appealing, (though the more traditional recipes are a great way to start) and, like pie, there are several ways to seal them up. (Here, you see one more simple variation). This is a nice way to tell the difference between empanadas with different types of filling--one meat, one vegetarian, for example.
In this photo, I wanted to be reminded of when you go to a little street-side empanada shop, order a dozen empanadas, and get them handed over like some kind of hot, fragrant loot in a paper bag. Then they are taken home, or eaten in the car, or the back of a truck, or on a park bench while still hot and tumbling out onto a paper plate. Something about empanadas makes me so hungry I can never wait until they cool down enough to eat them, and always end up burning my mouth. But somehow, it never deters me! To me, that first-bite moment is hands-down one of the top things to experience in Argentina.
Empanadas de Bufalo
2 dozen empanada shells, either homemade or store-bought
2 tablespoons butter
1 lb ground bison meat (available at Whole Foods)
1 medium onion
3 roasted piquillo peppers (jarred or fresh)
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 or 1/2 crushed red pepper, optional
salt, to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add the butter and heat until melted. Slice the onions into rounds, and saute until golden but not browned. Add the bison and chop up as you would ground beef, turning and chopping with a spatula until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes or so. Bison has a tendency to dry out quickly because it is so lean. If the ground meat remains a little pink, that's fine--it will continue cooking during the baking process.
Remove the meat and onion mixture from the heat and let cool for five minutes. Meanwhile, put the raisins in a bowl of warm water and let soak. Chop the piquillo peppers finely. (I used jarred peppers, roasted bell peppers may be substituted if no piquillo peppers are available.) Drain the raisins, and add both the raisins and the chopped peppers to the bison and onion mixture and mix well to combine. Add the paprika, cumin, salt, and crushed red pepper, if desired, and stir until the spices have coated the meat mixture.
Set the empanada shells out on the counter to assemble. Lightly flour a baking sheet. Also have the slightly beaten egg in a glass, and a small glass of water. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of the empanada shell. Moisten the edge on the top half of the shell with a little water on your finger. Fold the bottom half of the dough up until the edges meet and seal with your fingers by pressing down. The empanada should have a half-moon shape.
Use the palms of the hands to pack the filling firmly in the center. Next, fold the edges with the Repulgue: using your fingertip, fold one corner of the empanada over, pressing down firmly. Go to the edge again and repeat, pressing firmly each time. Go around the edge of the empanada and you'll get a spiral pattern. You can also use a fork-seal, instead. In this recipe, I simply pressed the edges together and packed the filling with my palms, then wrapped the two corners around to meet, making this round empanada shape.
Paint the top of each sealed empanada with the beaten egg so that when they bake, they have a shiny, golden shell. Place the finished empanadas on the baking sheets. Put the empanadas in to bake for 12 to 15 minutes-they should be sizzling and very golden brown on top. Take out and eat very carefully while hot!
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More photos on flickr, From Argentina With Love, and relevant recipes: Potato Picante Empanadas