Empanadas de Vigilia are popular in Argentina around Easter--the time when those who observe Lent 'keep vigil' and abstain from the things they enjoy eating and drinking the rest of the year. Believers omit these things as a sacrifice, a nod to Christ's sacrifice of his life by crucifixion for our mortal sins--albiet a much smaller one.
Many people take part in the traditional Friday night 'fish-fry' meals held at their local churches here in the US, while in Argentina, cuaresma is a time to lighten up from the usual beef-heavy fare with more vegetarian and seafood oriented dishes. Personally, I don't mind having an alternative to the meat--I prefer all the variety and flavor that goes along with being vegetarian, or close to it.
Meatless or almost meatless varieties of empanadas are a delight--in the past I've published versions of my recipes for homemade Tuna and Red Pepper empanadas, Roquefort and Walnut empanadas, empanadas Margaritas (tomato, basil, mozzerella), and Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese empanadas. Today's version is no exception to my favorite rule of Argentinean cooking: simple, and made with the things you already have on hand. Seriously, if you can think of it, you can stuff an empanada with it. How's that as a cooking rule?
Today I used La Salteña's 'Redonditas' for these empanadas. The label also reads 'Tapas para Copetin', in case you want to find them them near you. They're just like the large (4-inch) version of the hojaldre (puff pastry) tapas I usually use, only these are tiny, appetizer-sized (3-inch) tapas. They come in packs of 24 instead of 12--and since they're bite-sized, these would make the perfect snack, bite before a meal, or canape at an Argentinean-themed party. I'm guessing you wouldn't even make it all the way around the room with a tray of these! But then again, maybe it will be like the miraculous loaves and fishes, and you won't run out. Springtime is a season of miracles, after all!
So whether you celebrate Lent, are just opting for less meat and more variety in your diet, or need a little something to bring along to your next party--give these delicious seafood and veg empanadas a try! I promise, you won't even know you're sacrificing a thing!
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Empanadas de Vigilia--Camaron Y Espinaca
Lenten Empanadas--Shrimp and Spinach
These would be great with chopped tomato or roasted red pepper added in, too.
Makes one dozen regular-sized empanadas, or 24 copetin-sized ones
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced very small
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cooked, deveined shrimp, tails removed
3 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 egg, separated
1 egg, hard-boiled and peeled
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
Flour, for dusting.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a baking sheet, or use a non-stick spray. Hard-boil one egg, if you haven't already.
Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and the garlic to the skillet, and let cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the shrimp into small pieces and add to the skillet. Add the 3 cups of spinach leaves, and cook until wilted, stirring to incorporate. Add in 1 egg yolk (reserve the white for brushing over the empanadas before baking), the milk, and the flour, and stir together. Stir in the shredded mozzarella cheese. You will have a melty cheese, shrimp and spinach mixture.
Peel the hard-boiled egg if you haven't already. Lay out the tapas six at a time on a clean counter-top, lightly dusted with flour. Put out a small glass of water for sealing the empanadas. Place a heaping teaspoon (more if you're using the larger tapas) of the spinach and shrimp filling in the center of the empanada shell. Add in a small slice of hard-boiled egg on top of the spinach mixture.
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 or pressing together. 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: (Video clip) using your fingertip, fold one corner of the empanada over, pressing down firmly. Go to the edge again and repeat, pressing firmly each time. Move around the edge of the empanada and you'll get a spiral pattern. You can also use a fork-seal, instead.
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 golden brown on top. Take out and let cool slightly before serving, and eat very carefully while hot!