Traditional Beef Empanadas from Argentina

In these last several posts we are exploring traditional dishes of Argentina.

My family and I were born in Argentina and immigrated to the United States in the late 70’s and one of my earliest memories as a child in Southern California was going to the grocery store. Everything looked and smelled so differently than what I was accustomed to in Argentina. The grocery store, along with everything else appeared so large to me. I was used to going to the bakery to pick up fresh bread for my family daily and we went to a deli for our lunch meats and cheeses, a butcher for our meat, and a grocer for our produce. Yes, there are huge grocery stores where we lived but most people just shop and support their neighborhood businesses.

I’ve got to say that I still miss the scent of warm fresh bread coming from the bakery down the street. There’s nothing like it!

There’s something that always takes me back to my childhood in Argentina and in Southern California, and that is Empanadas, especially Beef Empanadas. They can filled with beef, chicken, spinach, creamed corn, ham and cheese, and sometimes sweet ones can be found. But the traditional empanada is filled with ground beef, green Spanish olives, chopped shard boiled eggs, and raisins. You can leave out any of these toppings if you choose. We don’t like raisins in our empanadas, so I leave them out for my family.

The dough for the empanada can be homemade but any Latino market will carry empanada dough. They are cut into circles and ready to use. You can also stick up and store the dough in your freezer. The brand I found here in Boise is Goya, but there are other brands too. As long as it says “Tapas para Empanadas” on the label, you are good to go!

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I love to use my stone for baking because there is no need to grease anything and everything cooks evenly.

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Serve warm or cold. Empanadas can be served as a main dish with a salad or other vegetable or as an appetizer.

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Traditional Beef Empanadas from Argentina

Ingredients

  • 2 packages (Empanada dough) Found at Latino markets
  • 2 lbs. Ground beef. (Not too lean, you need some moisture and fat for this recipe)
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ red bell pepper. Diced
  • 1/2 tbl cumin
  • 1 tbl sweet paprika (pimenton)
  • Salt to taste
  • Green Spanish olives
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
Sautee your onions and red bell pepper for about 5 minutes.
Add ground beef and brown for a few minutes, then add minced garlic.
After everything is combined well add cumin and paprika and salt to taste.
Open dough package and lay out discs on your counter.
Spoon 2-3 tbl of filling onto center of discs. Then top with egg and olives.
Fold over and seal. You can use your fingers or a fork to seal and mark your dough with fork marks.
Fry at about 375 degrees for 3 minutes or until golden brown.
*Healthier method is to bake your empanadas at 350 degrees for approximately 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Both ways are delicious. Fried empanadas are the traditional way to cook them in Argentina. I grew up eating the baked ones, which many people do to cut down on fat.

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Gluten Free/ Dairy Free Italian Chile Relleno

Chile Rellenos are one of my favorite Mexican dishes. But being gluten intolerant and lactose intolerant makes it rather difficult to be able to eat them. I thought I would come up with a way to make them so I can eat them and also have them be lighter and healthier.  These aren’t your traditional batter fried cheesy chile rellenos. This filling is a little different. (My family and friends who read this will understand.)

I actually made the chile relleno filling an Italian filling. Growing up in an Italian home, my mom turned everything into an an Italian dish. It used to bother me because I thought it didn’t taste quite authentic, but now I’ve embraced my mom’s inventive side, plus it’s all the rage now.  People are mixing flavors and dishes all the time now and it’s called “fusion.”

I first heard of fusion food about 7 years ago living in Southern California. Mu husband told me about this guy who made Korean style tacos. He had a food truck that he parked and sold out of throughout L.A. This was when food trucks were just becoming a thing. I thought, wow sounds interesting. We need to try these tacos. and guess what? Holy moly! The variety and depth of flavor in these tacos was incredible! I became a fan of “fusion.” I began to see it more and more and realize more and more that mom was on to something in the 80s.  Combining foods from different cultures can be tricky, but if done carefully can be heavenly. So there you have it, my version of fusion Chile rellenos.  I know you’re going to love them!

 

I created a fusion chile relleno recipe. Mexican on the outside and Italian on the inside. Sauteeing the red bell pepper, garlic,  and the onion creates a robust and rich flavor with a little sweetness and complements the spiciness of the pasilla pepper.

