May 23, 2011

Liliana’s comforting Colombian “empanadas”


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:

400g of colombian precooked yellow corn flour (I used the white corn version with a pinch of paella food colouring!)*

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 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.


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May 13, 2011

“cangrejos de río”(crayfish/yabbies) in spicy tomato sauce


These are fairly popular in Spain, though to be honest I don’t remember having tried these until a few years back from my mother-in-law. Two memories spring to mind, the first one which Linguini won’t be too happy that I mention is that when we just started, he brough a tupper of “cangrejos” his mom had prepared. Before he even opened it, he started going on about how she usually prepares them with natural raff tomatoes but this time she didn’t have at hand so did cooked them with canned tomato puree. He got so disgusted just thinking about it, that little after eating them he had to run to the bathroom!

I hadn’t tried them, so the second time she brought some, I didn’t want to miss them as they smelled fantastic. But, though the sauce was delicious I couldn’t cope with their own flavour. So, I thought that was it for me…But a bit later on, I wanted to make them just for the heck of the sauce myself, so I asked her how she did them to have a go at the recipe. I was disappointed to hear there were no “tricks” to it, it was a simple tomato sauce with some slow fried onion (the key is the flavour they impart on the sauce). I thought it sounded so plain, that I decided to add some “hotness” to it :). I added some cayenne pepper and when we ate them, Linguini noted that they were spicy and I assured him I hadn’t added anything to his mom’s recipe! (he’s not too keen on hot food and I could see that one coming!). He was amazed that they had such an intense flavour, they were even hot!:D I kept my lie until he one day he told his parents the story of the “full flavour even hot” crayfish, and I felt obliged to tell the truth as his mom frowned!


Also, that first time I thought cooking them alive was sort of “cruel” and since I had watched in “Mostly Martha” that the “proper”(more ethical) way to kill it was to run a large knife across its head so it “wouldn’t suffer” as it was plunged into boiling water (not that we ever did this with lobsters in restaurants where it was served). Imagine with 1 kg of small crayfish, going one after the other to “give them a less painful” end! they kept on moving and I thought it was more tortuous…to them and for me to watch! Later on I read a scientific paper questioning that they did have a reflexes but did not experience pain…Anyway, to be honest, even though I think they might, I prefer to not dwell on it. But was sure that it was the last time I would finish their existence one at a time, plus, maybe I was impressed from the experience, but to me they had an off, even stronger flavour.

So, when did I get to like them enough to want to share it with you???When I learned that removing their intestines (we call this “castrarlos”) gives them a mellower, less bitter flavour! Funny I had learnt to devein prawns such a long time ago and it didn’t know that these could be deveined without having to peel them first. The problem is that since you ought to buy these fresh, that is alive, otherwise they lose a lot of weight (flesh), you gotta handle with a firm hand to hold them and devein them. Other than that…this is a terribly basic recipe, that I’ve learned to love and now I cannot stop licking my fingers as slurp them and dip bread to finish with the last drop of sauce! If you can get hold of them…have a go!


“Cangrejos de río” in spicy tomato sauce

(enough for 4 LARGE servings)

About 1kg of crayfish/yabbies

50-60g olive oil

about 1 kg ideally fresh tomatoes (otherwise, canned peeled tomatoes)

1 large onion (aprox. 300g)

6 beautiful sized cloves of garlic

3-4 cayenne peppers (I use 3 for a milder heat and 4 for more of a kick!)

2 bay leaves

150-200g of dry sherry wine


a bit of sugar (to remove sourness from the tomatoes)

I begin with the sauce, since as it’s cooking, I can prepare the yabbies (by the way, this is their name in Australia. I just like to call them that as it’s how I learnt them first).

Chop the onion in half and then into a fine julienne. If the onion is large, like mine was, I previously give it a cut crosswise, so the slices are not as long that end up being almost stringy. If you prefer you can just chop them up finely in brunoise.

Then, remove the garlic germ (if any) and chop it up as finely as you can. Place both chopped onions & garlic with the bay leaves and cayenne peppers to slow-fry with about 50g of oil and a pinch of salt.

They are ready when they are really soft and begin to colour lightly (see photo later on).

Meanwhile, prepare the tomato. If you use fresh I suggest you 1) either whiz them up with a blender or processor (after washing and removing the scar) and strain them to remove the skin; this is if you want more of a smoother sauce or 2) as I did this time, for a chunkier, more textured result, peel the tomatoes and then just finely chop them up.

