I generally like my food free of distractions, and by distractions I mean sides. Recently I was speaking to someone about a recipe and this person asked me what I would serve with this particular dish. Huh? I blubbered a little bit, then I huffed and puffed, I mean, who has the time for sides anyway? And then I told her the truth. I really don't like side dishes. Let's break this down a bit, shall we?
First of all there's the sheer practicality of it. By the time I eat my "main" course, I'm full. Think about it, if our stomachs are as big as our fists, and our soup bowl is as big as Mike Tyson's fist, naturally there is no room left for even a Mary Lou Retton fist-sized side. Am I right or am I right?
Second of all, I have to eat everything before I move on to the next thing. Take your typical plate of enchiladas. There's rice. There's beans. There's that little salad thing that I'm not sure is for eating or for "color". And then there are the enchiladas. Enchiladas get eaten first because they're the namesake of my plate. Then the rice gets eaten because it's soaked up all the sauce from the enchiladas and is, therefore, delicious. Sometimes even the questionably edible salad has soaked up the sauce and is also, therefore, delicious. I should add, I really love hot wilted lettuce in enchilada sauce. It even sounds gross as I type it. I worked at a Tex-Mex place in college and developed a fondness for lettuce with tomatillo sauce and queso poured on top. Mostly because the restaurant didn't charge me for it. Try it... well, try it when you're really poor. You'll most definitely grow to love it, even when you can afford better. Anyway, back to that enchilada plate. Now all we have left are the beans. First of all, gross. I just can't support the eating of plain beans. I know you're wondering why I didn't mix them with my rice? Because, that's not the logic I follow, that's why. No mixing ever. Second of all, I'm stuffed. And guess what, I was stuffed way back before I even started on that rice, which brings me back to reason one. It was way too much food anyway.
Third of all, sides are sub par. If they weren't they'd be mains, right? Honestly, the sides I've eaten that were as good as or better than the main work just as well on their own. You just eat more of them. This is perhaps vegetarian logic, but I stand by it. If those green beans are good enough I just eat them as a meal. You just eat more of them, like a Mike Tyson fist-sized serving.
This brings me to the empanada, oh how I love the empanada. To begin with, it's a complete meal, it's a meal in its own self-contained package that I can theoretically carry around with me while I drive, or in a little container to work, or while I read a book by the pool. I don't do any of those things really. I'm far too messy for that and would end up picking up empanada fillings off of my clothes for the rest of the day. So we'll just leave all those handy dandy utilitarian options in theortical-ville. In reality-ville though, it is the size of a fist... or someone's fist, I'm sure of it. It can cover all four basic food groups if you're smart about it. And most importantly, they're good. They're fantastic even. And when you make them, you make a lot, so you can have a little meal in your hand in a second's notice.
And that's just what I did the other day. I made empanadas, I made tons and tons of empanadas. I honestly wasn't expecting much, I just wanted something we could heat up whenever we need a snack, because my job has left me woefully lazy when it comes to preparing dinner. Seriously though, these empanadas far exceeded my expectations... and now after eating my one very large empanada I'm left wondering if it's not bad to sneak another one.
The crust is rich with olive oil and lightly flaky, laced with saffron. The filling is substantial, but tastes deceitfully light. It's also enhanced with saffron, along with a creamy mixture of melting onions and bell peppers and canned tuna, because the Spanish lo-o-o-oove their canned tuna. Honestly, writing this, I'm having to use all of my self-control to keep myself from grabbing one right now. The only thing holding me back is the threat of saffron-y peppers and onions oozing all over my keyboard. Otherwise, it would be on!
Galician Tuna Empanada
Adapted from The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen
For the crust
3/4 tsp instant yeast
2/3 cup lukewarm water
4 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large egg, beaten
1 large pinch of saffron, toasted, pulverized and steeped in 3 Tbsp very hot water
2 tsp salt
3 1/2 - 4 cups all purpose flour
Combine yeast, water, butter, olive oil, egg, saffron and salt. Mix well with the paddle attachment of a mixer. Stir in 3 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup at a time. Add extra flour until you have a tender, pliable and oily dough. It will feel much softer than a typical pie crust or bread dough.
Switch to the dough hook attachement for the mixer and knead for about 5 mins. Divide the dough into 9 or 10 equal sized pieces. Roll into balls, set on a flat surface and cover in plastic for 20 mins. The dough won't really appear to rise.
Place dough in refrigerator until ready to use. Let it return to room temp before using (about 1 hour).
For the filling
1/3 cup olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 large white onions, quartered and thinly sliced
3 large red bell peppers, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
1 large ripe tomato, peeled and grated
2 tsp sweet (not smoked) paprika
1 small pinch of saffron, pulverized and steeps in 2 Tbsp very hot water
15 oz solid oil-packed tuna, flaked witha fork
2 eggs, boiled and crumbled
4 Tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cup sliced manzanilla olives
1 large egg, beaten
Put olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 min. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 mins. Add the red and green peppers and cook until they begin to soften, 7-8 mins. Add a little more olive oil if it looks too dry. Reduce the heat to medium low, stirring occassionally until the vegetables are very soft, but not brown. Add the tomato, paprika and saffron. Simmer until vegetables are reduced to a jam-like consistency, about 15 mins. Let cool slightly, then stir in tuna, eggs and parsely. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Roll each round of dough out to circles about 7 inches in diameter. Put filling into one half of each circle, leaving a border around the filling. Sprinkle the filling with green olives. You want a green olive in each bite, ideally. Fold the other half of the dough over the filling to make half moons. Decoratively crimp the edges to seal closed. Be sure they're sealed. Cut a few slashes in the top of each empanada to let steam out. The filling will boil out a little - no worries! Brush the top of the empanadas with the beaten egg.
Set the empanadas on a prepared baking sheet, ideally on parchment paper. Bake for 45 mins. Let cool slightly before eating. You can heat these in the oven to reheat and the crust will stay flaky.
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