“We have a dance in the brothels of Buenos Aires. It tells the story of a prostitute and a man who falls in love with her. First, there is desire. Then passion…! Then, suspicion. Jealousy! Anger! Betrayal! When love is for the highest bidder, there can be no trust.Without trust, there is no love. Jealousy! Yes, jealousy…will drive you, mad!!!” I laugh quietly to myself, I haven’t been able to shake the quote from the 2001 film Moulin Rouge! since I arrived in Argentina twenty four hours ago.
Its late, la madrugada. The streets of San Telmo are surprisingly full, bustling with the sounds of high heels on the wet, cobblestone streets, Malbec fueled cat calls and gentle roar of the eight piece tango band performing in the Maldita Milonga.Â My stomach has finally settled after fifteen hours of airline cuisine and I am ravenous beyond description. I circumambulate amongst the bundled, scarf clad porteÃ±os, in search of sustenance.
Standard Argentine gastronomical fare consists of: bread, followed by a succulent assortment of grilled meats (with the occasional meat wrapped in meat option), accompanied by more bread and red wine.Â The meal usually concludes with another bottle of wine, a ridiculous serving of some unimaginable concoction of dulce de leche and a steaming double shot of espresso, providing the energy needed to simply push yourself away from the table and stumble into a cab.
At this hour, the majority of the restaurants have closed their doors and the dime a dozen pizzerias offer little other than the promise of indigestion. Exhausted and on the verge of diabetic shock, resigned to going to bed hungry, I turn the corner and head toward my hostel. Suddenly, from the humid predawn depths of Buenos Aires I am overcome with the savory aroma the likes of which I could only imagine emanating from the kitchen of a jovial Italian grandmother. I peer through the small crowd to the source of the smell, a small greasy street cart piled high with half moon shaped pastries.Â Thus began my love affair with the Argentine empanada.
The empanada is a flaky, buttery pastry crust filled with any number of ingredients.Â The sheer variety of Argentine empanadas is staggering and their names will test the linguistic skills of anyone with a cursory knowledge of Spanish.Â I once asked the proprietor of our hotel how many different types of empanadas existed in Argentina.Â His response was as cryptic as it was accurate, there are as many flavors as there are people in Argentina.Â Some of the most popular sabores are:
verdura (chard, spinach or collard greens and onion)
cebolla y queso (cheese and onion)
morcillas (blood sausage)
dulce de leche (caramel)
Alfajores (an Argentine version of an oreo cookie with caramel a.k.a dulce de leche)
Often the savory fillings are augmented with potatoes, olives, a bit of boiled egg or one the the most popular and strangest variations, raisins!Â Again, the possibilities are endless. Included below is a simple recipe in case you would like to try your hand at making this classic Argentine delicacy without a $1000.00 plane ticket.Â For some great step by step pictures and other empanada recipes visit http://userealbutter.com/2007/08/15/argentine-empanadas-recipe/
1 cup water
3/4 cup butter
2 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp salt
For the dough: heat water and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the butter has melted. Mix flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and make a small crater the center of your dry ingredients. Pour a little of the warm liquid in and stir with fingertips to make a wet paste. Pour in remaining liquid and work the flour into the dough with your hand until you get a wet, oily dough. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
3 tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, peeled and minced
1/2 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely diced
1/2 chicken bouillon cube
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 lb. boneless beef shoulder, finely diced or ground beef (I like to use buffalo)
salt to taste
1 small russet potato, peeled, finely diced, and boiled
1/3 cup raisins (I’m not a fan of raisins so I leave these out)
8 green Spanish olives, pitted and chopped
3 scallions, trimmed and chopped
1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and chopped
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the onions, bell peppers, bouillon, paprika, red pepper flakes, white pepper, and cumin, and cook until onions are soft. Add beef, season to taste with salt, and cook until beef is browned. Place filling in a large bowl and when cooled, add potatoes, raisins, olives, scallions, and egg. Mix.
Preheat oven to 400F. Tear off pieces of dough to roll about 12 (24) golf-sized balls. Using a rolling pin, roll out dough balls on lightly floured surface into 5â€³ circles. Place 3 tbsp of filling in the center of each dough circle. Fold over and press edges firmly to seal. Rope pinch the edges tightly. Place empanadas on cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, 15-20 minutes.