Empanadas are portable, versatile and just plain delicious. Akin to a turnover, these stuffed pastries are another one of my favorite foods here in Argentina. Though empanadas are certainly not unique to Argentina – they can be found throughout Latin America – they're extremely popular here and are closely associated with the national cuisine. Argentine empanadas tend to be baked rather than fried, and they usually feature savory fillings. They make excellent finger food, and they frequently appear at family get-togethers, asados, etc. It's easy to get a quick fix too – you can order empanadas for delivery from just about every take-out joint.
There are countless varieties of empanadas, which I find to be part of their appeal. They're completely customizable to the ingredients that you have on hand, and it's fun to experiment with different and unexpected flavor combinations. With that said, there are several tried-and-true empanada fillings used in Argentina, one of which is humita.
Empanadas de humita are typically filled with a mixture of corn and a basic white sauce. The contrast in texture between the creamy sauce and the slightly crunchy corn is quite nice, making this type one of my favorite.
Before we get to the recipe, a word about empanada dough. The tremendous popularity of empanadas in Argentina ensures that every supermarket here carries pre-made tapas (discs of empanada dough). In the U.S., it's possible to find La Salteña and Goya brand tapas at Latin grocery stores or other supermarkets with a broad selection of ethnic products.
If you cannot find empanada dough in your area, you can make it from scratch (link provided below). Another option is to buy ready-made pie crusts and cut smaller circles out of the dough using a large can or small bowl as a template. Pie dough won't work quite as well as real empanada dough, but it'll do in a pinch.
Empanadas de Humita
Makes approx. 1 dozen empanadas
For the dough:
Use pre-made tapas or follow this recipe to make your own from scratch.
For the filling:
5 Tbsp. butter (reserve 1 Tbsp. to sauté onion)
4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 c. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ají molido (substitute red pepper flakes)
2/3 c. chopped onion
2 c. canned whole kernel corn, drained or fresh corn
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese or queso cremoso
1 beaten egg yolk
a glass of water
For the white sauce:
In a small saucepan, melt 4 Tbsp. of butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste bubbles slightly — about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk while continuing to stir (using a whisk will help banish any pesky lumps). Cook the sauce gently for a few minutes until it fully thickens [note: sauce will be quite thick], and then remove it from the heat. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and ají molido.
To prepare the remaining ingredients for the filling:
In a medium skillet, melt the reserved tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the corn, white sauce, and cheese, and mix the filling until all of the ingredients are well-combined. Adjust seasonings as needed. Allow the filling to completely cool before assembling the empanadas; if time allows, place the filling in the refrigerator for several hours to chill.
Assembling the empanadas:
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of the empanada dough. Resist the urge to overfill the empanadas, as they will be difficult to work with and will likely explode in the oven if you do so. Dip your finger in the glass of water and lightly wet the edge of the dough. Bring the edges of the dough together and press firmly.
There are several methods used to seal empanadas (the repulgue). The most simple way involves pressing the tines of a fork around the edge of the empanada, but if you're interested in trying your hand at a fancier repulgue, here's a video that demonstrates an attractive twisted edge like I did on the empanada in the middle [see photo below].
Place the empanadas on a lightly greased cookie sheet, and brush them with egg yolk. Bake until golden brown, approximately 15 minutes.
Recipe updated on Aug. 5, 2011
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