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Gluten Free Chile Relleno

Ingredients

  • 5 pasilla chilies
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 10 beef meatballs( make your own, store bought, or leftovers)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • pinch of oregano
Set chilies over flame and completely char outside. Set aside to cool.
Peel chilies and slice open one side and discard seeds,
Heat pan with 1 TBL of olive oil and sautee onion, bell pepper, and garlic cloves. Add oregano.
Chop meatballs and place in pan and combine with veggie mixture.
Stuff peppers with mixture.
Beat eggs and dip chilies in beaten eggs.
Fry stuffed chilies in 2 Tbl olive oil. (they only take a couple of minutes to cook)
As soon as egg is set flip to other side and cook an additional one to two minutes.

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Vietnamese Pho

If the first thing that comes to your mind is, “How do you even pronounce that?” I’ll tell you. It’s pronunced FUH. Its a soup that is originally made with chicken but can also be made meatless. I love the original chicken version. It’s warm and comforting and since I’ve had a cold for a week now, it’s the perfect meal for tonight. I first had it years ago at a Vietnamese restaurant in Arizona.  This place was the real deal. It was a family owned business and the wife was Vietnamese and  the master mind behind all the insanely mouth watering dishes.

I really enjoy soups and dishes that have an assortment of veggies that can be added as toppings. I like the variety and the explosion of flavors in my mouth. The main ingredients of Pho are of course chicken, which is cooked in water with fresh ginger and onion, and the veggie toppings, which are so fun and add so much flavor to the soup. I’ve tried different versions of Pho and this is mine. I hope you enjoy it.IMG_20160404_185849556

There is a funny story about this Pho that I must tell you. When the soup was ready and we began to assemble the bowls and began to eat, I realized I hadn’t taken photos of the finished recipes. I really want to get this recipe out to you because many of you have requested it. I apologize about the absence of photos and vow to include more photos next time I cook Pho for my family. For now you will just have to take my word for it. I guarantee your family will love it and ask for seconds.

The first thing you need to do is decide whether to use chicken breasts or a whole chicken or legs and thighs or other chicken pieces. The original Pho calls for cooking your whole chicken in water along with a yellow onion and fresh ginger. Because it’s a weeknight and a school night, I decided to use chicken tenders. They cook quickly and are skinned and ready to go.

Vietnamese Pho

Ingredients

  • 1 Whole chicken (you'll only use half) or chicken thighs and legs, chicken breasts or tenders
  • (I used 2 lbs of chicken tenders)
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 large chunk of fresh ginger
  • 6-8 cups water
  • Toppings:
  • green onions (5 green onions or 1 bunch)
  • bean sprouts (2 cups)
  • Thai basil (1/2 cup)
  • Spinach or bok choy (about two handfuls)
  • cilantro (1/2 bunch)
  • limes cut in wedges
  • salt to taste
  • Rice noodles (fresh or dry)
  • Optional: sriracha or asian red pepper paste
In small frying pan, roast yellow onion whole and with skin on. Also roast fresh ginger with skin on.
You'll need to watch this and frequently move around in pan so as to not burn a particular side. After the ginger and onion are all blackened looking, peel both and toss into the water.
Simmer your chicken with skin on for about one hour. If you've chosen to use skinless, this next part will be even easier for you. If you've chosen to use chicken with skin you will begin to see foam forming. You'll need to skim off the foam until the broth appears clear. It will take you about 5-6 minutes.
The whole chicken will take about an hour to cook.The skinless chicken breasts will cook in about 20 minutes and the tenders in about 12 minutes.
Remove onion and ginger. Discard.
Remove chicken and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle shred chicken.
In a separate pot cook the rice noodles according to package directions. They only take about 3 minutes to cook.
Now it's time to arrange your bowl.
First add the noodles to your bowl. Then add chicken. Next add broth. Last, you'll want to arrange toppings around your bowl and squeeze lime juice over the top and sriracha if you'd like some heat.

