This recipe is way overdue. A dear client has asked me for it repeatedly and I am ashamed that it took me so long to post it. My cheeks are turning red (well in my case, a darker shade of brown) as we speak. But you see the problem was I did not have a “real” recipe for these beauties. I just made them purely on intuition. And because I didn’t want to post a recipe that would go something like ” Take a ball of dough that fits in the palm of your hand and press it till it’s sort of flat” or “Grate as much pumpkin as you think you need for the filling.”, I had to really take the time to go and measure the ingredients.
Plus there was something else… The recipe uses an ingredient that is not easily found in Amsterdam. It is made from ground up corn but is different from just regular yellow polenta. It’s called masa harina and is used widely in Mexican cooking. Produced by cooking dried yellow or white corn kernels in water with lime stone, than leaving the mixture to soak for one day, after which the soaking liquid is discarded and the wet kernels are milled to a dough. (Wait, I’m not done….) This dough, called masa, is used to make the famous corn tortillas. But when it is left again to dry and than ground up to flour it (finally!) becomes masa harina. Which means “dough flour” in Spanish. Pffff…
Traditional Native Americans till this day cook their corn with some ash added in. Why cook the corn with lime stone you ask? Well, it turns out, as indigenous people of the World found out early on, that only by processing the corn in this way it releases nicotine acid, a substance that is deemed to be responsible for the nutritional value of corn. Apparently we humans are not able to absorb corn without this procedure, as Europeans learned when Columbus introduced it to Europe without mentioning the proper preparation method. Many poor Europeans who could only afford corn as their main staple suffered from a disease called pellagra (meaning rough skin). It wasn’t until the 20th century that science understood that this was because they lacked nicotine acids in their diets. Wow, I am always amazed by the wisdom of ancient cultures! I don’t think the indigenous people even knew what nicotine acid was but somehow they did, even without fancy pancy scientific evidence, know that this (very lengthy) procedure was needed in order for their bodies to get what they needed.
But back to the recipe. I brought some of this masa harina stuff back with me from Curaçao when I was there for my brother’s wedding. Since than I have found it at Tjins toko in Amsterdam. And I even found out that you can order it online. However I don’t think (translate: I am almost sure) that it is not from an organic source. But if you are not too worried about those sort of things definitely give it a try. The point with masa harina is that it makes for a really smooth dough and because the corn is already cooked it takes a much shorter time to cook than would regular polenta. So because the production up front is so time consuming it saves you time when you actually go and cook it.
I made these little darlings for the last pop up which was a Mexican inspired High Tea. And they proved to be real crowd pleasers. They are pictured above served alongside other goodies from that high tea such as cinnamon scones with vegan dulce de leche, a tortilla roll with mixed quinoa and adzuki refried beans, purple cole slaw with lime & agave syrup dressing and taquitas with cashew nut mayonaise and avocado & pomegranate salsa. The masa harina casing for this version of empanadas is so different from a regular wheat based dough, with the extra benefit of it being gluten free. From an Ayurvedic point of few corn is best for Kapha’s as it is a dryer type of grain than for example wheat or spelt. However the filling is loaded with Vata balancing goodies such as grated pumpkin, sweet raisins and salty crumbled feta. Salt and sweet being two of the best balancing tastes for Vata (the third is sour). But in order not to leave out our Pitta friends I decided to shallow fry (instead of deep fry, which is a cardinal Ayurvedic sin!) the parcels in coconut oil. The best oil to heat to high temperatures, next to ghee and sesame seed oil, without it burning and thus oxidizing. Plus the best “cooling” oil for Pitta’s. Frying in coconut oil also delivers really really crunchy empanadas, especially if you lightly coat them in some polenta flour before frying them. So in the end you have a perfectly tri-dosha worthy snack that can be enjoyed, on occasion, by all three types.Above picture by Jacobien of Kookboekrecencies Cobuse.
On that note, before leaving you with the recipe, I am super excited to announce that the next Soul Foodie Café pop up will be on March 16th. I just heard that I will be cooking for a yoga retreat on Bali right before the pop up, so I decided to go with an Asian inspired theme, as I am sure to come back full of Bali inspiration. We are popping up at a new really really cool location in the centre of Amsterdam and I hope to see many of you there. Keep checking my facebook page for more information on how to reserve.
Pumpkin empanadas made from masa harina
Joelle, this one’s for you!
For 10-12 empanadas
- 200 grams masa harina
- about 295 ml warm water (the exact amount needed may vary depending on the brand of masa harina you use)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 pieces of sturdy plastic foil or baking paper cut out in a round shape (about 26 cm in diameter)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1/2 medium onion chopped very finely
- 1/2 clove of garlic chopped very finely
- 20 grams sunflower seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
- 250 grams grated butternut squash (If organic you can leave the skin on. I grate mine in a food processor.)
- 20 grams raisins
- 40 grams crumbled feta cheese
- 2 or 3 tablespoons of yellow polenta
- coconut oil for shallow frying
For the dough mix the masa harina, water and salt in a bowl. Start out with about 3/4 of the amount of water, stir until the dough starts coming together, and keep adding in a more water bit by bit until the dough has the desired consistency. It should be a pliable dough that doesn’t stick to your hands but also it not so dry that it crumbles when handled. (I know this sounds vague. But you’ll know what I mean when you are working the dough. Just trust your intuition. -:)) Divide the dough in 12 balls.
Go on to make your filling by frying off the onion and garlic in the 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil. When they are translucent add the sunflower seeds and fry until slightly crispy. Now add the dried thyme and spices and fry for another minute or two until they release their aroma. Add the butternut squash and fry for about 10 minutes or until it is done. It should be tender but not mushy. Take the pan off the heat and add the raisins and crumbled feta. Let the filling cool down a bit before filling the dough with it.
Form your empanadas by placing a ball of dough between the two sheets of plastic foil. Take a heavy skillet, plate or (best case scenario) tortilla press and press the dough till it’s about 14 cm in diameter. Make it as round as you can but don’t be OCD about it(meaning don’t obsess over it, okay!). Remove the top bit of plastic and spoon about 1,5 tablespoons of filling in the center leaving enough room to seal the edges. Close the circle of dough into a half moon shape by folding over the plastic foil that is underneath it. Peel of the plastic foil that is now on top and seal the edges by pressing it with your fingers or by pressing a fork around the rim. Now sprinkle a dusting of yellow polenta on both sides of the empanada. Finish all of your empanadas in the same way and reserve on a plate until frying. You can find a tutorial on empanada folding here.
Heat about 3 to 4 tablespoons of coconut oil in a skillet or frying pan. Use just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. When hot fry the empanadas on medium high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes on both sides until crispy and hot.