Anyone who knows me knows that I am an avid cook. I have been cooking since I was about 10 years old and my passion for it has only grown. But for some reason, I never thought about looking for a missionary cookbook during our (very long and tedious) packing process to move to a developing country. I honestly thought to myself, "I make up recipes all the time, and I love Latin American food. I'll figure it out in no time."
1) Latin American food is NOT all the same. The words "tacos", "salsa", "queso", and "enchiladas" are very different things and prepared very differently in each country. Even the type (and state) of tortilla that you're supposed to use changes with each meal, and they really only use two types of cheese that aren't really what the word "cheese" means to me. Honduran food, as far as my experience goes, is actually fairly plain and very specifically made. (I'm very much missing my Mexican food restaurants from home.)
2) Almost everything that I expected to be normal about food flew out the window. Hondurans practically only use cilantro, natural salt, garlic cloves and "especias" (which only refers to a mix of black pepper and cumin) to season their food. Where were all of my different spices and distinctly different flavors? Why do so many people tell me that onions and green peppers are not for eating here and only for flavor? What? I eat them all the time! Oh, my, there is only one kind of each vegetable (one kind of tomatoes, squash, potatoes). I didn't realize the variety I had before!
3) Surely someone had thought of making a missionary cookbook! Nope. Once I realized that I couldn't purchase so much of what I always used to cook with and that you'd start to miss "your way" of preparing food sooner than you thought, I realized that I really needed very simplified recipes with all homemade ingredients (read: no pre-made sauces and mixes) and with items that could be easily substituted if you couldn't find them. Thus the hunt for a great missionary cookbook began. There just had to be one out there! Nope. Well, technically, yes. BUT the only widely known one that was referenced to me is still so very basic and keeps you missing flavor variety. I wanted to be just a little bit closer to how it's done at home.
So, in hopes that this is helpful to at least someone, I want to share the recipes I've found, tweaked, loved, and shared. And the perfect way to start that is with the very first Honduran recipe that I learned to make from one of the ladies in our church here. Enjoy!
Makes: 15 half-moon empanadas
Time: Prep (20 minutes)
Wait (30 minutes)
Cook (10-15 minutes)
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 stick of margarine (120g)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/3 cup cold water
Fillings (beef + potatoes, onions and peppers, quesillo/mozzarella cheese, etc.)
1) Prep your dough. Begin by mixing the dry ingredients together well (flour, salt, sugar, baking powder). Then blend the margarine into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or with your hands, blending the dough between your thumbs and your other four fingers. Blend the dough until it resembles coarse meal. Lastly, whisk the eggs, cold water, and vinegar together and pour onto the flour/margarine mixture, stirring it with a non stick spatula or spoon until it forms into a large ball.
2) Form the dough into little balls of dough, each about the size of a ping pong ball, then cover the bowl and let them rest for 30 minutes to let the gluten relax. Your dough should yield 13-15 balls of dough.
3) After the waiting period, flour your work surface, then roll each dough ball flat. It doesn't have to be a perfect circle! The creasing of the seal will perfect your shape.
4) Fill with desired ingredients (quesillo and beef are traditional) and press closed with your fingers and the wrong-end of a fork.
Cooking Instructions: Put enough oil in your size frying pan to generously cover the bottom. The oil amount should not cover the empanadas, but it should come up around the side. Fry each side on medium heat until golden brown!
Missionary Tips: (Or for anyone making this abroad)
- My Honduran friends swear by making dough in plastic bowls. I'm sure that it would be fine in glass or stainless steel bowls too, but they are so superstitious about it that I must say I've never tried to make them in anything else.
- If you don't have a rolling pin, anything cylindrical will work. In the kitchen I cook in at our church's nutrition clinic, I use a glass spice jar (with the lid on tight!). You can also use a bottle of cooking spray, soda bottle, whatever. Which is great, because that makes this recipe do-able without any special kitchen tools you might not have access to... just a bowl, a large spoon, and a frying pan!
- The fillings are completely up to your tastes and your available ingredients. The traditional fillings in Latin America are either a ground beef/potato mixture (seasoned with cumin and cilantro) or a quesillo filling, which is simply the very popular fresh cheese here (see picture on the left above). However, you can use any similar semi-soft cheese that melts (i.e. mozzarella, etc). My husband and I have also enjoyed these filled with chicken and veggies, or with cheese and pepperonis with a tomato sauce side as a quick version of "calzones".
- As you might guess, especially if you are from the southern region of the United States, these are very similar to fried pies. However, fried pies commonly contain shortening as the fat and could use a little more sugar in the dough. If you would like to make these into a dessert, I would suggest filling them with a fruit + simple syrup mixture, and dusting them with a little sugar once fried.