One of the best things about teaching, other than the obvious gratification is how much you learn on the way! You learn as you question things to try to explain how and why they work (or don’t work), you learn from the extra research to understand or find about something yourself, but above all you learn from those you are teaching! With cooking you always get that extra reward, because almost everyone knows how to make something in a very special way. Even more so, with a multicultural class where each person comes from a different country with a completely different background and upbringing. So, even those who at the begining say they don’t know how to cook, with time, they come out with something extraordinary to teach everyone else.
This is the case with Liliana…She began by saying she was a total disaster in her kitchen (which didn’t convince me as she was cooking her child’s meals daily!). We began the course and sadly in little time she let us know she would be missing most of it, to just make it back for the last week of class. At mid-course each person who volunteered taught the rest of the class a “special” recipe they made particularly well, but she missed it…Little time later she showed up and brought these colombian empanadas for the whole class…but I missed her! Apparently, they were a success so she wrote up a recipe for everyone to have a guideline of how they were made. But it was not until the last week of class, when she returned that they demanded she made some more, that I got to try them…
It had been a terrible day, I didn’t stop running around trying to arrange last minute tasks…and right at the end, when everyone presented their dishes and I got to try her empanadas…I soooo much regreted not having made the time to take a proper look at how she made them, because they were beautiful! I really fell in love with the taste of the juicy filling enhanced by the addition of the hot & slightly sour “mojo” that accompanied it. The intense taste of corn from the wrapper’s dough was brought out on the outer crispy crust of these fried empanadas (I’m not a big fan of fried stuff) in contrast to the chewier texture inside…such a comforting feeling...Just perfect!
So, from her recipe guideline and from the little I watched her prepare, I had a go at these delicacies hoping to get something close to the ones I tried that day. They came out delicious! They might be not even as good as one of her bad batches, but they are very close what I remember and more than worthwhile to give them a try! So here for you all: Liliana’s empanadas colombianas! Thank you Lili for such wonderful recipe!!!
Liliana’s colombian empanadas
(makes about 16x 12-14cm diameter empanadas)
For the dough:
About 550g of chicken stock**
pinch of salt
*She told me they were both the same, though the yellow one was coloured to be used for these empanadas, though in the web page they note they are ground from different corns!Still, the white one tasted really good, I’d have to compare side by side to test for the difference.
**I made about a liter of stock, but otherwise you can use water with a bit of stock cubes, as she advised, though I’m not really for those products…so I’d just use salted water.
For the filling:
1 side of chicken breast (or the equivalent weight of another part)*
300g of onions
2 large garlic cloves
1 large red pepper (I used a peeled bbq one I had)
250g of ripe tomatoes
200g of potatoes
a bit of olive oil
salt & freshly milled black pepper to taste
*The chicken breast is convinient as it cooks really quick, but you can use thighs and cook them for longer until tender, to shred them for the filling.
For the “mojo”/dipping sauce:
1 small handful of picked fresh coriander leaves
half a scallion (you could use red or white onion, but scallions are milder)
1 medium ripe tomato
1-2 fresh bird-eyes chillis (I used 1 1/2 for mild hot)
salt to taste
juice of half a large lemon or 1 lime (or more to taste)
1-2 tbsp of olive oil (I added to taste)
Some oil for deep frying
I had the stock ready, so I seasoned with salt to taste and starting from cold I slowly cooked the chicken breast (I separated the little fillet attached to it, as it cooks sooner, to remove it first). Beginning from a cold or room temperature stock I find is better for poaching (both fish & meat) as it gives a juicier rather than the often dry, overcooked meat; if removed with the center ir cooked right.
Some foam will rise to the surface, just remove it and once you remove the breast & small fillet, strain it through a fine mesh to remove any impurities. This will be used to make the dough.
When the breast has cooled enough, shred it in fibers with your hands or with a fork. I must admit I HATE the smell of boiled chicken (whereas roasted or bbq I love it) but for this this, like for “cochinita pibil” or “ropa vieja” it’s the texture what makes a difference.
