Suzanne of the culinary blog Tea and Mangoes and I are blogging together for Mother’s Day, sharing our mothers’ recipes. My recipe is for beef empanadas and Suzanne’s is for date squares. Her recipe enchanted me with its description of caramelized dates that are soft and toffee flavored. You can learn more about this delicious treat and her adventurous mom here.
My mom was also an adventurous person who loved to cook. She didn’t write recipes down, and when I was younger, she would often say, “You can write my cookbook someday.” I guess I’m sort of doing that with this recipe. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!
My mom made empanadas when I was a kid, and we also ate them when we traveled to Argentina to visit my aunts. I love empanadas because they’re a bit of everything in a convenient package. I also love them because I am obsessed with all things dough and with improving flavor and nutrition with fresh-milled wheat.
I used a Bon Appetit recipe as a framework for the filling and then made changes to reflect my mom’s spicier version, my impatience with boiling off bone broth, and my kids’ aversion to raisins. (I chop them fine.)
My daughter and I also created a vegetarian version where pinto beans are used instead of beef, and the results are spectacular. Even the non-vegetarians in my family grab seconds of the bean empanadas.
Many people buy Goya Discos for empanada wraps, but I encourage you to make your own dough with organic and simple ingredients that are fresh and delicious. I developed an empanada dough recipe for Breadtopia that’s easy to follow and includes process photos. Here’s a glance into the process:
In doing this collaboration, Suzanne and I discovered that our mothers both came to North America in their late 20s — her mom from England, and mine from Argentina. My mom fell in love with New York City during her work with British Airways and immigrated here in 1960.
Both my Argentinian mom and my American dad were open to trying new foods and eager to eat at restaurants of other cultures. While my dad worked in hunger advocacy and food policy journalism, my mom composted, gardened and cooked for the family. She also sold her food to gourmet delis (ratatouille is the dish I remember her selling the most), and eventually she worked in airline food production.
My mom’s spice and herb heavy approach was novel enough in the 1970s that cookbook author and food columnist, Marian Burros, who knew my dad through his food policy reporting, featured her in The Washington Post.
My mom is about to turn eighty-eight, and dementia has erased her appreciation for savory foods, but her love for empanadas lives on in her daughters and grandchildren, and here is my attempt at writing the beef empanada page in her cookbook.
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 lbs ground beef 90% lean (use slightly less oil and water if 80%)
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1 large red bell pepper seeded and chopped
- 2 Tbsp ground cumin
- 1 1/2 Tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp thyme (fresh or dried)
- 1 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 1/2-1 cup water (as needed to prevent sticking)
- 1/3 cup raisins (option to chop)
- 1/3 cup pitted halved green olives
- 2 Tbsp diced jalapenos (“sweet pickled” if possible)
- 1 egg beaten for the egg-wash of the dough before baking
Vegetarian Version – replace beef with pinto (or other) beans
- 1 lbs dried pinto beans or 2 cans cooked beans
- In a large fry pan, heat the oil and saute the chopped onion and red pepper.
- Mix in the ground spices, oregano, salt and sugar. Add 1/2-1 cup water to maintain moisture / prevent sticking.
- Add the ground beef and cook thoroughly.
- Add the chopped raisins, halved olives and diced pickled jalapenos. Simmer for 2-4 more minutes. Add water if needed to keep moist, or simmer longer if too watery. You want some loose liquid but not big soupy puddles.
- Transfer the filling to a different container and cool in the refrigerator about 30 minutes while you prep the dough.
- Follow the assembly instructions on the Goya Discos packaging or in this homemade dough recipe I wrote for Breadtopia.
- Preheat your oven to 375F while you assemble 12 of the empanadas on a greased baking sheet. Brush with the beaten egg for a shiny crust.
- Bake for 25 minutes while you assemble the final 12 empanadas, repeating the egg wash and 25 minute bake. If you don’t have two baking sheets, place the second batch of empanadas on a sheet of parchment paper and carefully transfer it to your baking sheet after the first batch is cooked.
- Cool the empanadas on a wire rack at least 10 minutes before serving.
Store in the refrigerator in a closed container. Pop them in the microwave or toaster oven to reheat, or enjoy cold.