As we sail into this holiday weekend, do you have to prep food for a whole slew of people? Family gatherings at Tim’s parents’ house tend to be pretty big, and things go best if everyone pitches in and takes over a meal or two, so we have some experience with cooking for a bunch of people. For Caleb’s party, though, Tim and I volunteered to make empanadas, for a guest list we knew could be pushing 40. That was the biggest number we’d ever taken on!
I’m not sure if you’ve ever had an empanada, a delicious little dough pocket stuffed with either savory or sweet fillings. I hadn’t been exposed to them before I started dating Tim, but they’re one of his favorite things to make. We used to get discs of dough in the frozen section at Kroger and make them about once a month. When Kroger stopped carrying the dough, we were sad about it for a bit and went through empanada withdrawal. Then I started poking around on the Internet and found a recipe for dough, and we were back in (figurative) business!
The dough is super easy to make, and can be prepped a day or two in advance if necessary. We get our masa harina from a Mexican grocery store in our neighborhood and use vegetable shortening instead of lard to make them vegetarian friendly. We use a set of empanada presses I got Tim one Christmas to both cut and fold the dough around the filling. I roll the dough out and cut with a larger size, and then Tim presses the circle into the next-smaller size to fill. After wetting the edge of the dough and closing the empanada, there’s a little overhang, which he cuts off and adds to the pile of dough scraps. After I roll out several of the little balls and gather up my own pile of scraps, I can usually work them together (sometimes I need to moisten them a little) and roll everything out again to cut more discs.
For the party, we tripled the recipe of the dough and just rolled and pressed until we got through about 60 empanadas. Tim laid them all out on lightly greased trays, ready to bake. For filling, let your imagination run wild. We use a combination of delicious stuff. A family favorite is just hardboiled eggs, crumbled up with salt and pepper. We also did some soy chorizo from Trader Joes (and a combo of egg and chorizo mixed together), and a black bean and sweet potato filling that Tim has perfected through the years. You want the filling to be fairly dry, as too much moisture will eat through the dough and make a mess. You can also prep the folded pastries in advance and wait to bake them, or bake them in advance and re-heat them before the party (they reheat pretty marvelously!).
Tim baked tray after tray, and after they were ready, he just popped them into a towel-lined bowl and covered them up. They stay reasonably hot for awhile, but also taste great a little cooler as well. They really make some great party food, if you have the patience to roll, cut and fill.
They seemed to be a hit at the party, even people who hadn’t had one before seemed to dig them. Of course, we had way too much food, so we even had leftover empanadas. They were delicious for lunch the next day, after swimming in the lake!
What is your go-to dish for a crowd of people? We have a few other things that we sometimes whip up, but it’s nice to know that we could make empanadas work for such a big guest list!