These empanadas had me looking on Craigslist for chest freezers the day after I made them. As someone whose freezer is always overflowing with food I make in bulk, I’ve always wanted more space, but after these empanadas I need it! I made about 80 of them the other day but afterwards I still was searching the freezer, hoping to find some unexplored cavern I could shove a few more into. These empanadas are truly glorious, palm sized works of art that are sure to disappear in moments but be remembered forever. This is the recipe I recommend making above all the rest on Dear Guts. Invite a friend, brew some coffee, play music (loud) and make some empanadas.
There is truly no better trait than being resourceful. Homemade queso fresco is one of the easiest yet rewarding things you can make. All you need is milk and vinegar, two of the most commonplace ingredients, and making it yourself takes less time than it would take to go to a store and buy it. It’s really hard to compare the store bought stuff to homemade, though. Like if homemade queso fresco and store bought queso fresco had sex it wouldn’t even be incestuous because that’s how unrelated they are. The homemade stuff is so much fresher and luxuriously smooth. Some of the leftover whey from making the queso fresco is used in the dough for the empanadas and the rest I use to make pizza dough (it gives it a slight sourdough flavor, adds protein and calcium, and the yeast reacts to it way better than water), ferment things or, when I’m truly swimming in whey, I use it in soup.
I’ve been using this as taco filling for a few years now and am so deeply in love with the combination of swiss chard, mushroooms and queso fresco, but it makes an even better empanada filling. One empanada contains 30% your daily value of Vitamin A and K, 12% your calcium and 16% vitamin B12.
I serve mine with a simple chimichurri (parsley, cilantro, red wine vinegar, olive oil) and really recommend it as the acidity is good adversary to the the rich, flaky pastry crust.
Swiss Chard, Mushroom & Queso Fresco Empanadas
(makes about 20-30)
for the filling:
1/2 gallon whole milk
1/3 cup vinegar (or lime or lemon juice)
2 cups chopped mushrooms (I used crimini)
4 cups swiss chard
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup Fermented Peppers or chopped peppers of choice
2 tbsp butter
for the dough:
6 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
12 oz butter (3 sticks)
1/2 to 1 cup of leftover, cooled whey (or water)
Queso Fresco – In a medium sized pot over low heat, slowly bring the 1/2 gallon of milk to 165 degrees. Remove from heat, slowly stir in the vinegar, and let sit undisturbed for about 5 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to a cheesecloth lined colander with a bowl underneath to save the whey. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes (or up to an hour) until desired texture. Sprinkle with or stir in the salt.
Empanada filling – Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the diced onion, cook about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms and peppers and cook 5 more minutes. Add the swiss chard, cook until completely wilted, then add in the queso fresco and stir well to combine.
Empanada Dough – In a food processor, add the flour, salt and butter cut into thin strips. Pulse (about 20 times) until combined. You can do this by hand as well, you want each speck of flour to be coated in butter, but careful not to use your hands too much as you don’t want the butter to melt. Add in the cooled whey and egg. Pulse until a smooth dough is formed. I then roll the dough into ~tablespoon sized balls and place in the fridge for 10 minutes to be easier to roll out. Using a tortilla press or a rolling pin, roll out the ~tablespoon sized balls of dough into circles. Add some filling, about a tablespoon or so, then fold the dough over the filling and seal the dough by pressing all around the filling. Crimp the edge with a fork.
You can either bake or fry them. To fry, add the empanadas into ~350 degree oil and fry until evenly browned. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.
These freeze very well! Freeze them on a baking sheet then transfer to an airtight container/bag. Thaw completely before frying or bake them directly from the freezer (for 25-30 minutes).