You can do this while the filling veggies are cooking, so meanwhile, first place the potatoes to cook in some salted water. Mine were small so I placed them whole, but if it a rush, you can peel them & chop them up. Then, chop up the onion in brunoise and chop up the garlic as finely as possible and slowly cook with some olive oil.
When translucent and soft…Ah, I used peeled bbqued pepper, which by the way gave it a new dimension in flavour (I LOVE all bbqed food), so I chopped it up and added it after the onion was ready. If raw, add it at the same time of little after the onion.
Then, wash the tomatoes, remove the hard scar, chop it up in small squares (concassé) and add it to the rest. I like to cover the pan for a few minutes to soften the tomate, let it exude all it’s juices and then open it up to reduce it. If you forget about the tomato, do it aside with a bit of oil in the same way and add it to the rest.
Finally add the shredded chicken so it soaks up all the flavours (:P ) and then the chopped up cooked potato. Leave to cool…or transfer to another tray/bowl to cool.
Time to make the dough…The stock should be warm, that is neither boiling hot, nor cold. I used it at about 50ºC. Season a bit more if needed so the dough is tasty, you can adjust with fine salt later.
Place the flour in a bowl ( if it is white, like mine, add a pinch of colouring..it does look nicer, just don’t overuse it to make it fluorescent yellow!;) )and add enough water to make a malleable, soft dough. It shouldn’t be too hard nor too sticky (if so, compensate with extra flour). The amount I’ve given is about how much I needed, but it may differ a bit for you, so have some extra stock, just in case.
The dough is ready and the filling is coolish, so, ready for the shaping part? This part I watched her do for a little time, and it struck me how easy she made it look and how efficiently she used a flexible plastic bag to press and shape the empanadas.
So, get hold of a resistent clean plastic bag, at least 20cm in width and cut it half it should be double, that is, 40cm in length, to be able to press the skins. I used a zipper supermarket bag…
I gave it a try making balls of dough to press into 3mm thick, to check for the right amount for the diameter I wanted, and I ended up using 60g balls which when pressed gave me about 14cm in diameter rounds to enclose the filling. If you want them bigger or smaller adjust accordingly. So, I made all the balls first for convenience, after I determined the right size, and then I started.
Just place one ball in the center of one side of the bag, fold the other half over and press with a mould or any flat-bottomed item you can find.
I used a pyrex tray that even left the imprint!
Place a generous amount of filling, though not too much or it won’t close (this is just trial and error) and with the aid of the bag, fold it over and press the borders lightly to enclose it.
Then, this part I loved with I saw her doing it, use a bowl the size you want the empanadas to pull towards with as you hold the folded bag the opposite way to give them a perfectly round shape. It works wonders!My bowl had a bit rounded edges, it’s better with thinner edges, but it worked well. I hope the pictures make out for what words don’t!
Repeat with all the other balls…Try not to get too much oil in the feeling, just enough to make it juicy or it will creep out from the corners!
They are ready for frying, so make the dipping sauce first, just chop up the scallion, the “cilantro” leaves, the washed whole tomato (removing the scar) and the chillis (remove the seeds unless you want it really hot!). Whenever I buy chillis, I always freeze some, as they come in a very large tray and then take them out and use them as fresh in most recipes…They are not as crisp, but they taste and look good!
Then, season with salt and pepper, add lemon/lime juice and some olive oil and adjust adding more juice or oil to taste. It really is delicious and improves the already tasty empanadas!Keep refrigerated until use…
and fry as many empanadas as you want to serve in very hot oil (don’t let it smoke, as it’ll burn, but make sure it is very hot by dropping a piece of dough or bread crumb), it should immediately rise to the surface.
You want a deep golden colour for a crisper result. The first ones I left lighter, but the second batch I fried a bit more and were better.
Ready to serve and enjoy!!
Have a bite, and serve some “mojo” inside to blend with the flavours of the filling…Yummyyy!!!!!!!!
close up of the tasty filling and texture of the fried skins.