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Cuban Black Beans and Rice

When I think of comfort food, I think of Cuban black beans and rice.  Some people want mac and cheese or chicken pot pie, but this is what I want to eat. Actually, I could go for this most nights, that’s how much I love it. For about ten years I’ve been making my own version of Cuban Black Beans, but after having a Cuban neighbor, who became one of my best friends, I learned some great tips along with a more authentic preparation. To ensure creaminess in this dish, you must simmer at a low temperature otherwise your liquid will quickly be absorbed and your beans and onions will start to burn.


Cuban Black Beans and Rice

Ingredients

  • 8 cups black beans (if you're in a pinch, canned beans work just fine but make sure you drain and rinse them to remove salt)
  • 1 medium to large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper diced
  • 2tbl olive oil
  • Spanish olives
  • White distilled vinegar
  • 2tsp cumin or more. It's up to you.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • In a heavy bottomed pan sautéed onion, garlic, and pepper until soft.
  • Add beans and simmer for a five minutes. Add water. Cover. If you want it kinda runny add about 1/2 cup or more. If not 1/4 cup at the most.
  • Simmer on low for about 10 minutes. Add about 10-12 Spanish olives and simmer a few more minutes.
  • Optional: When ready to serve, add a 1-2 tbl of vinegar.
  • Very important: sautéed veggies must be cooked well before adding beans or they'll be crunchy. The dish should be completely creamy.
  • (The green you see in the pot is the secret, or not so secret anymore. During the last 10 minutes of simmering throw in a few Spanish olives. Gives it a little zing of authentic flavor)
  • Makes me miss my Cuban friend every time I make it.
  • Serve on a bed of rice.
In a heavy bottomed pan sautéed onion, garlic, and pepper until soft.
Add beans and simmer for a five minutes. Add water. Cover. If you want it kinda runny add about 1/2 cup or more. If not 1/4 cup at the most.
Simmer on low for about 10 minutes. Add about 10-12 Spanish olives and simmer a few more minutes.
Optional: When ready to serve, add a 1-2 tbl of vinegar.
Very important: sautéed veggies must be cooked well before adding beans or they'll be crunchy. The dish should be completely creamy.
(The green you see in the pot is the secret, or not so secret anymore. During the last 10 minutes of simmering throw in a few Spanish olives. Gives it a little zing of authentic flavor)
Makes me miss my Cuban friend every time I make it.
Serve on a bed of rice.

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Zucchini Noodles (Zoodles) with Kale-Basil Pesto

It all starts with this Spirilizer. I really want one! I actually borrowed this one from my Sister-in-law. But you can also make zoodles with a julianne peeler or with a mandolin. If you don’t have any of these things, just slice your zucchini very thinly with a sharp knife. My Sister-in-law taught me how to make Zoodles at our Cooking Club.  A bunch of us take turns hosting and we meet once a month and demonstrate yummy meals and then we eat and chat. Doesn’t get better than that!

I made these Zoodles last night and we had them for dinner. I think I made dinner in under 20 minutes! That includes making hte pesto sauce and cooking the Zucchini noodles. The zucchini cooks up so quickly, maybe about one to two minutes and you’re done. i just sauteed it in a pan with a little bit of olive oil. Some people cook it in water or steam the zucchini, but i wanted a quick stir fry kind of a taste. Plus I think the zoodles hold up better and don’t get really mushy and wet like they do when they are steamed or cooked other ways.

I’m always trying to find a healthy alternative to pasta for two reasons. First of all because it’s healthier to eat a veggie noodle over regular pasta, and secondly because I have a gluten intolerance.  You will not be disappointed with these zoodles and neither will your family.  My kids devoured this dish and they are already huge pesto fans, so it was a win win.  I know your family will feel the same way.  Any type of sauce would work with zoodles. Last time I made them I served it with my homemade marinara sauce. But there’s something special about pesto. It’s spicy because of the fresh garlic and the basil has such a distinct Italian flavor, always taking me back to my childhood and my mom’s pesto.

 

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In a heavy bottomed dutch oven or saucepan, heat olive oil and add zucchini noodles and sautee for about 1-2 minutes.  Add a little salt and pepper and you’re done.

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In the meantime make your pesto. My food processor is my favorite kitchen appliance. I pretty much use it daily. Pesto is so easy to prepare because it all goes into the processor and it’s done in about three minutes from start to finish. But I have to share a tip with you. It’s very important that your olive oil be combines after you have mixed all the other ingredients or your pesto will turn brown, which isn’t very aesthetically appealing. It doesn’t hurt the flavor at all, it just doesn’t look pretty.

