Empanadas with potatoes, black beans, spinach and smoked gouda

Potato and black bean empanadas

Potato and black bean empanadas

We saw the most beautiful movie the other day – The Maid, written and directed by Sebastian Silva. It isn’t stylistically gorgeous – it has the look of home videos from a decade or so ago – it is emotionally beautiful – full of honesty and grace and sly humor. Raquel, played by Catalina Saavedra in a remarkably precise, powerful and restrained performance – is the live-in maid for a middle class family in Chile. She’s been with them more than half of her life, their world is her world. She roams the house when everybody is gone, with vacuum and duster, but she has dominion over only a tiny portion, a cell-like bedroom that looks out onto the kitchen. She loves the family, and they love her, but with a stunted, confused sort of love that cannot express itself in real affection. She’s started to have horrible headaches and dizzy spells, so they decide to hire somebody to help her, despite her protestations. With a devastating blow of well-meaning cruelty, they give the new “girl” care of the kitchen and the food, thus taking away the source of Raquel’s comfort and power, the nexus between two worlds. This is the space where Raquel has control, where she is vitally important, the space from which she nurtures the family. When this is taken away from her, she doesn’t make life easy for the new maids, and the script cunningly plays on our expectations to suggest that we’re going to follow Raquel into a world of darkness and depravity. The manner in which these expectations are gratified or denied is a source of great film-watching joy, so I can’t say too much more without spoiling the film. I’ll just say that a few moments of exquisitely portrayed human connection, in all of its poignant confusion, happiness, and sorrow made this simple, understated tale of an ordinary woman one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in a long while. Honestly, I’ve put off writing about it all day because I can’t do it justice!

I know they have empanadas in Chile, but I don’t suppose they have any like these! I thought of them as a sort of cross between samosas and empanadas. So they have potatoes and peas (comforting and bright!) and they have smoky paprika, smoked gouda, spinach, and earthy black beans. The crunchy crust is made with masa harina, cayenne and black pepper. These were really delicious! I felt proud of them, and happy with the combination of flavors.

Here’s Ayayayay by Pedro Piedra from The Maid’s soundtrack.

And here’s Promesas by Los Mono, which is a video I was very taken with a few years ago. Turns out Sebastian Silva is Los Mono! Who knew?!?!

THE CRUST

1 cup flour
1/2 cup masa harina
1/4 t cayenne
black pepper
1/2 t salt
4 T unsalted butter – frozen (1/2 stick)
4 T olive oil (1/4 cup)
1/2 cup (+/-) water

In a large bowl combine the flours, peppers, and salt. Grate in the butter, and mix with a fork till you have a coarse crumblike consistency. Stir in the olive oil. Add just enough water to pull everything together into a workable dough. Knead for a minute or two, to be sure everything is evenly combined. Wrap in foil, and leave in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour.

THE FILLING

2 medium-sized potatoes
1 t olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t fennel seeds, crushed or chopped
1 t smoked paprika
1/2 t cumin
1/2 cup tiny green peas (frozen is fine)
1 1/2 cups packed baby spinach, chopped quite fine
1 cup black beans
1/2 – 1 cup grated smoked gouda
salt and pepper

Bring a pot of water to boil in a medium-sized saucepan over high heat. Drop the potatoes in and boil for about half an hour, till they’re soft but still a bit firm – not falling apart. Drain, let cool till you can handle them, and then peel them and cut them into 1/3 inch dice.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, and fennel seeds. Cook for just under a minute. Add the potatoes. Stir and cook until they start to brown a bit – 3 or 4 minutes. Add the peas and black beans, stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the paprika and cumin, and then drop in the spinach and a few tablespoonfuls of water. Stir, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add a bit more water if you need to loosen up the good crusty stuff. When the spinach is just wilted, transfer everything to a bowl. Stir in the smoked gouda. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 425. Lightly butter a baking sheet.

Break off a piece of dough about the size of a raquetball – maybe two inches across. Roll it into a circle about 1/8th inch thick. Place a big spoonful of filling (about the size of the original ball of dough) just off center on the circle. Fold the circle of dough in half over the filling, making a fat half moon. Crimp the edges with a fork, and poke the empanada in a few places to let off steam. Place on the baking sheet, and repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the empanadas are golden brown. Keep an eye on them to be sure they don’t burn on the bottom. Let them cool slightly, and then serve. These are nice with a spiced up simple tomato sauce.

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