When I cook, I like to remind myself that success in cooking does not come in perfection—nothing is perfect—but rather, I think success comes in the evolution of a dish. To me, what’s interesting is the how a dish can continue to morph and evolve—the risks taken, adjustments of ingredients, spices, and techniques used, etc. This all varies from person to person, kitchen to kitchen, and time to time. It’s an exciting process. I love finding ways to make changes to a dish, allowing space for it to be tweaked, made differently, and improved. Because, cooking is not only about putting food on a plate, but it also involves creation of meals that have meaning and are done thoughtfully.
Take these empanadas, for example. I know they are not the prettiest of empanadas you’ve seen, for sure. They’re not perfect, but I decided to post them anyway because they’ve gone through several iterations—test batches and tastings. They were also made thoughtfully, using local/seasonal ingredients, and made with purpose. I want my son to be familiar with various “empanadas” (known in many countries), and I love giving him opportunities to discover the pleasure of eating vegetables in a variety of interesting ways. With each batch I make, they continue to evolve. Sure, they look a little funny, but they taste really good and I’ve had fun making them with my little one who has a great time saying, mas empanadas por favor (more empanadas please). 🙂
As with all the recipes I post here, feel free to use this one as a starting point. Make changes, your improvements to this recipe, to suit your needs and preferences. Like any recipe here, I hope this one continues to evolve. You can try other squash, if you prefer. Besides butternut, I’ve also made acorn squash and pumpkin empanadas. For an extra nutritional boost, add spinach or kale. Just make sure to chop them finely so there aren’t large leaves in your empanada, making them difficult to eat gracefully. Same goes with the parsley and/or cilantro you add. With any extra dough, you can make a mini pie, like I did (see below).
I like empanadas to be full of flavor, hence the use of a heady mix of spices—ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, chili, cumin and salt. Garam masala is also a nice addition. You can make these empanadas as spicy as you want by adjusting the amount of chili powder and jalapeño that you add to the filling. I only use about 1/4 of a jalapeño if children will be eating them, but if you can take the heat you can definitely add a lot more! Two jalapeños make these empanadas nice and spicy! Regardless of how much you use, be sure to mince them well to avoid large chunks of jalapeño in any one bite.
Don’t be shy about really seasoning your filling as the dough is relatively neutral in flavor. For the dough, I wanted to avoid using white flour, but understand using all whole wheat would’ve made the dough too dense. If any of you have any experience using alternative flours for pastries like these, please share. To make them vegan, I used a buttery-like spread (Earth Balance) and glazed them with olive oil instead of an egg wash. Keep me posted if you take these in any new directions!
Spicy Butternut Squash Empanadas
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup butter (I used Earth Balance), chilled
1 cup, or a little more ice cold water
Butternut squash filling
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 red onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
a very generous pinch each of cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg
1 butternut squash, diced very small
1/2 cup or more coconut milk
1-2 jalapeño peppers
1/2 cup fresh spinach, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup cilantro or parsley, finely chopped
Prepare the dough: Combine flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry cutter, your fingers or a food processor, add butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Working with about 1/4 cup at a time, add ice cold water until the dough comes together. Turn the dough onto a slightly floured work surface, keeping it together. Cut in half. Flatten each half into thick discs and wrap in plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest in refrigerator for at least an hour. It can rest in refrigerator, wrapped well, for about a week.
Make the filling: Heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and all of the spices (salt, cumin, chili powder, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg). Cook for a minute, then add butternut squash, stir to coat and cook for a minute. Add coconut milk and jalapeño and cook until the squash begins to soften, adding a little more coconut milk if the squash begins to stick. Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and stir in spinach and cilantro. Set aside to cool completely.
Assemble: Preheat oven to 400F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Prepare by getting a small bowl of water and fork (optional) to seal the edges of each empanada.
On a lightly floured surface divide the dough into sections of four or eight. Roll each section into circles of about 4-inch diameters. You can use a cookie cutter or biscuit cutter if you want them to be even in size. Place about 1 tablespoon of filling onto each dough round, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Use your finger to coat the border of each circle with water. This allows the dough to stick so the filling does not come out. Fold each circle in half and press edges with fingertips, then pinch edges along the rim, or crimp edges firmly with a fork to seal.
Place empanadas on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush tops with olive oil. If you’re not vegan, you can use an egg wash mixture of 1 egg with a tablespoon of water. Avoid brushing the crimped edges as they will brown more quickly. Bake empanadas until golden, about 20 minutes. Empanadas are best served warm.