Several days ago I gave the Old Man and the Medium Boy the task of putting in a new pond liner for our back yard. It’s hard work. I fed them these empanadas as payment.
If you’re familiar with what an empanada is, then you’ll understand why this was a sufficient enough reward for the hard work of digging a big giant hole in the ground after removing an already existing (but too small) pond. If you’re not, then you’ll be excused for muttering to yourself “gee, glad I’m not married to her!”.
Empanadas hail primarily from South America, with each region having its own variations in terms of how the dough is made and what fillings are used. The basic idea is pretty much the same in that you have an unleavened dough wrapped over some sort of savory or sweet filling (usually as a means of using up leftovers), and then the whole thing is either baked or fried. They are meant to be eaten as a “hand pie”, but can come in any size.
The Old Man’s family is predominantly from Chile, and over the years I’ve learned how to make some of his favorite dishes that come from there. This particular combination of ingredients for the filling is not traditional, but instead falls under the category of foods inspired by those classics (and I had some ham that needed using). He wasn’t complaining. He knows better!
Ham & Cheese Empanada Recipe
IngredientsFor the dough:
- 1 recipe Chilean Style Empanada Dough
- 1 tsp. dried basil
For the filling:
- 1/2 lb. cheddar or jack cheese (choose a softer style that will melt easily like colby-jack, pepper jack, or mild to medium cheddar, etc.), cut into small cubes no more than 1/2 inch thick
- 1/2 lb. ham, cut into cubes like the cheese
- 1/4 cup finely sliced green onion or fresh chives
For the glaze:
- 1 egg, scrambled
- 1 Tbsp. water
Prepare the dough as instructed in my Chilean Empanada Dough recipe, but add 1 tsp. of dried basil to the flour. Basil adds a nice, complementary flavor to the filling. Cover the dough and set aside in the refrigerator to properly hydrate the dough and make it firm for easy rolling. While the dough is chilling, you can prepare the ingredients for the filling.
I typically make 10 empanadas from this recipe, however you can make more or less by adjusting the size of each one. I would not make them much smaller, though, as it becomes harder to fold the dough properly around the filling. The easiest way to make sure that each is uniform in size is to weigh the dough and divide the amount by the number of empanadas you want to make. Trust me when I say that this is a lot easier to do when you use a digital scale that measures in grams (metric measurement). Keeping uniform sizes helps ensure that your empanadas cook evenly.
To assemble the empanadas, roll out a portion of dough into a circle about 1/4 inch thick. For the amount of dough I use, that would be a circle roughly 6 to 7 inches across. Sprinkle a small amount of cheese, ham, and sliced green onion evenly over one side of the dough circle, but not to the edge. Using a pastry brush or your finger, gently dab water all around the edge of the dough circle. Fold the dough carefully over the filling and press the wet edges together. Then fold about 1/2 inch of the edge of the dough over to form a seal. Repeat this process to form the remaining empanadas. You may need more or less of the filling ingredients depending on how much you used for each one.
Transfer each empanada to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. They will not expand so you can put them close together, but don’t allow them to touch.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Make slits in each empanada with the tip of a knife or toothpick to allow steam to escape. This will give a crisper dough and help prevent your fillings from spilling out due to pressure build up. The dough will likely be soft and stretchy so be sure you are gently cutting all the way through the top layer of dough to the fillings.
Make your glaze by scrambling the egg and water together. Use a pastry brush to evenly coat the top and sides of each empanada with the egg wash. (Leftover egg can be turned into a mini-omelette or scrambled eggs with some of the filling ingredients and a microwave oven. It’s a quick snack while you wait for your empanadas to bake!)
Bake the empanadas for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the dough is a light, golden brown and firm to the touch. Serve them right away (caution: that filling will be hot!), or they can even be served at room temperature. Enjoy!