While I was in Santiago, Chile, I was told that the celebration of Independence Day, September 18, is practically synonymous with empanadas and chicha (a fermented drink, made with grapes in this case). Luckily, this is not the only day when empanadas are enjoyed. Empanadas can be found in sit-down and carryout restaurants, as well as at home, any time of the day or year. I was also told that the poet Pablo Neruda loved empanadas so much that his major preoccupation five days before his death was with the empanadas he had ordered from his favorite restaurant. When they arrived, he ate them with gusto in the company of good friends.
On the way to the wineries outside Santiago, there are little huts where wonderful bread and empanadas are baked in beehive ovens. For a special treat, Chileans take a bottle of wine, a few empanadas, and a tortilla de rescoldo (a round, flat bread made with flour, lard, and fried pork rind) and have a picnic along the road.
This empanada is called caldúa (soupy) and is the most popular Chilean specialty. The name caldúa comes from the juicy, cumin-seasoned filling that is cooked with broth; the meat and onions absorb some of the liquid to keep the filling moist.
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 3 medium-size onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 12 ounces lean ground beef
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Hot pepper sauce of your choice
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 cup warm milk
- 1 large egg white lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
- 12 pitted black olives, sliced
- 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced
- ¼ cup seedless black raisins (optional)
1. To make the filling, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring a few times, until transparent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and salt and cook for 30 seconds. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the beef, and cook, stirring constantly, until it loses its pink color. Stir in the paprika, cumin, oregano, black pepper, and hot pepper sauce to taste and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the beef broth and cook for a few minutes, until the meat absorbs some of the liquid. Sprinkle in the flour, stir, and cook until thickened. The mixture should be soupy. Let cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors develop.
2. To make the dough, put the flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor and process for 5 seconds. Add the shortening and process until the mixture looks like cornmeal. With the machine running, add the warm milk through the feed tube and process until the dough almost gathers into a ball. Transfer to a floured board and knead for a few seconds. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
3. Form the dough into a log and cut into 12 portions. On a lightly floured board, roll each portion into a 6-inch circle. Lightly brush the edge of half of the circle with the egg white mixture. Place about 2 heaping tablespoons of the filling in the center, top with a few slices of olives, a slice of egg, and a few raisins (if using). Fold half of the circle over to form a half-moon and press the edges together firmly. Brush the top with the egg white mixture. Fold the rounded edge over ½ inch, making 3 separate folds—one on each side, then one on the bottom—to create a trapezoid shape. Brush the folds with the egg white mixture and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
4. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
5. Pierce the tops of the empanadas once with a fork and bake until lightly colored, about 20 minutes. Be careful not to overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
You can make hors d’oeuvre-size empanadas by dividing each piece of dough into 4 smaller pieces and rolling each into a 3-inch circle, then proceeding as directed above. Instead of adding sliced egg to the top of the filling, chop the egg and mix it into the filling. Reduce the baking time by about 5 minutes.