Three pieces of literature greatly affected my love of both words and food at an early age. One of them was seminal food writer and daring feminist-before–her-time MFK Fisher’s book Consider the Oyster. A tome devoted to the sensual sea fare in all its illustrious forms fueled me with inspiration in the culinary linguist field. The second one was Fannie Flagg’s tale Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, where drama and female lore was trotted out amongst the historical recipes of the South. And lastly, in my early twenties, I sweated profusely along with the words of Laura Esquivel as Like Water For Chocolate sealed my lust for the spicy and passionate people and foods of Mexico.
One of my closest friends Leslie, who I lunch with any chance I can get in her sunny little kitchen at her upcycled clothes and goods company Tea With Iris’ headquarters, is inspired by Chilean-American author Isabel Allende.
Oftentimes we spend the lunch hour with her homemade empanadas, which make me automatically happy when I smell their familiar aroma coming fresh from the oven. I typically sit at the kitchen table as we catch up on our lives while she deftly pulls together her quirky and delightful creations right under my nose.
Her inspiration for making these empanadas came after reading Allende’s book, Ines of My Soul. Leslie says, “In the story Ines travels from Spain to Peru to become a well-respected conquistadora. There are parts in the novel where she cooks these amazing empanadas from practically nothing. She uses whatever resources and spices she can find to feed her army or the starving people on the ship she sailed to South America with. I'm totally in love with the story.”
Here is an excerpt from when she was traveling aboard the ship to South America:
"I made empanadas with lentils, garbanzos, fish, chicken, sausage, cheese, octopus, and shark, and with them earned the gratitude of the crew and the passengers."
This last time we shared her empanadas alongside some caramelized, grilled plantain slices.
Leslie was kind enough to share her recipe with me, adapted slightly from another book “Recipes from an Ecological Kitchen.”
Oven: 30-35 minutes
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup water
1 teaspoon dried leaf oregano (sometimes I just cut and chop it up fresh from the garden and use much more)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup flaxseed meal (or amaranth or quinoa flour)
Here is where you can get creative
diced up greens such as spinach, kale, chard
diced up zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, etc.
mustard or pesto
cheese (optional- kids tend to like it more with a little cheese)
1. Lightly brush cookie sheet with oil
2. Mix flour and flaxseed meal (or amaranth or quinoa flour) together in bowl.
3. In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the oils, water, oregano and salt until bubbles just begin to appear.
4. Slowly stir in flour. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a towel and refrigerate 30 to 45 minutes.
5. Sprinkle a smooth surface and rolling pin with flour.
6. Roll out dough into 1/8 inch thickness.
7. Press a bowl with 5-inch diameter into the dough to make circles.
8. Spread a thin layer of mustard or pesto
9. Spoon mixture of filling onto lower half of circle then fold upper half over and press the edges together with a small fork.
10. Bake 30-35 minutes in preheated oven at 375 degrees.
The filled empanadas can also be frozen, baked or unbaked.
Eat with a couple of days since there are no preservatives.