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Argentinian Beef Empanadas: A Return to Calm

The last time I felt distinctly overwhelmed for a long period of time was while I was planning my wedding. Often, I’d be stressed before my day had even begun. And the more emails and calls I received from vendors, friends and relatives, the more I felt like I was losing control of everything. I remember, on so many occasions, thinking how if I could just make it to the day, the very next one would feel like complete bliss and a few days later, I’d be off doing my ‘other’ favorite thing: traveling.

Planning a wedding and simultaneously organizing a three week sojourn around Northern Argentina isn’t something most sane people do, but I was determined to make the most of my time off. I had lost a tremendous amount of weight prior to my wedding, despite the fact that I wasn’t doing anything differently, per se. I remember our actual wedding day being perfect. More than perfect, in fact. I never wanted it to end. The next day, I woke up to a misty morning and recall the glorious opportunity of sitting down to a big, hearty breakfast with my new husband. And a few days later, we boarded a plane to Argentina and I remember those three weeks being incredibly fulfilling. A calm had returned. I ate, heartily. And slept, soundly.

The year following my wedding was both the best and the worst, in some ways. I felt relaxed. My weekends had been freed up, my evenings were calmer, and I got to truly enjoy being a newlywed. But there was something missing. Something big. And that something was satisfaction in an area of my life that I take very seriously: my career. I had catapulted into a new a position that promised more challenges, responsibly and opportunity and yet, I was completely dissatisfied. I felt embarrassed to tell my friends, only months after I had accepted the new role, that I was feeling down. I started questing not only my position, but my career path. And I had no idea what to do next.

I considered taking a break to have a child. I considered taking a break to travel. I considered a myriad of other job opportunities. Nothing felt like the right decision. Matt suggested that I stop thinking about it so much. And treat my job like a job, and spend my free time focusing on things I really cared about. So I made Turntable Kitchen my side project. I spent hours cooking, writing, photographing. I invested in a better camera. We decided to pay a designer to redesign our site. We gave it a new name. Turntable Kitchen. And I came up with a tagline: “connecting food and music.” We called it a launch, one day in November, 2010. And a few short months later, I had a conversation with my now-boss that led to a job that made me stop questioning what it was I wanted out of a career.

These days, it’s hard to complain about anything. Yet, there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. That feeling…the one where my day starts out being stressful? It’s been creeping back. This time, it’s not my wedding. But it’s a desire to just…do less. I’ve always been a multi-tasker, someone who loves to take on multiple projects, and feels generally happy being over-extended. But, of late, I’ve begun to question whether I’ve crossed the line. With myself.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try to spend a little more time prioritizing and, scheduling some time to just be..with myself. Curled up with a book. Maybe a pen and paper (shocking!). I’ve been taking baby steps, here and there. Making little rules for myself. Like spending the last 20-30 minutes of my day reading. Or declining big group events because I have plans. Even if my only plans are to make dinner and watch an episode of New Girl.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself in these first months of 2012 it’s that it’s time to get honest. And if I’m feeling a little (or a lot) overwhelmed, to step back and ask myself: how can I make this better?

These empanadas are important in this grand scheme. They remind me of a time in my life where I was coming off a total high, and was on the brink of something really great, but when time virtually stood still. They bring me back to traveling — when my mind is energized and my heart is happy. And they make me focus on the details: like rolling out dough, measuring out ingredients, pinching dough, folding over edges. Largely, this recipe is a recreation of what I remember empanadas tasting like. We chose to add in a few extra fun spices and to use the traditional meat of choice — beef. We enjoyed them with hot sauce and salsa, though you can dip them into any number of sauces…traditional Argentinian (like chimichurri) or not.

Argentinian Beef Empanadas
*makes approximately two dozen small empanadas
Recipe for the empanada dough adapted from here

For the dough:
2 1/4 cups of flour (I used a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat)
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 stick of cold unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg
1/3 cup of ice water
1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar

For the filling:
1/2 pound of lean ground beef
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon of parsley, chopped finely
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of capers, finely chopped
olive oil
1 hard-boiled egg, roughly chopped
1 cup of chopped, canned tomatoes (we used San Marzano)
salt and pepper, to taste

1 egg, gently beaten with a fork (for the egg wash)

