Chard and french lentil empanadas

Chard & french lentil empanada

“People talk of natural sympathies,” said Mr. Rochester. And we all know that he was just trying to seduce Jane Eyre, but he wasn’t wrong – people do talk of natural sympathies. Not just between people, but between colors, and musical notes as well. Certain things just look or sound pleasing when they’re combined. The boys have a book on the history of perspective in art, and I find it so fascinating! Artists through the ages have tried so hard to understand the world through mathematical rules – they understood it in order to draw it, and they understood it by drawing it. (Which is what little Isaac does, it seems – when something interests him he has to draw it, and he’s always pleased with what he draws) Apparently Paolo Uccello would stay awake at night after his wife had gone to bed, searching for vanishing points, and he’d say, “Oh, what a a sweet thing this perspective is!” And Piero della Fransesca believed in a perfect geometry underlying God’s creation. He saw everything as defined by measurements and numbers, which had mystical properties. Everything was carefully planned, in his art and in the world around him to be pleasantly harmonious. David, who is a painter, will point out how certain colors “hum” when they’re next to each other. Some even create a beat when placed in proximity – almost a flashing in your vision. My piano teacher, who was also a painter, used to say that each painting should have one “key note” color, which stood out from all the other, and didn’t harmonize with the rest of the picture. I think it’s interesting that the visual world is spoken of in musical terms, what with all the humming and the beats! I asked my mom, who is a professor of music history, if people believed certain chords together had magical powers. Oh yes! She said. People used to believe that you are what you listen to, and that you could be driven to certain actions – saintly or diabolical – according to what you heard. Octaves and fifths were pure and safe, but the tritone was the devil in music, and could cause terrible unrest. She said that if you took perfect fifths, and sang them perfectly in tune, by the time you got four octaves up, you’d be a half-step flat. People used to develop all sorts of tunings to solve the problem (well-tempered tuning) and now we use equal temperament tuning, in which we adjust by making everything equally out of tune. “In order to end up on pitch you have to compromise everything else,” Says my mother, “Just like in life.”

Well, I believe that there are certain flavors that go together perfectly, as well. When you taste them they just make sense, and they hum in your mouth. Frequently they grow together and ripen together, which almost makes you agree with Piero della Francesca’s assessment that there’s some divine pattern accounting for all of the harmonies in the world. Tomatoes and basil, for example. Perfect. And I like to think about my piano teacher’s idea of introducing one element of flavor that’s surprising and unexpected, and makes all of the other happily harmonizing flavors more exciting. Some flavors hum along together, some contrast pleasantly, to create a beat. Personally, I love chard and french lentils together. And I love chard and some sweet and tangy fruit. And I love them all together in a crispy crust. I really liked these empanadas! It’s one of my favorite meals I’ve made in a while. I combined chard, which had been sauteed with a bit of garlic and hot red pepper, with lentils, which had been cooked with nigella seeds and sage. I added some caramelized onions, for sweetness. And I added a spoonful of quince jam. I used queso blanco & mozzarella to make everything nice and melty, and bring it all together. I’d read that in argentina they make empanadas with quince paste and salty white cheese, and I guess this is my version of that. We ate these with my version of patatas bravas, which I’ll tell you about in a little while, and, I’m not saying it was a masterpiece, or anything, but it was very pleasing meal to have in out little green backyard on a cool summer evening.

Chard and lentil empanadas

Here’s Leonard Cohen with Hallelujah. Is he talking about a chord with divine and magical powers? I’m never sure. I like the word “hallelujah.”


1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 t salt
1 stick butter – frozen
ice water

Combine the flours and the salt. Grate in the butter, and stir it in with a fork. Add just enough ice water to pull everything into a workable dough (about 1/2 cup, but start with less). Knead for a minute. Wrap in foil and leave in the fridge to chill till you’re ready to use it.


1 medium-sized bunch chard (about 3 cups raw, 1 1/2 cups cooked) washed and chopped quite fine
1 T olive oil
1 plump garlic clove
1/2 t red pepper flakes (or to taste)
dash balsamic

Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and pepper flakes. When the garlic starts to brown, add the chard. Sautée until it’s wilted but still bright, and the pan is quite dry. Stir in a dash of balsamic. Transfer to a big bowl.

3/4 cup french lentils
1 T olive oil
1 t sage
2 bay leaves
1 t nigella seeds
1 t tamari
salt and plenty of pepper

Warm the olive oil in a small soup pot over medium heat. Add the by leaves, sage and nigella seeds. Cook for a minute. Add the lentils. Stir till they’re well coated with oil and spices. Cook till they sizzle. Add the tamari and about 4 cups or water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until the lentils are cooked through. They should be soft but still have a bit of texture. About 20 minutes should do it. Drain – saving the broth for soup, and season with salt and pepper. Stir the lentils into the chard.


3 T caramelized onions (or to taste)
1 1/2 cups cheese cut into small cubes (I used a combination of queso blanco and mozzarella) Something mild and salty is nice here – something that melts well.
1 T quince jelly (you could use apricot, or you could leave it out altogether)
4 fresh sage leaves, chopped fine

Taste for salt and season well with pepper.


Break the dough into 8 balls. Roll each one to be about 6 inches across and 1/8 th inch thick. Put a heaping spoonful of filling in the middle, a little off center. (A good rule is to use the same sized-amount of filling as the ball of dough started out.)

Fold the circle in half, and fold the edges up once. Transfer to a lightly buttered baking sheet. Seal the edges with the tines of a fork, and poke the top twice with the fork to let the steam escape.

Bake at 400 until they’re starting to brown on the edges. Should take about 1/2 an hour.


3 thoughts on “Chard and french lentil empanadas

  1. I love this post! In fact I’m totally enjoying your longer posts at the moment – it’s like a sharing in a daily episode of really interesting novel as it’s being written!
    This talk of ‘natural sympathies’ makes me feel very philosophical..and of course, Leonard is the right person to listen to while you’re considering all this. Have you read “The Girl with the Pearl Earring”? I think – in the novel – that Griet’s alterations to Vermeer’s painting compositions were as a result of her looking for an object that made the rest of the composition ‘hum’…and of course, it all culminated in the pearl earring itself.
    I’ve never made empanadas before, but they seem like a perfect summer dinner-in-the-garden recipe so I’m inspired to try!

    • I have read The Girl WIth the Pearl Earring. I’d forgotten till you mentioned it, but interesting connection! Fascinating to read a book about painting.

      Thanks for your kind words about my posts, as well. I’ve been going on and on lately, and I don’t want to annoy people, but it’s hard to just say, “this is what I made, this is how I made it.” I’m having so much fun just basically blathering about whatever is on my mind!

  2. I came across this as I was sitting here helping my son with violin practice, including scales and looking for interesting vegetarian and packable lunches. Perfect!

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