I can be stupid stubborn about keeping my kitchen as basic as possible. Despite the fact that I work as a chef and cook at home daily, my kitchen is almost totally devoid of fancy gadgets. Rolling pin? Well this wine bottle out of the recycling will do just fine. Kitchen shears? How about this pair I used to trim my bangs? Stand mixer? Do I look like I have two broken arms to you?
What I’m really getting at here is that I kept it simple when making these empanadas. I walked down and bought prepared empanada dough at my local Puerto Rican grocery. In truth, I have never made empanada dough of my own free will. It’s not terribly complicated, just messy, and in my opinion, unnecessary. After all, it’s what’s inside that counts.
Spiced Beef and Lentil Empanadas:
2 packages empanada dough (Goya brand is easy to work with) OR 2 packages puff pastry, thawed*
1 pound ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes (regular are fine, too)
3/4 C. brown lentils, rinsed and picked over for junk
1 C. water
S & P
1 or 2 eggs, lightly beaten
*Note – using puff pastry will yield a non-traditional, layered pastry style empanada, which is delightfully fattening.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, brown the ground beef until just cooked through. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the pan and set aside, reserving the fat. Saute the diced onion and carrot and a little more salt and pepper in the remaining fat (add olive oil if necessary) for 5 minutes, until very soft. Add the three spices and allow them to toast a bit in the hot pan (one minute is ample). Pour in the canned tomatoes and stir to deglaze the pan if necessary. Add the lentils and the water, more salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover, checking the lentils every 8-10 minutes for doneness and to be sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can add more water as necessary, but brown lentils seem to take on very little water.
When the lentils are softened but still holding their shape, stir in the ground beef and remove from the heat until cool enough to work with.
To form the empanadas:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. If using the prepared empanada dough, follow the instructions on the package. Most likely you will need to roll out the dough into a slightly larger disk before filling. If using puff pastry, you will need to cut circles yourself before rolling the dough out a bit. A large biscuit cutter will work well, but in the vein if this post, so will a big plastic cup. The puff pastry will also need to be pricked with a fork all over before filling to prevent it from puffing up too much.
Once all of your disks of dough are ready, place 1 heaping spoonful (2-3 Tbsp.) of filling just off center inside of each one. Brush the egg around the outside, fold over and seal tightly, either pinching or using the back of a fork to apply pressure. Brush the pastries with the remaining egg.
Place the empanadas on baking sheets and bake for 14-18 minutes, rotating once during cooking to ensure even browning. Cool slightly before serving.