1. Sift flour(s) along with the salt into a large bowl. Use a pastry blender to work in the butter until the mixture is the texture of coarse meal and has only a few remaining small lumps of butter. You can also do this with your fingers by rubbing the butter into the flour.
2. In a separate small bowl, beat the egg, water and vinegar together with a fork. Stir it into the dry mixture until it’s just incorporated.
3. Flour your hands and shape the dough into a ball. Place it on a lightly floured surface and use a light hand to knead it gently a few times before forming it into a flattened ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
4. To make the filling, heat approximately two tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about five minutes (until it begins to soften). Add the pepper and continue cooking for another five minutes or so. Adjust the heat so that you do not burn the onion. Next, add the diced tomatoes with their juices and let cook for a few minutes.
5. Add the beef, crumbling it with your fingers. Stir in the spices, capers, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until the beef has browned. Stir, occasionally, so that the meat cooks evenly. Stir in the egg and dial down the heat to its lowest point.
6. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out until it is about 1/4 inch thick (you can split the ball into several pieces, working with only a small piece of it at a time). Cut out roughly 4 inch round circles in the dough. Place 1-2 tablespoons of filling in the center and fold the circle into a half moon. Use more or less filling, depending on the size of your circles. Pinch and fold the edges to seal them and place the formed empanada onto a prepared baking sheet. Continue to do this with the remaining dough and filling.
7. Once you’ve formed all of your empanadas, brush them with the egg wash. Bake the empanadas for approximately 25 minutes (until golden brown). You can freeze formed empanadas in a freezer bag and also refrigerate uneaten empanadas. They’ll last (and be pretty tasty!) for several days.

Musical Pairings: Gilberto Gil & Jorge Ben – Gil e Jorge + Argentinian Beef Empanadas

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Posted by Kasey

Kasey is the food editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. She loves dark chocolate, warm crusty bread, and traveling to new places. She speaks Russian, but does not like vodka.

  • I just love empanadas. I have always loved any kind of spiced fillings wrapped in pastry and it seems many cultures do to! Reaching that point of maturity where you are ready to slow down you life and start to find the real ‘you’ is a wonderful new stage of maturing. Our society puts so many pressures on us to be social but I think many of us crave more downtime. In our family, that has been the objective for my teens. There is so much pressure to have them signed up for a zillion activities because their high school transcripts have to sing with high praises. We did that to my daughter but we’re backing off with my son. His won’t ‘sing’ as loud but he is a really happy kid. Good luck to you!

  • Oh man, these look so tasty and pretty!

  • Hannah

    How do you always manage to sum up something I’m feeling in such an eloquent way? Thank you for putting into words what we’ve been discussing (and what I’ve been thinking about doing more of, too). Um, also? I want those empanadas. Right. Now.

  • Nicole Franzen

    Argentina sigh, how I miss it so. My favorite empanada ever is Roquefort y Apio. Unreal. Died and gone to empanada heaven. Caprese also and I ate a damn lot of Jamon y Queso. I have never attempted to make them myself, though now I really want to! Where did you visit on your honeymoon? Its such a special place… bife de chorizo, chori pan, dulce de leche, alfajores, mate, naploitana pizza y mas y mas. Tengo que visitar pronto 🙂

  • Holding you in the light today, Kasey, and through the rest of these “honest days” ahead.

  • These are gorgeous, Kasey! I’m happy that so many things have come together for you and I just know that you’ll be able to figure out the right balance.

  • Stepping back is a great gift to give yourself as it gives such welcome perspective. Hooray for honest times and deep breaths. As for these empanadas, they look gorgeous. And it’s a good reminder that I haven’t made any in 2 years. Love the beef filling!

  • naturallyella

    I know that feeling well. I’m the type of person that if I don’t have a to-do list and if I’m not multitasking, I don’t know what to do. I’m constantly on the go (so much so it’s become a running joke from my family and friends.) I am slowly learning to relax, take deep breathes, and do things for enjoyment. Good luck- It’s always the hardest when you’re the only one in control of what you do!

    As for these empanadas- they look gorgeous. I love a good empanada!

  • milanesa napolitana…. <3

  • these look absolutely divine. my dough never turns out as flaky as yours…i’m jealous. i also add some chopped olives to the mix.

    growing up we listened to a lot of fito paez, my dad’s favorite, and probably ate too many empanadas.

    argentina, querida mia!

  • Obligation can really wear on my creativity, and I definitely relate to your words here. Sometimes I have to get real with myself and say, “Jess, the world won’t end if you don’t do x.” I love what you said about the act of making the empanadas and where it takes your thoughts. That’s why I love to cook, the act slows life down, for a moment. Can’t wait to try this recipe!

  • Sage words, Sarah! I think it’s so true that society pressures us to be more social than many of us can handle being. I think that social media has intensified this phenom, but I think that’s a subject for another post. Sounds like your kids are growing up grounded, and it’s cool that you recognize that they have different needs.

  • Thanks, Megan!

  • You’re so sweet. It’s nice to know that we can talk about this stuff! And it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. We all struggle with balance, but I think there’s a happy medium out there for all of us.

  • Thank you, darling.

  • Thanks, Nicole! That means a lot!

  • Deep breaths are definitely much-needed. Every time I make empanadas, I’m always reminded to make them more often! Beef is my favorite filling.

