Recipe: SPINACH EMPANADAS
Over the last couple of weeks, two films have really moved me. One is the wonderfully lensed Chilean film, NO, by Pablo Larraín. Set in Chile in 1988 and based on a true story, it follows the story of a young creative director in advertising who uses his understanding of people and marketing as a fierce tool in the campaign to overthrow Pinochet by referendum. René Saavedra, portrayed sensitively by Gael Garcia Bernal, sparked a revolution of change, by depicting a new world and branding the party opposing Pinochet as something upbeat and positive, showing people what life could look like without a dictator in power. I love the chaotic, lo-fi cinematic style (it looks very 80’s), with muted colors and grainy texture and this idea embedded within the film, that advertising can be used to promote democracy and more generally, for good. Advertising really can be a powerful tool for social change. I hope that it goes more that way, there is such an incredible opportunity today to get positive messages to people across the globe cheaply and effectively by creating content that lives on the web, or producing unique, interactive experiences that engage people in new and thought provoking ways.
Another rousing film, also set in Chile, is the documentary 180° South by Chris Malloy, which I just caught the other day on Netflix. It follows the adventure of Jeff Johnson, a hiker/surfer, from California who heads down to Patagonia to hike a volcano, Cerro Corcovado. He makes his way there from Mexico traveling by boat down the Western coast of Chile with a couple of buddies. The landscapes are lush and dramatic, whipping seas, rolling surf, towering Moai statues in Easter Island, lush green fields in Western Chile and, of course, the famous icy mountains of Patagonia. Along the way he hooks up with Doug Tompkins and Yvon Choinard, the founders of Patagonia and North Face, respectively. Jeff’s trip was actually inspired by a similar road trip Doug and Yvon took years ago in a van, a trip documented in the film, Mountain of Storms. These two guys are in their early 70’s now and are so incredibly inspiring. They are wildly successful and built great companies out of their love for the outdoors. They are filled with wisdom and generosity towards the planet, both are huge environmentalists and conservationists, and seem truly happy to boot. Traveling changed the course of their lives in the best possible way, as it often does. One of the loveliest moments in the film is when Yvon is sitting by a bonfire on the beach eating freshly dug clams. As he scrapes up and sucks down the meaty insides dripping with juice and salt water, he remarks that he has no regrets, “You know where I want to be right now, it’s right here, nowhere else. Not in the future, not in the past…” If you ask me, that’s a pretty amazing place to be and those moments are something to aspire to every day.
These films made me think of my own travels to Chile about ten years ago. I traveled with Ian, a musician friend through Easter Island, central Chile and Argentina. We had some remarkable moments on that journey. Our first night in Easter Island, we rented a room in the home of a woman everyone called Mama Lucy. She was hosting a large outdoor dinner in the courtyard of the house that night. The representative of the indigenous peoples of Chile was coming over and it was a big to do. Ian and I went out for a sunset walk to stare with wonder at those great, looming Moai statues framed by the falling sun and the great open sea. We got lost in the magnificent beauty of the moment and by the time we returned home, the party was in full swing. Food was piled high on bright green banana leaves spread across tables that now filled the yard. A full band was playing. When they went on break, Ian walked up to the drum kit and asked the band members if he could mess around with it. As Ian started playing, the people in the crowd went crazy. He was a superstar in that moment, and the truth is that at home he really was a rockstar of sorts, playing for well known bands and creating important shows, it was amazing to hear him jam like that on this little island. From that moment on, we became the “cool” foreigners on the island. The young people would recognize us and invite us to join them for drinks, or more magically to take us on long walks and to secret little spots around the island explaining the history of the place along the way. It was one of those exquisite moments when a place you visit, takes you in and come to think of it… you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.
I was on my own journey that trip leaving behind a job in New York for something greater, but not knowing what. Sometimes I think it’s just enough, to know you have to go. I have been in that kind of place a number of times in my life. They are scary, but important places to inhabit. I always seem to travel on those occasions and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. The trips are like bookends marking the end of something old and the beginning of something new and no matter what happens next you will have had that experience, those life moments that stay with you and change you even in some small way, forever.
My favorite thing to eat, while I was in Chile, had to be the empanadas. The most traditional Chilean empanadas are filled with meat, onion and raisin, but I was in the mood for something a bit healthier this week so I decided to experiment with a spinach empanada in a dough made from a combination of white and wheat flour. For the filling, I adapted a recipe from Honest Fare, a great food blog written by a home cook turned chef who has a food truck specializing in empanadas. I omitted the garlic from the original recipe and used shallots in the place of the red onion and added more lemon zest. I love the sharp zing of lemon zest with feta. You can make your own dough like I did and play with making large and small empanadas, or use store bought ones, which you can find in your grocery or a store specializing in Latin foods.
Enough filling for about 5 large empanadas or 15 mini ones:
For the Filling:
2 bunches of spinach
3 oz small curd cottage cheese
3 oz feta cheese, crumbled
a squirt of lemon juice
½ lemon, zested
a sprinkle of nutmeg, or cinnamon
a pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 egg white (for spinach mixture)
1 egg white (for pastry egg wash)
empanada dough (see recipe at the bottom of this post), or store bought empanada wrappers
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large frying pan, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until the onion is soft. Add a pinch of salt, cover and let spinach wilt, but not too long, you want the spinach to remain bright green. Pour out any excess water from the pan.
Add cottage cheese, nutmeg, lemon zest, a touch more salt and red pepper flakes to the pan. Stir a few times and let some of the steam cook off. Turn off the heat and add feta. Transfer to a large bowl, add egg white and stir. Set aside and let mixture cool and thicken.
If you made your own dough, pull it out of the refrigerator. Divide dough into twelve pieces and on a lightly floured surface, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out into individual disks. Be careful not to apply too much pressure when using the rolling pin. You want the rolling pin to do the work, or the dough will stick.
Spoon the spinach mixture into into the center of each dough disk, amount will vary based on the size of the disk you create, but make sure you leave a wide border so the mixture won’t seep out when you fold the dough over. Wet the rim of the dough with water using fingertips. Fold over and seal with tines of a fork all along the edges.
Lightly grease a baking sheet and transfer empanadas to the sheet. Prepare egg white wash in a little bowl. Give each empanada a brush of egg wash and bake until golden. About 20/25 minutes for full-size and 15 minutes for mini-size. Transfer empanadas to a rack to cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Dough Recipe: (adapted from Gourmet)
1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour and ½ a cup of wheat flour
1½ teaspoons salt
1 stick (½ cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 large egg
⅓ cup ice water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea size butter lumps.
Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated.
Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured surface, gather together, knead gently with the heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.