To peel the tomatoes, remove the scar and with a light hand, make a cross shaped incision (this will help you peel later as a starting point). Place a pan of water large enough to fit all tomatoes to boil and then plunge the tomatoes in and over high heat count to around 25 seconds. You don’t want to leave them too short, or they won’t peel, but too long you’ll be left with a mush as they are peeled. You should see the incisions beginning to open up a bit, but not curl up. Then remove them onto a large bowl of cold or iced water and move a bit until cool.

Then, you’ll see how easy they peel and how smooth the surface is.


Once peeled, just chop them up finely and add to the sofrito and cover a bit at medium heat. This will soften the tomatoes before they begin to reduce, so you get more sauce rather than just chunks of cooked tomato.

When softer, remove the cover to reduce rapidly at the beginning (to evaporate more water) and then a bit slower so the bottom doesn’t burn! It will take about 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and a bit of sugar if there’s any sourness.


See the texture of the sauce? I find it’s done when the oil begins to separate from the sauce, later on you can adjust consistency adding more liquid, but this step I find brings out more flavour and sweetness from the tomatoes.

I almost forgot, it might be a GOOD idea to remove the cayenne peppers at this time, before mixing with the yabbies, as they are almost impossible to find…and I’ve already happened to bite into 3 of them!!!This time I remembered after serving…Better late than never!


Meanwhile prepare the yabbies…What’s in the bag? They pierced it!


Prepare a large bowl (the one you used for tomatoes) where you’ll wash them. Then, take one at a time, grabbing the claws together and placing them over the head to press down the tail (they’ll obviouly try to kick themselves free). I use gloves because I don’t like the feeling, but no need to.


Then, you have to twitch the centre segment of the tail and pull away to remove the intestine. Like I mentioned, this removes the bitterness for a milder, more balanced flavour.


Place in the bowl and repeat with the others.

Before I went on, one of them was defying me…Poor thing, as I approached it stood there defensive.


When all are done, time to thoroughly wash them. They’ll probably be really dirty! often with mud from the river. So, wash them a few times until the water runs clear and with the last wash, add a dash of white wine vinegar to remove any dirt that may be left or funny flavours. I find a splatter guard to come in handy!


Make sure you strain as much water as possible, or it will splatter as they are fried.

I used a “paella” pan but if you prefer, maybe a casserole with higher borders might be better.

Add a dash of oil into the preheated pan and add the yabbies, season with salt and cook through until they all change in colour.


Add the wine and reduce by about half and mix in the tomato sauce. Cook lightly covered for about 10 minutes (so the heads are cooked through). If it’s dry add a bit of water (or more sherry) to give the sauce the consistency you prefer.

Adjust seasonings and…enjoy!


I find they are best, like stews, after an overnight rest, as the flavour of the sauce penetrates and blends with their own flavour. But if you can’t wait, like us, serve right away!


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May 8, 2011

Late 4 Easter…fruity & spiced hot cross buns


A while back I lived for over 3 years in the UK…At that time I knew little about cooking or baking, as I was studying something completely different. But still, food and baking goods were an important part of my life. They provided the comfort for the emptiness I felt out there, far away from home, on my own for the first time. One of those “comfort foods” I was hooked on were these buns. I cannot remember how I got to try them, I don’t even think it was Easter (as they are traditional in Easter time), but from the moment I did, I became addicted! I loved eating them beginning by ripping out the crosses before biting into the torn soft crumb. But above all I loved the aroma (I have this terrible way of “sniffing” all my food before I try anything…Terrible, for those close enough to complain about it, that is;)) and the fruity spiced up flavour.


Back in Spain, I kept them in mind just as a fond memory. But it was not until 3 years ago, that I decided to have a go at them myself! Since then, I’ve tried various recipes, adjusting to my taste. I find these are the best so far and I cannot let another year pass without sharing it with you! It is adapted from Dan Lepard’s and Hamelman’s (from his book “Bread”). Also, I prefer to make the candied peel (confit orange, in my case) myself and since here I couldn’t find the mixed spice, I’ve played around to get a mix I like for this recipe. I hope you like these flavourful & nutricious buns as much as I do!Bon app’!


For those who missed it, here on “Madrid Tiene Miga”, a post (in spanish) on my favourite, so far, natural leaven loaf cooked inside a cocotte.
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