Empanadas & Hummingbirds
You might be asking yourself what on earth empanadas and hummingbirds have to do with each other, but they always make me think of each other. It all has to do with the place where I was inspired to make one of my favourite empanada fillings. Many years ago, I visited Costa Rica where I enjoyed the diverse and exotic nature Costa Rica’s varied ecosystems had to offer. I visited Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a dense, humid jungle that is literally set amongst the clouds and echoes with the sounds of howler monkeys from the canopy. The reserve boasts an incredible array of rare flora and fauna. One of the gems of Monteverde (Spanish for “Green Mountain”) is the Hummingbird Garden.
The birds are free to come and go as they please, but they are drawn to the particular food they put out for them, gathering crowds of the tiny birds that whizz by your head with alarming proximity. I spent a lot of time there trying to capture these winged jewels with my camera. It was quite a challenge as they darted around at unbelievable speed.
There is a little café in the garden, and as I was feeling a bit hungry after my adventuring I grabbed a potato empanada for lunch. It was seriously the best empanada I had ever had, filled with a spicy and tangy potato mixture. I asked the girl who worked there what was in the empanada in an attempt to get at least a list of ingredients so I could try to recreate the recipe at home.
She told me the woman responsible for making them was sitting over by the window, and I turned to see an older Hispanic lady drinking coffee and looking out at the hummingbirds. The caveat was she only spoke Spanish. I had taken Spanish in high school for three years, as well as taking some evening classes with my dad for fun at our local university. But, as with any language, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Luckily, the empanada maker was open to conversing in my forgotten Spanish and I managed to translate a list of ingredients so that I could attempt to recreate something similar at home. She would say “ajo” and I would write down garlic, “cebolla” to onion, so and so forth. The potato filling below will forever make me think of the cloud forest up in the mountains and the bejeweled hummingbirds whizzing past my ears.
The Dough This empanada dough is an interpretation of the one my mom taught me to make. The nice thing about this recipe is that they are baked, not fried, making them an easier and healthier option. They get away with being baked because they have cornmeal in them so they still have a nice crunchy texture to them. I coloured my dough, and I’ve included how to do that should you wish. Yield: 6 medium empanadas 1 cup cornmeal 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 tsp salt 1 egg yolk 90g butter (cold and chopped) 1/3 cup cold water (this is where you can add your colour: Green: I pureed parsley with a bit of water and add this instead of the plain water Orange: Add 3 tsp annatto powder to the water before adding) 1 egg whisked (for an egg wash) Combine the dry ingredients together (cornmeal, flour, and salt) in a medium sized bowl. Add in the chopped butter and blend it (using your hands or a pastry blender) until the butter becomes “pea-sized”, be sure not to make the butter too fine. Combine the egg yolk and the water (this is where you add in colourings if you choose) and add to the dry ingredients, bring dough together, and turn out onto the counter. Knead until smooth.
To form the empanadas, cut the dough into six even pieces. Working one piece at a time, lightly flour your surface, and roll dough into a 6” wide circle. Place filling on the back half of the circle, brush the edges with an egg wash, and fold rounds in half to enclose the filling. Go around the edge and seal by pressing with a fork. To tidy up the edges, I go around with a circular cutter or pairing knife afterwards. Pierce vents with a pairing knife.
If you prefer to freeze the empanadas, do so unbaked, otherwise place finished empanadas on a parchment lined baking tray and bake them for 15 minutes at 350°F. The Filling (Spicy Potato) 3 medium yellow potatoes ½ yellow onion 3 garlic cloves Favourite hot sauce to taste (I used 3 tbsp of “Franks” hot sauce) Peel potatoes and cut into a small dice. Place the potatoes in a medium sized pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer potatoes until fork tender. Strain the potatoes once cooked, but reserve their cooking liquid. Meanwhile, sauté onion in a medium sauté pan until translucent. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes more. Add the cooked potatoes and hot sauce to the sauté pan and stir to combine. To bring the ingredients together and to create a bit of a sauce, add some of the potato water in (the potato starch with thicken the sauce). Adjust seasonings, and allow to cool before filling the empanadas.