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I love a colorful meal because it really gets the whole family excited about the dish. I cut up some some cherry tomatoes and drizzled a bit of olive oil over the top.

 

The Zoodles were so delicious and the raw cherry tomatoes as a topping really added some crunch and sweetness to the spiciness of the herbs and garlic.

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Zucchini Noodles (Zoodles) with Kale-Basil Pesto

Ingredients

  • 6 meduim zucchini
  • 2 large Kale leaves
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Approx 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup almonds (you can use pine nuts or walnuts)
  • about 1/8 cup water
  • salt and pepper to taste
Before you add any ingredients you will want to put in your nuts. If you wait and pulse them later, they will be too big. Then add garlic to process and pulse for a few seconds. Now you are ready for your kale and basil leaves. Pulse for about 20 seconds. Then add the water. Pulse again for a few seconds. Slowly pour in the oil and pulse until the sauce comes together. After everything is combined, add the parmesan cheese. At this point, you don't want to disturb the sauce much so pulse only until combined.
Add salt and pepper to taste
Serve with zoodles. Can be used with other veggies as well.

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Sicilian Chickpeas from Scratch

I’ve had several requests about the way I cook my beans and legumes. I know I keep saying this is a favorite and I don’t want to continue using that word, but this is a family favorite. Soaking and cooking beans is so easy and so inexpensive. Soak your beans overnight in a large bowl and make sure you have enough water in the bowl to not only cover the beans but fill  with water one and one half times the amount of beans. They will expand and the next day will have absorbed tons of water.

In the morning or afternoon, or whenever you are ready to cook your beans, drain and rinse them. They are now ready to cook.

Sicilian Chickpeas from Scratch

Yield: Serves 8-10

Ingredients

  • 1 lb chickpeas(garbanzo beans)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 onion, quartered
  • Two celery ribs with tops, cut into thirds
  • 2-3 quarts of water
  • salt and pepper
Soak chickpeas overnight. Drain the next day and rinse well.
Add chickpeas into pot along with onion and garlic.
Stir in about 2 tsp of salt after one hour of cooking. Cook in several quarts of water for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until soft.
In Separate pot add cooked chickpeas and about one third of the water from the original pot.
Toss in the celery ribs and tops. It's important that you include the tops. They add such great flavor.
Crush two garlic cloves and add to pot.
Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.

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Homemade Marinara Sauce

I have looked and experimented for years with a homemade marinara sauce. All the ones I have tried in the past are more like a spaghetti sauce or like the sauces I grew up making with my mom, which even though delicious, require two to three hours of simmering. I’m just too busy for that especially after my kids gets home. This sauce is super simple to make. I guarantee you it will become a family favorite.

There are only three essential ingredients. First, you’ll need tomatoes. The best tomatoes for making anything Italian are Roma tomatoes. They are sweet and don’t have as many seeds as a regular large or hothouse, or vine tomato. Growing up my mom always planted Romas and we had heavenly sauces and salads throughout the summer and fall in Southern California.  Secondly, you’ll also need one large can unsalted whole and peeled tomatoes. You’ll want a little acidity and with the tomatoes already stewed, it speeds up your cooking, and you’ll be eating in 30 minutes. last but not least, Italian food can’t be Italian food without garlic. I use several large cloves, but you can adjust it to your family’s taste.

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Ingredients

  • 6 medium to large Roma tomoatoes
  • 1-27oz. large can unsalted stewed tomatoes(plain or Italian recipe)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Dry Oregano
  • Dry Basil
  • 3 Tbl Olive Oil
  • sugar or other sweetener optional
Put 3-4 cloves in food processor. Pulse a few seconds.
Add canned tomatoes and fresh Roma Tomatoes. Pulse for 20 seconds.
Warm up olive oil in Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pan.
Add ingredients.
Simmer on low for 20 minutes.
Add seasonings. (I like to use basil and oregano). If you need to sweeten it a bit, sweeten to taste with sweetener of choice. I use a teaspoon of coconut sugar. You can use regular granulated sugar or brown sugar.

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