Kale and sweet potato empanadas with pecans, goat cheese and smoked gouda

Kale and sweet potato empanadas

Kale and sweet potato empanadas

“For years, Cohen’s approach was to shoot three rolls of film over a two-hour walk, develop the rolls directly, have dinner, then go back to the darkroom, develop eight to nine prints directly from the negatives, and cast aside the rest. Cohen did this several times a week for decades. He estimates he has 600,000-800,000 images that he’s never seen or developed, not even on contact sheets.”

Mark Cohen is a street photographer who shoots images from his hip, without looking through the viewfinder. In an article in today’s Guardian, he describes his methods. He doesn’t carry a camera with him all the time, he goes on specific walks just to take photographs. This used to be in his home town of Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, but he’s recently moved to Philadelphia, and now he takes trolley rides, “I get on a trolley and go to a specific intersection. I like to go to the same one 10 times, so I understand the texture of the neighbourhood.”

His photographs, not surprisingly, are unusually framed, they’re askew and disorienting–not focussed on face and shoulders, but on whatever part of the body he happened to catch. There’s something beautiful in this discombobulation. The photos of people feel more intimate and specific to one person, because they capture some part of that person nobody would notice, but they also feel like a document of people everywhere at this particular moment in time. They look familiar, like family snap-shots, like people you knew, and in their abstraction they become surprising and new…you see the human form in a different light, as a collection of angles and light and shadows, vulnerable and beautiful.

Bare thin arms against aluminum siding

Bare thin arms against aluminum siding

I love the eccentric ordinariness of this whole process. I love the way it’s described as part of his routine, as natural as making a meal. In describing his career trajectory, from gallery shows in New York in the seventies to relative obscurity (although he has a show in Paris at the moment) he seems more than resigned. As his career waned, he remained as productive as ever, perhaps even more so. ‘Removing himself from the New York scene gave him a “purity”, he says, by virtue of “not having a personality so involved in the dissemination of work”. But by his own admission, he “dropped out” in the late 80s. “Gallerists couldn’t sell my stuff,” he says matter-of-factly. “My work’s not the most optimistic. It’s not like Yosemite.”‘

In all of these things: his subject matter, his seeming need to take photographs, the fact that he hasn’t developed many of his negatives, or even looked at them, he reminds me of Vivian Maier, another brilliant photographer who had a unique view of the world all around us. They capture time as it passes, they save moments in the lives of strangers and make them into something remarkable–something worth noticing, something worth saving. There’s a feeling almost of melancholy in the works of both photographers, something almost lonely in a glimpse into the life of somebody else. But there’s tenderness and compassion, too: we feel a connection.

kale and sweet potato empanadas

kale and sweet potato empanadas

Autumn empanadas!! These were warm and smoky, earthy, sweet and tangy. Very very nice on a chilly autumn evening. The kale and sweet potatoes are from the farm, as are the sage and rosemary. I used a combination of goat cheese and smoked gouda, for the nice contrast in flavor and texture. These were mostly soft and pleasing, but they did have a bit of crunch from the crust and the pecans.

Here’s Jimmy Smith with Just a Closer Walk With Thee.

2 cups flour
1/2 t salt
1 t smoked paprika
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, frozen
1/3 cup olive oil

In a medium-sized bowl combine the flour, salt and paprika. Grate in the frozen butter, mixing with a fork as you go. When you have a coarse and crumbly consistency, add the olive oil, and mix it in well. Add just enough ice water to bring it together in a soft, workable dough. Knead for about a minute, to be sure everything is incorporated. Form into a flat disc, wrap in foil, and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.


3 or 4 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
3 or 4 sage leaves chopped
2 t fresh rosemary, chopped
olive oil to coat
1 plump clove garlic, not peeled, but skin-pierced
1 bunch kale
1 can red beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup toasted chopped pecans
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup grated smoked gouda
salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425. Toss the sweet potatoes with the herbs and olive oil and spread in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Put the garlic clove on their, too. Roast for 25 – 30 minutes until the sweet potatoes are soft inside and brown and crispy outside. Turn off the oven but let them sit in there to keep warm and roasty. The garlic should be soft inside its skin.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Rinse and wash the kale and remove the tough stems. Roughly chop them and drop them in the pot of boiling water. Boil for 5 to 8 minutes, until they’re tender but still bright. Rinse in cold water, drain, and squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the greens. Chop them quite fine.

In a large bowl combine the cooked greens, the red beans, the pecans, the sweet potatoes, cheeses, pepper and salt. Peel and mush the garlic clove and stir this in as well.

Break off a piece of dough about the size of a racketball (2 inches across?) Roll into a circle about 1/8th inch thick. Put a big spoonful of filling (about the size of the original lump of dough) slightly off-center on the circle. Fold the dough over into a half-moon shape. Seal the edges, prick the top, and place it on a lightly buttered baking sheet. Seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Repeat until all the dough and filling are used up. Leftover dough can make good crackers, and leftover filling can be tossed on a salad.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the empanadas are firm and golden.


1 thought on “Kale and sweet potato empanadas with pecans, goat cheese and smoked gouda

  1. Pingback: Inspiration: Marc Cohen | Artspan's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s