Merienda or “snack” is a light meal before dinner. At my grandmother’s house, we usually had it around 5pm, before the sunset. This type of meal is often made of something either savory or sweet, and it can often be bought from a nearby street food vendor, especially if it’s lugaw (congee), sweet barbecued bananas, or even halo-halo.
The empanada or meat pie reigns supreme in the Merienda menu as it is time-consuming to prepare and requires a battalion of hands to wrap the viand filling into seashell-shaped pies. They are usually made on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and big parties when mothers and young women are on hand to wrap the empanadas.
The New York Times recipe was taken from an Argentinian version. Since empanadas come in many variations according to one’s culture, the filling ingredients will vary as well as the dough. My own Filipino version adds some shiitake mushrooms, a medium-sized carrot, 1/3 cup of sweet peas, 3 tablespoons of raisins, Spanish chorizo or Chinese sausage (all these ingredients having been diced), and 1 cup of beef broth. I also like to add hard-boiled eggs to the empanadas that I fry but not to the ones that I bake. For the seasonings: 4 bay leaves, 3 tablespoons of light soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of vinegar (Sukang Maasim), and pepper to taste.
For the dough, my Mom usually adds some sugar (about 1-1/4 tablespoon) and an egg to the flour and butter. We use about a 1-½ cup of flour, a pinch of salt, and a little cold water to hold the dough together (how much water depends on how dry the air is).
The best part about making the empanadas is recruiting all the hands to wrap them up — it’s a great way to socialize and catch up on other news from your brothers and sisters. Empanadas can either be baked or fried. I myself usually like to fry them if they are to be eaten that same day; otherwise, baked ones are best for snacks or “baon” (for school or work) for the next day.
For a vegetarian version: substitute diced extra-firm tofu for the meat and a tablespoon of miso for the broth.
FOR THE FILLING:
1 pound beef chuck, in 1/8-inch dice (or very coarsely ground)
Salt and pepper to taste
Lard or olive oil, or a combination, for sautéing
1 cup diced onion
2 ounces diced chorizo sausage
½ pound potatoes, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
2 teaspoons chopped marjoram or 1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon pimentón dulce or paprika
Large pinch cayenne
Beef or chicken broth, as desired, or just use water
½ cup chopped scallions, white and green parts
¼ cup chopped pitted green olives
2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
FOR THE DOUGH:
- 4 ounces lard or butter, plus more for brushing the tops of the empanadas
- 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
- 750 grams all-purpose flour, about 6 cups, more as needed
FOR MY OWN DOUGH:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter cut into cubes
1 large egg or duck egg
PREPARATION OF MY DOUGH:
- Measure flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.
- Add the cut cubes of butter and start blending with a wooden spoon.
- Once texture appears like a coarse meal, add the egg. Continue to blend.If the dough is not holding together, add cold water by the teaspoon.
- Once the dough is thoroughly incorporated/even and holds together, form into a ball and refrigerate.
- Drain the filling and let it cool down to room temperature. Keep the drained fluid for dipping sauce (see below for recipe).
- Start rolling the dough into a ⅛ of an inch thick sheet. Using a cookie cutter of about 4-inch diameter, cut into round discs. Gather unused dough and roll again into a 1/8 inch thick sheet.
- It’s too thin if the dough is transparent and will mold itself to the filling, which is undesirable. It should be thick enough to form a dome above the filling. When filling the dough, make sure that no air is trapped inside, as this can expand the dough when frying. For baking, however, this is not a major concern.
- For secure sealing, seal by brushing some water along the inner ends and use the fork tines and press firmly, or use thumb and index finger and sequentially crimp along the edges, forming a crest between each crimping. Another technique is pinching all along the edge to seal, forming the joined layer of the two ends, then folding them sequentially to create an appearance of shells (see pictures).
- Brush the top with a mixture of beaten egg yolk and 2 teaspoons water. Bake at 375F until golden brown, about 10 – 15 minutes.
The dipping sauces!
Filipinos love dipping sauces and especially for empanadas. Here are two simple recipes to serve with fried and baked empanadas.
Vinegar dipping sauce — mix the following ingredients and serve in dipping saucers.
- 1/2 cup of Sukang Maasim or Sukang Ilocos
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar if desired
- Bird’s eye chili if desired
Use drained fluid from the filling sauce and add these ingredients together in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Use 2 teaspoons of cornstarch to thicken the sauce.
- 1/4 cup of drained fluid
- 1/4 cup of water
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2-3 teaspoon of cornstarch
- Fresh cracked pepper at the end