Photographing tonight's Panamanian meal was a bit of a challenge due to the continuous rain, fog and generally dark, gloomy weather we've been besieged with here in the Northeast for the past 2 weeks. I have learned to photograph indoors using only available light (thank you, Jeff Kauck), but alas, without the lights on, my kitchen was practically pitch black. So...since I don't own any fancy lighting apparatus, I was stuck with what I had -- plain old light bulbs. Hence, tonight's photographs have a slightly pinkish tint for which I apologize. I did try shooting the final plate (pictured above) outside under the back door awning, but the rain kept dripping off the awning onto my back, my socks got soaked and our dog and cat kept creeping up on the plate to try to steal the goods - so I gave up and came inside. Luckily, these Panamanian Empanadas with Aji sauce taste as good on in the dark as they do on a bright, sunny day - which is a good thing because there's no sun in the immediate forecast.
Cuisine in Panama is varied and interesting, as it is influenced by the two continents it bridges. African, Spanish, Native American traditions can all be found in many Panamanian dishes. Cilantro, maize, rice, wheat flour, plantains, yucca, beef, chicken and seafood are all commonly cooked with an eaten in this beautiful country.
Panamanian Empanadas (Adapted from Wikia)
3 cups unbleached four
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup shortening
3/4 cup cold water
1 Tbsp. vinegar
2 egg yolks
Combine four and salt in a large bowl and cut in shortening, using 2 knives or a pastry blender until it looks like pea-sized pieces - don't worry if it's not perfectly uniform.
In another bowl, combine water, vinegar, and egg yolks, then mix well
Add the liquid to the dry ingredients.
Mix with your hands and form into a ball.
Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
2 Tbsp. oil
1 lb. lean beef, coarsely ground
1 lb. lean pork, coarsely ground
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly grated black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne
1-1/2 cups onions, finely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely chopped
4 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 tsp. ground thyme
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/4 cup raisins
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 cup green or red pimento (I bought a jar)
1 Tbsp. water
Mix beef, pork, salt, pepper and cayenne together using your hands.
Heat the oil in a large skillet and brown the meat well, then set aside.
Add a little more oil if needed, and saute onions, bell peppers, chiles and garlic until soft.
Return meat and pan juices to the pan.
Add tomatoes, raisins, vinegar, thyme, allspice and nutmeg.
Simmer until meat is tender, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add vinegar and pimento and simmer another 10 minutes.
Beat the egg and water together.
Remove dough from the refrigerator and cut in half, return half to the refrigerator.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough thinly.
Cut 6" circles - (I used a bowl)
Add a generous portion of filling to the center of each circle.
Fold the dough in half over the filling and crimp the edges with a fork.
Pierce the tops of the pastries with a fork and brush tops with the egg/water mixture.
Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (or lightly greased).,
Repeat with other half of dough, gathering up scraps until all the dough is used up.
Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for 15 minutes or until golden.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Aji Sauce (Adapted from Tommaso's Sinful Delights blog)
4 tomatillos, papery skins removed
5 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
1-1/2 limes, juiced
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Boil the tomatillos for 10 minutes. Combine tomatillos, cilantro, scallions and jalapeño in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until desired texture is achieved.
Serve with empanadas.
Final Assessment: These were delicious and easy to make. The addition of raisins to the filling provided a great balance to the spice and (mild) heat of the chilis. I left them in the oven 5 minutes longer than the recipe called for because I like the pastry to be crunchy and deep golden. The Aji sauce added a tangy zing to the empandas that we all loved - anything with cilantro and tomatillos has to be tasty, right?