Pastel is one of the most loved bar foods in Brazil. This savory pastry is usually served inside small baskets and it is ordered by the dozen or half dozen; so friends gather around the bar table to munch on the pastelzinhos (small pastel) while chatting, drinking a cold beer, and having a good time.
The variety of fillings is endless, but one of the most popular is ground beef and cheese. Crunchy on the outside with a creamy, meaty filling, this typical Brazilian appetizer is often called “empanada” in the US. Empanadas are usually baked, instead of fried; and the dough is different. But… I am "cheating" on this recipe and using store-bough empanada dough! Store-bought dough is faster and easier to use (and it tastes great too, because if it didn’t I wouldn’t tell you to use it). Enjoy this delightful appetizer with a cold beer!
In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, combine olive oil and onions. Cook the onions until soft, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add ground beef and cook until browned, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes, sugar and chili paste. Cook until tomatoes are soft and incorporated into the sauce, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, fold in scallions. Set aside and let cool.
To assemble, sprinkle a working surface with flour. Place one empanada dough round on surface and top with about one tablespoon of ground beef. Place one cheese cube over ground beef and carefully fold the dough over, while securing the filling inside with hands. Press fingers around dough, then press a fork around the border of pastel to secure. Trim excess dough with a pastry cutter (optional).
Deep fry the pastries in hot vegetable oil. When the outside is golden brown, remove from oil and transfer to a large plate lined with paper towel. Let stand 3 minutes before serving.