So, let’s get real with food right now: Empanada. I can’t exactly pinpoint my desire to eat/make these yummy little pastry pockets of powerful flavor, but all I can say is, YES PLEASE!
Funny enough, I had my very first empanada in Chicago after helping one of my fellow MFA cohorts move, and it happened to be on the corner of Montrose & Wolcott from the food truck 5411. It was completely unassuming and frankly, I don’t think we would have stopped if the air simmering around the truck hadn’t been so heavy with spiced meat and golden crust, or if we hadn’t been as hungry as we were. The idea of food trucks at this point were still kind of new to me, and I had grown up leery of most street food stands in Hong Kong that were more likely to get you sick than to leave you satisfied. The only real food truck experience that I had was in college, ordering hamburgers and bratwursts with grilled onions, sauerkraut, and grilled melted mozzarella cheese, which always came free and layered elegantly on top like freshly washed sheets on a freshly made bed. Nothing better, but back to 5411 and their empanadas. We were so hungry, having done a lot of physical activity and the smell of meat and cheese was making our mouths water, not to mention the price of $2.75 an empanada was too good to pass up, so I tried a beef, just to get as close to authentic as I could for my first bite. The pastry was hot and steamy, the meat tender and juicy, earthy with a kick of heat. a dash of sweetness, and a quick salty tang of brine. It was simple, but it was delicious, and the fact it was hand friendly made the continuance of our cool down walk all the better.
I haven’t had the pleasure of encountering this truck since then, or venturing to their many locations around the city, but that’s when my MFA started to really kick in and food had to take a small backseat. But as I started to cook more this year, the memory has popped back on more than one occasion, especially when I have been looking at pictures of scones and making pies. The pastry connection was inevitable.
And just to be clear so I’m not overselling my current predicament of minimal kitchen, I did NOT make the dough. When I’m all moved and unpacked, I plan to make more empanadas, perhaps with chicken this time, and make the dough from scratch, but for now, I turned to the ever handy empanada wrappers, which I found at my nearest Tony’s Finer Foods, which specializes in ethnic foods more than our local Jewel or Mariano’s. Eucalyptus? They got it! Yuca? They got it! Empanada wrappers? Oh yeah, they DEFINITELY have that, whereas the 5 Jewels, 3 Mariano’s, and 2 Whole Foods that were within 10 miles of my home or office were like, “Empanada what now? What are those?” I don’t think I’ve ever been more frustrated trying to find ONE THING. In future, I now know exactly where to go when I need to look for my not-so-run-of-the-mill groceries. [Helpful Note: Definitely take stock of where your nearest specialty marts are for such occasions!]
And the filling is everything you would want in a comfort food. Meat, potatoes, olives (which I know most folks aren’t a fan of, but they’re chopped super small so you can’t really taste them as is, but they provide that perfect little pop of saltiness that meat and potatoes really crave, especially when they’re bunked together in the same dish), peppers for crunch and freshness, cumin for a little earthy sweetness, chili powder (and my favorite, chili flakes) for the heat to kick it all up a notch. Even in the heat of summer, these little pockets of spiced perfection are still a wonderful little bite of comfort and satisfaction! If you’re looking to spice up your summer, this is definitely one way to do it! Enjoy! — Cooking Maggie
Beef & Potato Empanadas from the candid appetite.