‘Tis the season.
For this challenge our sponsor Holland House chose a theme that had me scratching my head and wondering how I was going to meet it: A light Thanksgiving dish with at least a hint of Dominican flavors. I have to say that it took me much longer to come up with something than it took me to actually prepare it.
I think this dish works in many ways. First, I’ve got a lot of requests over the years for baked empanadas, for some reason it always stayed in the back of the queue. Second, this dough is made with vegetable oil, instead of butter, as it is traditionally made.
The filling had me stumped. I couldn’t think of something that combined Dominican seasonal celebrations and an American tradition. Then I remembered. Every Dominican-American or Dominican in the USA I know tries to include their own traditions into a celebration that does not exist in the Dominican Republic. Turkey is served alongside moro de guandules con coco, empanadas, and ensalada rusa. Thanksgiving is like a preamble to Christmas with full on Dominican flavors. And what is missing here? Pork.
So yes, empanadas, lean pork and apples (which is also part of the Dominican Christmas meal). It just had to work.
Going around the supermarket with my
assistant and recipe taster husband I had the epiphany. Boy did I ever think I came up with a novel idea. And when I finish explaining to my husband about my idea for a pork and apple filling he deflated my pride with the words: “you mean like the Danish dish?”.
I swear I knew nothing about a Danish Christmas dish with pork and apples. I guess when it comes to food the wheel has already been invented.
And speaking about the invention of the wheel: I could not find anywhere, either online or in my pretty decent collection of cookbooks any recipe for butter-less dough. Not one. So it felt on me to find a way to do it. Several cups of flours wasted and hours of baking later (you do not want to know how those other empanadas looked, or tasted, pugh!) I found the exact proportion, a dough that was firm, elastic enough and had a great texture and flavor.
It was like Christmas morning, a gift under my bed (just like Dominican kids from my neck of the woods used to get, thankyouverymuch).
I am in love; sure the dough calls for oil, but it is significantly less than it would contain if it were deep-fried. Furthermore, I found that unlike deep-fried empanadas these do not get soggy and flat after a few minutes. Hours later (like 7 hours) I popped the last 8 of these in the oven, reheated them and served them to my charges for dinner. They were nearly as good and firm as when they came out of the oven the first time.
On the down side, this is not the flaky, crumbly dough that results from deep frying the empanadas, but it is good in its own right and so much easier to work with, nevermind that I hate deep frying with the fury of a thousand Santo Domingo drivers at peak hour. These were absolutely fun to make (I made some with flower cutouts for my kid) but for this season, holly and berries (my maple leaf cutter is too big). Fun, fun!
So what did my
most ferocious culinary critics husband and child say about the filling? My husband loved it. The apples were very soft, and that resulted in a “juicy” filling, a hint of the wine vinegar contrasting with the sweet apples. Nadia, on the other hand, pompously declared: I don’t want that for dinner!
Hey kid, this ain’t a restaurant. Go complain to Gordon Ramsey.
A much lighter, and with less cholesterol version of the dough, and a sweet and savory filling that combines our Christmas season flavors. These empanadas (pasties) are easy and fun to make and will be a hit at your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner party.
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- 1/2 cup of oil (corn, soy or peanut)
- 1/2 cup of milk
- 1/2 lb of boneless pork
- 2 fuji apples
- 1 cup of Holland House red wine vinegar
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon of water
- Pre-heat oven to 450 °F (235 °C)
- Season the pork with a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of pepper and a pinch of oregano.
- Place in a small pot and add the onion, vinegar and enough water to cover it.
- Cook over medium heat until the meat is very tender and flaky, adding more water during the process if it should need it.
- Once the meat is cooked, let the remaining water evaporate almost entirely (do not let the meat get too dry!)
- Using two forks shred the pork.
- Core and dice the apples. Add to the meat and the onions from cooking.
- Using a potato masher mash the apples a little bit (otherwise the sharp corners of the dice would poke holes in the dough disks).
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Should the filling be too dry, add two tablespoons of milk and one tablespoons of flour and mix well (flour and milk not included in the list of ingredients).
- Use two tablespoons of oil to oil a baking tray.
- In a mixing bowl mix flour, salt and baking soda.
- Add 1/4 cup of oil and 1/4 cup of milk.
- Mix until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
- If the dough is too dry add milk and oil by the teaspoon (alternate milk and oil) until the dough is smooth but firm.
- Knead lightly until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- If the dough is too dry add more milk by the teaspoons.
- If the dough is too shaggy add more flour by the tablespoons.
- Wrap in plastic film and let it rest at room temperature for at least 10 minutes.
- Mix egg and water and whisk until they are well-mixed.
- Remove dough from the film and divide the ball in halves, then again until you have 16 balls.
- Roll out the balls with a rolling pin until it is about 3/32" thick (about 2 mm).
- Add a tablespoon of the filling in the center and fold over.
- Cut a half-disk (3.5" diameter) with a cup or whatever you have. Remove the excess dough.
- Press the edges with a fork and place on the baking tray.
- Paint the pasties with the egg wash.
- Bake until they are golden brown (10 - 15 mins).
- Cool for a couple of minutes on a wire rack.
What to do with the leftover dough? Use cookie cutters to cut leaves, flowers or whatever is appropriate for the occasion. Also super helpful to cover small holes in the pasties.
These cannot be stored after they have been assembled. If you need to make some preparations beforehand is best to cook the filling and prepare the dough and leave the assembly and baking for the last minute. Or bake and then re-heat them in the oven (never the microwave!).
Using the right kind of vinegar is important. Not all vinegars have the same acidic content. Make substitutions at your own risk, the wrong vinegar might mean a dish that is too sweet for a savory dish, or a lip-puckering sour mess.
You may notice that the video does not follow the same order as the recipe, that is because recipes are written to be understood easily. In real life it's best to work on some things while long-cooking items are doing their thing, thus you are not twiddling your thumbs while the pork cooks (which may take up to an hour).
This post is sponsored by Holland House, but the opinions are 100% mine.
The Holland House Holiday Sweepstakes has a $500 grand prize for one winner, plus the chance to have an expert blogger help plan the winner’s holiday meal. The contest ends on 12/17. Don’t forget to enter.