Argentinian Beef Empanadas

Having just returned from 3 1/2 weeks in Mexico, my first post of 2014 was inspired by things Latin. In Mexico City I spent some time at the house of a friend whose mother was known for her empanadas. No better time and place to learn the tricks of the trade - and as with most things I hadn't tried before, after a bit of practice it turned out to be easier than I had expected.

1.5kg ground beef (you can also use regular beef, cut into thin strips
2 large onions
3 cloves garlic
1 - 1.5 cup green olives, deboned and chopped
1 cup raisins
2 tbsp ají molido (an Argentinian chili powder, not very spicy)
salt and pepper to taste
40 circular empanada pastry sheets (tapas para empanadas, sold fresh or frozen)
bit of olive oil
sunflower oil for frying
optional: 3-4 eggs, hard-boiled

Argentinian empanadasInstructions:
1. Chop the onions. Place in  skillet with some olive oil and sautée.

2. Crush the garlic cloves above the pan and add to the onion. Don't let the mixture brown.

3. When the onion is glazed, add the beef to the pan. While it is cooking, don't overdo the stirring. Instead, just let it sit on top of the onion and wait a few minutes until it starts to come apart - when it does, take that as your queue and use a spatula to make sure the rest is separated too and mixed with the onion/garlic, and that no big chunks of beef are left. Let it cook until the meat has changed colour, which should take about five minutes. It doesn't need to brown - remember, the empanadas will still be fried.

4. Add ají molido, salt and pepper to taste and sautée for a few more minutes. (optionally, you can also crumble over a beef stock cube at this stage)

5. Chop olives and raisins. Add to the pan, turn the heat off, and mix with the spatula. (If you decide to add eggs, dice them up and add them at this stage, together with the olives and raisins).

6. Put the beef mixture aside and let it cool. In the meantime, take a cheese cloth or clean tea towel and wet it until it is moist, not soaking.

7. Remove the empanada pastry sheets from package and lay them out on the counter. Because they dry fairly quickly, at which point they become unworkable, it is important that you cover each pastry sheet you've laid out with the damp cheesecloth (this prevents them from drying out).

8. Stuff your empanadas. Place about two tablespoons of the beef mixture in the center of an empanada sheet and press the sides tightly shut in the form of a half-circle or half-moon, making sure you close them without leaving any air in the empanada. See the picture to the left for guidance. You can decorate the edges by pressing them with a fork, leaving a ridged pattern, or opt for one of the designs on the criole empanada poster above. Repeat until you run out of empanada sheets, or meat.

Below is a picture of what ours looked like, when we were finished stuffing them:

9. Heat some frying oil to 180 degrees Celsius (365 degrees Fahrenheit). Fry until golden brown - which should take a few minutes. Don't turn over too often - once on each side is ideal.

You can also bake instead of fry your empanadas. If you prefer the baked variety, place them in an oven preheated to about 180 degrees Celsius, and leave for 30-40 minutes or until they are nicely browned.

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