Since Latinos have emerged as America’s fasting growing minority, celebrities in the field of professional sports, music and film have made their presence known. So have prominent lawyers, doctors and teachers. But the popularity of Hispanic cuisine is nothing new, whether it be food trucks, fast food chains or fine dining. Most “gringos” simply call it Mexican food, although that would be incorrect unless your diet is limited to rolled tacos.
Truth be told, Latino cuisine is quite diverse and varies from country to country. But during the holiday season, families hosting posadas and other celebrations stick to traditional fare. Last year I wrote about different types of tamales, either wrapped in a husk or banana leaf, Central American style. Now I want to share my recipe for empanadas, and chances are your friends will have limited knowledge of this delightful treat. So why not surprise your guests at that Christmas party or New Year’s bash you plan to host?
CUBAN BEEF PICADILLO EMPANADAS
An empanada is basically pie dough wrapped around a spicy mixture of ground beef and baked until golden brown. I’ve heard some folks describe them as “meat pies,” and I suppose that’s pretty accurate. My version has a slight Cuban twist. Believe me, these gems will disappear off your platter in a New York minute.
Start by picking up two packages of dough disks (aka discs). These are prepacked and can usually be found in the frozen food section at your local super market. The dough is already cut, which makes it easier than rolling pie crust and cutting it yourself. Now for the ingredients…
One pound of extra lean ground beef; three tablespoons of virgin olive oil; one medium size green and red bell pepper; one Spanish (yellow) onion; one can of spicy tomato sauce; three garlic cloves; 1/4 cup of dark raisins; 1/2 cup of stuffed green olives; two teaspoons of ground cayenne pepper; two teaspoons of dried oregano and a pinch of cumin.
In a large skillet, line with the virgin olive oil over medium heat. In a food processor, blend onion, peppers and garlic cloves. Add to skillet along with ground beef and proceed to brown the meat. Keep mixing with veggies until beef is ready. Be sure to drain and return to skillet. Now add tomato sauce, diced olives, raisins plus all remaining spices and stir vigorously. Cover on simmer for about 15 minutes or until sauce is thick. Set aside and let cool. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Now you’re ready to bake your tasty creation. Cover a large cookie sheet with foil and place each disk neatly, making room for about 20 disks. Spread two large tablespoons of the meat filling down the middle of the dough disk. Fold over the open edges and crimp each one with a moist fork to close. Bake empanadas for about 30 minutes. Trust your eyes and nose and you’ll know when perfection is achieved. The Cuban touch pertains to the raisins and green olives…a classic sweet, salty taste.