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Chilean Independence Day is coming — mark the day with empanadas

I’m slicing tomatoes.

My wife, Sandra, doesn’t seem to think it’s enough. After some prodding from me, she’s making empanadas, meat-filled turnovers typical in Chile, and she’s saying that I have it easy.

I won’t argue with her. I’m just thankful she’s agreed to my request. I don’t ask her to make empanadas that much because of the effort involved, but with Chilean Independence Day, Sept. 18, just around the corner, I figured I could twist her arm by tapping her nostalgia. She’s originally from Chile, after all, and empanadas are consumed by the boatload in the skinny South American nation on Independence Day (and the rest of the year).

So there she is, flattening dough with a rolling pin into circles the size of tea cup saucers, filling them with a hamburger-and-onion concoction and folding them over. I’m getting hungry, slicing tomatoes for the salsa that accompanies empanadas.

I lived in Chile for nearly five years and ate empanadas regularly. They’re sold all over the place and they’re a quick way to fill your belly. These days we eat empanadas two, maybe three times, a year since we have to make them ourselves.

The empanadas Sandra made this last go-round were excellent, as always, and following is the recipe so you, too, can give them a try, salute Chile’s independence from Spain on Sept. 18, 1810. Our daughter, now 6, has always said “yuck” to empanadas, but she even gobbled one down this time, without force.

Many countries have their own versions of empanadas, and Chile’s many varieties are variously made with cheese, seafood, hamburger or meat in the middle. They can be fried or baked. We made one of the most typical types — hamburger filled and baked.

Sandra’s Chilean Empanadas
makes about a dozen empanadas

Meat filling

  • Four large yellow onions, chopped finely
  • 1 pound of hamburger
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • Salt, cumin, paprika, oregano, a pinch of each or to taste
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped into quarters
  • Half a can or so of pitted olives
  • Small box of raisins

Chop the onions into fine pieces then fry with the oil until transparent. Add the hamburger, garlic, salt, cumin, paprika and oregano. Mix well, keeping the hamburger loose, and fry until meat is browned. Sandra usually puts the hamburger concoction in the refrigerator and lets it sit overnight, though that’s just her personal preference. The eggs, olives and raisins come later.

Empanada dough

  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup shortening

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Heat the milk and shortening together in a microwave until shortening softens, about 30 to 45 seconds. Mix it all together to make the dough.

Putting it all together

Flatten a piece of dough into a circle about the size of a teacup saucer. You can vary the size depending on preference. Place a large spoonful of the hamburger-and-onion mixture in the middle, making sure to keep enough dough uncovered so it can be folded. Add an olive, a quarter or so of a hard-boiled egg and a few raisins.

Now comes one of the trickiest parts — folding it all together. I generate mixed results, while Sandra, with much more practice, is an expert.

First, lightly brush the edge of the top half of the flattened dough circle with a bit of beaten raw egg, which will serve as a glue, of sorts. Fold the circle in half, leaving a slight gap where the bottom part of the circle meets to top part, and press the two sides together. Fold the sides of the semi-circle slightly over and then fold the top of the circle over to seal the empanada.

Place the empanadas on a cookie sheet covered with a non-stick spray, folds up. Brush the top of each empanada lightly with the beaten raw egg mix. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees and when the cookie sheet is full, bake the empanadas for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned.

Salsa mix

We sometimes use Mexican hot sauce to season empanadas since the Chilean version is hard to get in the United States. Alternatively, we season with a tomato-based salsa, made of a mix of chopped tomatoes and cilantro, with chopped pepper and onion added to taste. We typically use a banana pepper.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.

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