How do I get myself into these things? Well, like this: I was dropping Waits off at school one morning, back in early December, and I casually asked his teacher, “Hey, I’m going to Costco this afternoon, is there anything you need?” Because they often need supplies for the classroom, like tissues and wet wipes and stuff. She thought for a second, and then all of a sudden, she got this . . . mischievous sparkle . . . in her eye.
She smiled really big and she said, “Well actually, if you want to help … well here, let me show you.” And she took me over to her computer and opened up a Pinterest recipe for black bean and butternut empanadas. “You could make these vegan, right? Because we need someone to make food for the Holiday Party, and it would be great if you made vegan food because then Waits would be able to eat it too.”
And that was that. Before I knew what was happening, I was committing to making empanadas, which I had never in my life ever made before. And when I asked her how many, she looked at me, totally deadpan, and replied “Eh, like maybe a hundred?”
And so it was that I found myself, literally the day after I turned in my final paper for my Master’s degree, holed up in my kitchen for 5 hours, making empanadas for my kid’s school’s Holiday Party. And honestly? I can’t think of a better way to spend my first day of freedom. Just puttering around in my kitchen, being a mom. I loved it!
And, everyone loved these empanadas.
Before I made them I scoured the internet, and I read a lot of vegan empanada dough recipes, as well as the feedback on those recipes. I couldn’t find one that seemed perfect or foolproof, so I sort of patched together my own, combining what seemed like the most successful elements from the most successful recipes. Here’s what I came up with, and yes — they were a huge success!
3 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening (I use Spectrum Vegetable Shortening which is organic, non-hydrogenated, from 100% Columbian palm oil – so no Orangutan issues), at room temperature
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cups water
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the shortening, using two knives to cut it into the flour until small pebbles form. Then add the apple cider vinegar and water, and use your hands to knead until you get a smooth, firm dough.
Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for at least half an hour, ideally an hour or more.
While the dough is chilling, prepare your empanada filling and preheat the oven to 400º F.
Empanada fillings can be as diverse as your imagination allows! I’ve seen everything from spinach and pesto to pineapple and cinnamon. Savory, sweet, cheezy — it’s really up to you. In this case, the empanadas were for the Winter Holiday Party, so I went with a seasonally appropriate roasted butternut, black beans, caramelized onions, and fresh scallions mix. I didn’t measure anything so I don’t have an exact recipe, but that’s kind of the awesome thing about empanada filling. It’s very forgiving! Just mix up whatever sounds good (next time I’m trying vegan chorizo plus roasted green chilis) and as long as the dough works, it’s almost guaranteed to succeed.
Once you have your filling, remove the dough ball from the fridge. Pinch off a large piece (maybe a quarter of the ball) and roll it out thin on a lightly floured surface. Then, use a cup or a small bowl to cut out round disks from the dough.
Place one disk in your left (or “off” hand) palm, and spoon 1-3 tablespoons (depending on the size of the disk) into the center of the dough. Fold the disk in half to make a semi-circle pocket, using some water if necessary to seal the edge.
There are two ways to seal an empanada: the easier way, “crimped” with a fork, and the more traditional way, called “repulgue.” Repulgue is a technique of folding the dough over itself along the edge to make what looks like a two-strand braid. I figured I’d try it and even though it was my first time, I found it surprisingly quick and easy. There’s a tutorial here if you want some guidance.
Place the sealed empanadas on an unlined baking sheet. Poke each one with a fork to allow steam to escape, and brush the tops with water. Bake at 400º for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
It took three batches of this dough to make exactly 104 mini empanadas, so this recipe yields roughly 26 small circles, or 12-15 regular-sized ones.
As I said, these were a huge crowd pleaser, and they’re something I’m definitely looking forward to making again. The dough would work well for calzones as well, which is next up on my list. Or sweet hand pies! Mmmm yes, the possibilities are endless.