I love watching the Food Network. From the cooking competitions to the cake decorating challenges – it’s tons of fun. It makes me want to turn my own kitchen into a kitchen stadium and savagely yell, “A La Cuisine!” I want someone to present me with a strange basket of ingredients and force me to make a presentable and edible dish. It would be such a fun and creative exercise for me. Seeing how I won’t be featured on Chopped or Iron Chef any time soon, I guess I’ll have to find another way. On a whim, and also because I was craving Julia’s Empanadas, I made Curried Beef & Butternut Squash Empanadas. Sounds weird right? No, it totally works – wait til you read the ingredient list. Fish sauce, chili powder, madras curry powder, ground lemongrass, a bit of cinnamon, tons of cumin – yeah. There are tons of flavors, but they work so well together! The beef itself is salty and spicy thanks to the curry powder and fish sauce, but the butternut squash adds a nice texture change as well as some unexpected sweetness. It reminds me a bit of a red Thai curry I once ate with squash and beef. Very similar (though coincidental) flavor profile. Lastly I have to admit, I had a little help from my corner bodega – you can buy frozen empanada pastry shells! All you do is thaw for a bit, fill, brush with egg, and bake. Magic happens in the oven.
Curried Beef & Butternut Squash Empanadas
I didn’t work from a recipe, just my good old noggin, so as always – please refer to this loosely. It’s more a guideline anyway. Makes 15 mini empanadas.
1.5 c lean ground beef
1 c butternut squash, diced small
1/2 c yellow onion, diced small
1 tbs madras curry powder
1 scant tbs cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground lemongrass [optional]
2-3 tbs fish sauce [or to taste]
1 tbs chili powder [or to taste]
salt & pepper, to taste
15 mini empanada pastry shells
1 egg + 2 tsp water, beaten together
Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Coat with olive oil. Once hot, add butternut squash. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chili powder to taste. Lower heat and put a lid on the skillet. This will help the squash to cook more quickly. Sometimes I find that the squash can brown too quickly, and will add a bit of water to prevent burning in the pan. This is perfectly acceptable. Alternatively, this can be done in an oven. We do not want mush, so the squash is done once tender enough to be pierced with fork, but not falling apart. Remember, these will continue to cook later. Remove squash and set aside.
To the same skillet, add a bit more olive oil as needed, followed by the above spices. The toasting or frying of the spices helps make them extra fragrant and really brings out the bold flavors. Add the diced onions, cooking to a soft, transparent state. Then add the ground beef, stirring constantly to break up any large clumps. Cook until all the red disappears, and season with fish sauce and (if needed) additional salt and pepper. Return the butternut squash to the pan, mix through, and turn off heat. Allow to cool enough to handle before proceeding.
Preheat oven to 350*F. To fill the mini empanada shells, I place a tablespoon of filling in the center of the pastry. I then fold the circle in half, and use a fork to seal/crimp the edges. Sometimes the filling juice comes out, but that’s a sign that I need to seal the empanada tighter, or maybe that I’ve overstuffed the empanada. Adjust accordingly.
Brush each empanada with egg wash. Place on lined baking sheet without over crowding, and bake in oven for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Consume immediately (at risk of burning tongue, of course). These are perfectly delicious on their own, but a bit of salsa or hot sauce is also good. Empanadas are super fun and easy to make. I am already imagining all the fun filling combinations I want to try – maybe mango and shredded pork, or turkey and apple chutney, ground lamb and feta, or maybe even comfy pork and beans. Ahh I can’t wait!
Sidenote: Prior to eggwash and baking, you can freeze the empanadas on a tray. Arrange them so none touch. Once frozen, gather in a Ziploc bag and freeze for another day. Simply remove from freezer, thaw, bake and eat. Easy peasy.