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Video: Natalie shares a family favorite: empanadas

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    >>> this morning we're kicking off a new series, "today's" melting pot where we share great dishes with family memories that have significance for us. we want to urge you to create your own. i'm kicking off telling about one of my favorite dishes, empanada . for my family empanada has been a tradition from my grandmother making empanada 's in puerto rico to my own mother's version as they have been passed on and passed on. what's great, they are an appetizer. at the same time it's filling. it can almost be a stand alone meal. the kids love them. that's a selling point. wherever you go, south america , latin america , caribbean, every country has a version of the empanada , whether it's more sweet and savory, more of a corn casing on the outside. you can usually tell where you are based on the empanada . latin families were known for big family gatherings. any holiday meal, generally the centerpiece of that meal are empanadas. to me cooking and sharing family recipes is about history. my kids always see me cooking. when they grow up they will think of the smells and memories. i think it's something i'm always conscious of.

    >> and for our cooking lesson today we brought in the true expert cookbook author and host, daisy martinez . good to have you here with my favorite recipe. you have your own special memory of empanada .

    >> everyone does, what mommy does, abuela.

    >> you say you like it, the pie on the fly.

    >> it's like little frozen things. you can put anything in it, anything. something as humble and cheddar cheese , nothing you can't put in an empanada .

    >> chicken empanada . you start prosecute sofrito.

    >> aromatic, onions and garlic.

    >> buy that in the grocery, goya section.

    >> or make your own.

    >> i've seen it ready made.

    >> shredded chicken, left over chicken. i saute sofrito in garlic oil. pretty red seeds you steam in olive oil gently. what is this?

    >> spanish olives. it's nice. you have like a sweet and savory take as well on empanadas like you do. i put raisins, you put these, which is really cool. they come frozen.

    >> a slice, dies, cumin, clove, a nice spice. cook that down. ends up with --

    >> the filling.

    >> make a little shell . sure. some make them from scratch. but you really can buy them ready made.

    >> i'd rather cheat on this than on the sofrito, because you're able to control the flavor more. you want to wet the rim, right?

    >> yeah.

    >> we can either crimp it like you did yours with a fork or make a pretty flute.

    >> all ingredients are becoming more readily available, with the spanish population.

    >> i was in portland, maine. i went to the supermarket, they had seven different kinds. it was unbelievable.

    >> this is a great appetizer, as i said.

    >> a snack.

    >> you can do the fork method. you fry yours. i like to bake.

    >> you have the option.

    >> those look delicious. they cook very quickly, which is great. a golden brown .

    >> you know what, i used to like to make empanadas for the kids when they got home from school, with a little juice.

    >> healthy snack.

    >> put veges in there. clean out the refrigerator and make empanadas.

    >> you can freeze them, too.

    >> just like this.

    >> you put them on a sheet tray or in baggies, wrapped in wax paper , absolutely delicious.

    >> right before a big event, pop them in the oven. you're good to go. i have to dig in here. you have this great salad.

    >> arugula, green apple .

    >> amazing.

    >> aren't they beautiful.

    >> i'm going to do that. i'm stealing your recipe.

    >> i'm sharing it with you.

    >> by the way, you can do meat, anything.

    >> vegetarian, cheese, potatoes, whatever you like.

    >> fantastic. thanks for kicking off our series for us.

    >> thank you for having me, natalie.

TODAY recipes
updated 2/6/2013 8:52:24 PM ET 2013-02-07T01:52:24

Recipe: Chicken Empanadas

  • For the shredded chicken:
  • 3 pounds chicken thighs
  • 1 onion, unpeeled
  • 1 big bunch cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • For the picadillo:
  • 1/4 cup achiote oil (recipe appears below)
  • 1 cup sofrito (recipe appears below)
  • 1/4 cup alcaparrado (olive slad)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Shredded chicken (from recipe above)
  • 6 oz. frozen sweet ripe plantains (in the Goya frozen section), diced
  • Kosher or fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 packages frozen empanada discs (red)
  • For the achiote oil:
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of good quality achiote seeds
  • For the sofrito:
  • 2 large Spanish onions, trimmed and cut in large chunks
  • 3 large Cubanelle peppers, trimmed and seeded
  • 1 cup garlic cloves, trimmed
  • 2 large sweet red bell peppers, trimmed and seeded
  • 1 1/4 cup ajicitos dulces, trimmed
  • 2 plum tomatoes, trimmed and cut in large chunks
  • 4 culantro leaves
  • 1 large bunch of cilantro, rinsed, dried, and roughly chopped

To make the achiote oil:
1. Pour the olive oil into a small saucepan, and add the achiote seeds at high heat, until to see the rim of the oil in the pan start to twinkle. Immediately lower the heat on the oil so you can control how fast you leach the color and flavor out of the seeds. When your oil reaches a brilliant orange color, turn the heat off.

2. Pass the oil through a fine sieve or chinois into a glass receptacle and let cool until ready for use.

NOTE: Achiote oil is not something you can put on the stove and walk away from; you must watch it very closely to monitor the process. If the heat is too high or you cook it too long, the oil will turn green, the seeds will turn black, and the whole thing will turn into a bitter mess. It must be discarded as it is not fit for use.

To make the sofrito:
1. Place the onion, Cubanelle peppers, and garlic in a food processor, and puree. With the motor running, add the sweet red bell peppers, ajicitos, and plum tomatoes. You make have to remove some of the puree into a bowl if you cannot fit the remaining ingredients into your work bowl.

2. Add the remaining culantro and cilantro and process until smooth. If you have removed some of the sofrito, combine the contents of the workbowl with the rest of the puree and stir to combine. Measure out in 1 cup measures into freezer bags and place in freezer to be used as necessary.

To prepare the empanadas and picadillo:
1. Put the chicken thighs, onion, cilantro, salt, bay leaves and peppercorns in a pot large enough to hold them comfortably. Pour in enough cold water to cover everything completely. Bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust the heat so the liquid is simmering and cook, skimming the foam and fat off the surface, until tender, about 30 minutes. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, shred the chicken coarsely, removing most but not all of the fat as you go. Reserve about 1 cup of chicken broth.

2. Make the picadillo: Heat the achiote oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the sofrito and cook, stirring, until the liquid is evaporated and the sofrito is sizzling. Stir in the alcaparrado, cumin, allspice, and cloves and stir for a minute or two. Stir in the shredded chicken until it is heated through and coated with seasonings. Continue cooking and stirring and pour 1/2 cup chicken broth and stir until almost all of the liquid is evaporated. Add the diced sweet plantains and combine into the picadillo. Set the picadillo aside. The picadillo can be made up to 2 days in advance. Reheat over low heat, adding a little water if necessary, until warmed through.

3. Set an empanada disc in front of you, and place a heaping tablespoon off-center. Moisten the rim of the empanada disc with warm water and crimp with a fork or flute decoratively. Pan fry in 350 degree canola oil or bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes until golden brown. Serve hot.

Recipe: Arugula pomegranate salad

  • 5 ounce clamshell of baby arugula
  • 2 large Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced thin
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 head Belgian endive
  • 3/4 cups pomegranate seeds
  • 1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
  • 1/4 cup salted roasted pepitas
  • Cider vinegar
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

1. Arrange the arugula on a flat platter. Toss the sliced apples, endive and the lemon juice together, and arrange on top of the arugula. Sprinkle the salad with the pomegranate seeds, cheese crumbles and pepitas.

2. Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together in a bowl and drizzle over the salad.

Serving Size

Serves 6-8.

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