Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sweet Potato Empanadas with Braised Collard Greens

I realize that posting this recipe now makes no real sense. I've just been raving about summer and how much I love it and now I'm posting a recipe that has a bit of a fall feel to it. Sweet potatoes, walnuts and apples? I might as well serve up hot cider and carve pumpkins, too. My only saving grace is the fact that sweet potatoes are becoming a year-round thing in the market, which is good, because they're hard not to love. Plus, they pack in loads more nutrition and vitamins than conventional potatoes.

The truth is, I couldn't have waited to make this even if I'd wanted to. Ever since the last time I made it, I've been thinking about it. I love just about anything baked in dough, but the spicy sweetness of this filling is a really good contrast to the earthy, slightly salty crust. The collard greens are in line with my basic kitchen philosophy on greens: simpler is better.

This recipe uses masa harina, which is a flour made from nixtamal, corn meal that has been leached in lye and then dried and ground. It's got a delicious, unique and penetrating flavor. Even the smallest amount can enhance a dish. It's a staple ingredient for tamale recipes and I like to put it in my onion ring flour to give them an extra crunch. You should be able to find it in a well-stocked grocery store or Latin food store. My go-to brand for any specialty flour is Bob's Red Mill. I like to support them because they treat their employees really well.

You can soften up your sweet potatoes a couple of different ways. You can bake them, though that may run about an hour, depending on their size. I didn't have that kind of time, so I washed them, wrapped them in a paper towel and microwaved them for about 9 minutes, turning them over about halfway through. If you boil them, just throw them into a hot oven for 5 minutes or so to get rid of the excess moisture.


For the empanada dough:
1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup masa harina
1/4 cup Earth Balance, softened
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup ice water

For the empanada filling:
3 small sweet potatoes, baked or microwaved until tender
1/3 cup diced shallots
1/3 cup diced apple
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 1/2 tbsp chopped walnuts

For the collard greens:
2 bunches of collard greens, stems trimmed, washed and chopped into 1-inch strips
1 sweet onion, diced
2 tbsp Earth Balance
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Red pepper flakes, to taste

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Make the collard greens: Put a Dutch oven over medium high heat and add the oil and butter. Once it's melted, add the onion and cook it until soft. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook another minute until the garlic is fragrant. Add the greens and toss them until they're coated. Put the top on the pot and put it in the oven. Let it cook for an hour, stirring the collard greens 2 or 3 times while they cook. When they're done, they'll look like this:

Make the empanada dough: Combine the flour, masa, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add the butter and oil and stir it all together with a wooden spoon. It should be very dry and crumbly.

Add the water and stir it until the dough comes together. Kneed it until it's smooth, then let it rest for 20 minutes.

Make the filling: Cut the softened sweet potatoes in half and scoop the flesh out into a bowl. Discard the skins. Heat a bit of oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the shallots. Saute them until tender and then add the apple, cumin and curry and stir them around to coat. Saute until fragrant, about 4 minutes or so.

Add the shallot/apple mixture and the walnuts to the sweet potatoes and stir them around until the potatoes are mashed and everything is incorporated.

Assemble the empanadas: Cut the dough into 8 equal parts. I did this by just cutting the ball of dough into quarters and then cutting those segments in two. Using a little flour for dusting, take the balls of dough one at a time and flatten them out into a disk. You can use a rolling pin, but I just used a fist and pushed it out with my knuckles. They don't need to be perfect circles, but get as close as you can.

Spoon the filling onto the lower half of the circle, leaving 1/4 inch or so around the edge of the circle.

Fold the top over and press the edges together with the prongs of a fork. Repeat with the others and put them all on a lined baking sheet. Brush them with some melted butter. Again, they don't have to be perfect, so don't worry about making them any exact diameter or anything. After the first few, you should have a hang of it. Some will be bigger than others, which is great for a group with varying appetites. Besides, empanadas should look a little imperfect and rather rustic.

Your collard greens should be close to done by now. Once they are, take the pot out of the oven and set it aside. They will stay hot for a long time in that Dutch oven, so don't worry about them going cold.

Bump the temperature up to 400 degrees and put your empanadas in. Bake them for 20 minutes, until they're golden brown. The smell will be incredible. Plate them up with some collards and some dirty rice and enjoy.

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