“If you let your leg dangle just a teensy weensy bit off the side of the bed, the bed monster will get you,” my older sister informed a gullible six-year old me many many moons ago. Her steady, authoritative gaze bore deeply into my impressionable eyes and I instantly believed her. Why wouldn’t I? She was my big sister and my guide to survival in life. Whatever she said, stuck.
And so, this freshly seared image of a patient beast (slightly benevolent and cuddly but with a wicked temper that could turn on you in an instant) housed itself in my psyche and settled in so comfortably that it took me years to stop sleeping with my feet safely curled up by my chest…just in case.
I would greet mornings with a quiet sigh of relief and a quick toe count and then eagerly jump out of bed to the welcoming aroma of our nanny Yolanda’s cooking. Yolanda seemed to never sleep, for, walking into the brightly lit kitchen as dawn turned to day was like entering a whirlwind of a restaurant at high peak. Pots clattered, coffee brewed, fresh orange juice awaited, and something always sizzled on the stovetop.
On top of being an amazing cook, she seemed psychic as well, for, on nights that had seemed particularly bumpy (maybe my foot had accidently slipped and my big toe leaned precariously over the side, maybe I had felt a sharp claw or furry paw make its deadly move) she’d erase my troubled, sleepless look with a batch of her famous empanadas de carne, meat empanadas. These would sputter shamelessly on the skillet, ending up as golden crescents exploding with seasoned meat, carrots and potatoes. Crunching into them made my stomach and every other part of me, for that matter, feel happy and safe.
Years later I confessed to my sister the countless nights I slept curled in a ball, not because I liked it, but because I felt my life depended on it. She seemed puzzled and asked me why and I, aghast, reminded her that it was because of the monster story she told me when we were little. A chuckle escaped her mouth and her blue eyes softened and sparkled at me.
“Seriously?” she said, “I don’t even remember saying that.”
I could have kicked her, as siblings do. But instead, I joined her in her chuckle and more than anything, got an instant craving for Yolanda’s meat empanadas.
Preparing the filling:
1 lbs. ground beef
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (more for frying)
1 cup diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup potato, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ cup carrot, cut into 1-inch cubes
¼ cup parsley, minced
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
¼ cup white wine
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper, to taste
In a large skillet over medium high heat, sauté meat until brown. Set meat aside in a bowl. Heat oil in the same skillet and sauté onion until translucent, about five minutes.
In a 2-quart pot, boil 3 cups of water with a pinch of salt. Add potatoes and carrots and cook until slightly tender, 5-7 minutes. Remove from water and strain, washing with cold water.
Add vegetables and meat to the skillet and stir to combine. Add cumin and oregano, bay leaf and parsley and cook for one minute longer. Add wine, mustard, salt and pepper and stir. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low and cover. Let cook ten minutes. Adjust salt and pepper.
For the empanada dough:
1 cup white corn meal (harina pan)
¾ cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
In a medium bowl, combine ingredients with your hand, kneading dough and working out any lumps. If dough is still dry, add more water. Dough should have a smooth, moist consistency. Cover bowl with a damp towel, to avoid dryness.
Pour vegetable oil in a large skillet (oil should be about 2 inches deep) and heat over medium heat.
Roll out empanada dough into 3”- size balls and cover with moist towel.
Take one ball and roll it out into a circle using a rolling pin. *
*When rolling out dough, place it on wax paper.
Add a teaspoon of the filling in center and fold the empanada, using the wax paper, in half. Pinch shut with tines of a fork. Make sure it is completely sealed so no filling escapes.
Place on a plate and cover with a damp towel. Continue until you finish dough.
Place empanadas in heated skillet and gently fry until golden brown, about five minutes on each side.
Makes 12 empanadas