Empanadas sin Carne

Empanadas are a portable South American classic of baked hand pies with a savory or sweet filling. Thought to originate in northern Spain, colonial foodways brought the empanada to Peru, where creole cooks made it their own. Street food vendors often deep-fry empanadas to order, but I like to bake them—a dozen or more at a time for a potluck or dinner party. Making the dough from scratch is a rewarding effort because each time you knead and roll the dough you’ll build a memory of the scent and texture when the dough is just right, regardless of your kitchen’s humidity. The baked pastry acts as a vehicle for different fillings, and here the classic filling of ground beef is made vegan with a plant-protein substitute. An onion sauté base with garlic, spices, broth, and bay leaf enhances the savory filling; while currants and olives add fruitiness.

Empanadas sin Carne / Empanadas with Vegan Ground Beef

Serves 12

Empanada Dough

  • 3 cups flour, plus more to dust the work surface
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup cold water

Empanada Filling and Glaze

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound vegan ground beef (such as Beyond Meat)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano
  • 1 cup vegan beef stock
  • ¼ cup currants
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 pitted Kalamata olives
  • ¼ cup soy milk, for the glaze

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

For the filling, in a large non-stick skillet over medium to high heat, warm the vegetable oil. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent, about 2 minutes. Mix in the vegan ground beef, and use a spatula to break up large pieces. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegan beef begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, then mix in the currants and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid reduces almost completely, about 5 minutes. Transfer the filling to a bowl, and compost the bay leaf.

For the dough, in a large bowl, add the flour, salt, shortening, and vinegar. Use a spatula to mix thoroughly. Continue to mix, adding 2 tablespoons of water at a time. After adding ¼ cup water, shape the dough in the bowl by hand to form a ball. If the ball doesn’t keep its shape, add a few more tablespoons of water. The dough ball should have some elasticity when pulled and not crumble or tear apart right away. Transfer the dough ball to a floured working surface, and knead the dough for 1 to 2 minutes, until it maintains a dome form. Shape the dough ball into a log and cut into 12 equal pieces. Use a rolling pin to roll out each piece of dough into rough circles large enough to cut 6-inch diameter dough circles with a round dough cutter.

To assemble, place the dozen 6-inch diameter dough circles flat on the working surface. Scoop 2 tablespoons of filling onto the center of each circle and place an olive on top. Use a brush to moisten the edges of the dough circles with water. Fold the dough circles in half, and press down firmly on the edges with fingertips to seal.

To braid, place an empanada on your left palm with the straight edge facing away from you. Pinch the left corner with the index finger and thumb of your right hand, index finger on top, and thumb below. Turn right wrist clockwise while gently pulling dough with fingers so that thumb ends up on top and a triangular piece of dough covers the index finger. Repeat from left to right, now pinching half of the folded triangular piece.

To bake, arrange the empanadas flat on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat. Brush the top of the empanadas with soy milk, then perforate the top of each empanada with a fork three times. Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake until the empanadas turn golden brown and have a firm, puffy shape, about 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm.

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