  • Sounds like you and I have a lot in common. My family makes fun of me because I ‘schedule’ time to hang out with them. But, for some of us, relaxing isn’t doing nothing. I think there’s a balance there and it’s all about finding the right one 🙂 I hope you find that happy balance, too.

  • Tristan, I’ve had issues with my dough in the past, too, but I think the key is not to overwork it too much. Love that empanadas are strongly connected to your memories with your family, listening to music.

  • I think we all have those days when we think we need to accomplish more than we can. And it’s true, you can’t do it all, and…that’s ok! The world still stands. Cooking is totally therapy for me…and sounds like for you, too! A cooking project is one of the best ways to relax.

  • OH yes, the Jamon y Queso. My favorite empanadas were actually up in Salta, which was one of my absolutely favorite places. We traveled around between BA, Mendoza, Salta, and some small towns in between, and I actually put together 3 separate ‘City Guides’ for TK after I got back! You can still find them in the ‘City Guides’ dropdown. It was unreal and I agree…Must go back soon!

  • i agree. it’s definitely in having light hands. i struggle with biscuits too so i know for sure it’s because i’m too heavy-handed in working the dough.
    wanted to let you know i commend your efforts to slow down. giving your brain and body some time to decompress is amazing, even if it’s just 15 or 20 mins. i’ve learned the hard way in that i didn’t take time for myself till i was completely drained, mentally and emotionally. you are so lucky to be surrounded by those that encourage you.

  • Be calm. It’s a difficult thing to do, at least for me. Isn’t it funny how we get what we want and then get a little too much of it and just need to back off a little bit?

  • Thanks, Tristan. I really appreciate that. Hopefully, even though you’ve learned the hard way to take time for yourself, you’ve reached a point where you know when it’s time to focus on you. I was pretty blown away by all of the kind comments on this post! Knowing that positive, supportive people are out there, willing to listen and offer sage advice, is really, really comforting. Of course, you are right…I never take for granted my family and friends. They really are my world!

  • YES. It’s so true…good things can be overwhelming, too! I’ve always love that little phrase, “be calm and carry on.” I just need to apply it to my life more often! xo

  • Hey there Kasey,

    So nice to hear from you over on Yummy Supper. I had no idea that you were a friend of Leonora’s ( my Bali neighbor!).

    I need to spend some serious time lingering over all the goodness on your site. We recently bought a 70’s sound system and are having the best time listening to old vinyl. I love that warm sound. And here you are putting music and food together. What more could we want:)


  • Hi Erin! Yup, Leo and I used to work together. Great girl. That’s awesome about your 70s sound system. Listening to old vinyl is so fun! Glad we connected!

  • I made these last night and they were excellent. I cooked the filling a little bit differently: browned the ground beef with onions and peppers before adding the tomatoes. And I had a lot of filling leftover, but I’m sure it’ll be awesome with some pasta. Thanks for the amazing recipe!

  • Lowfatchick

    Looks so good. I loved being in Argentina. It has been years. I must go back soon. I will have to try this recipe and reminisce about the great times there. Thanks!

  • Kitchen Ninja

    Not only do these empanadas look awesome (I’m going to give them a try) but I also appreciate your eloquent honesty about feeling overwhelmed. I wish you some peace and calm — heck, I wish it for all of us! 🙂

  • thanks

  • Thank you! I’m working on letting myself not get overwhelmed.

  • We loved it, too! Glad the recipe brought back some good memories 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing, Laura! Your changes sound great and I agree that the leftover filling would be great with pasta!

  • amy

    Thanks so much for sharing your story and the recipe. I miss my visits to Argentina. I’m planning on making these today, and it too will be a break for me… a break from working on the weekend, two graduate school classes, the maple sap that is running (we’re in Vermont), and all the chores that are associated in living in a long-winter climate.

  • amy

    Forgot to ask… for freezing… assuming you freeze them before the egg wash? Also, when ready to bake the frozen ones, do we need to thaw them first, or can they go straight into the oven? Is there a bake delta? Thanks!

  • Hi Amy, yep, skip the egg wash if you’re freezing them. I usually stick them into the oven still frozen (don’t thaw them beforehand). Enjoy!

  • Amy

    Thanks! They were delicious! Will try freezing next time.

  • Gaijina – The Traveling Baker

    Hi! I wanted to thank you because I’ve just made empanadas for lunch, and i used your recipe for the dough. Before I have tried different recipes, but never came out as good as today. The dough was perfect and easy to work with! We were so happy!

  • That’s fabulous!

  • Mary Marsh Elliff

    This. recipe. is. so. good. And healthy! Thank you so much for sharing: (my hubby likes it too.)


  • Jacki

    Don’t you have to cut slits or prick with a fork near the fold to let the steam escape? Don’t want them blowing up! hee…hee.

  • Made a batch tonight. I added some fresh corn to the filling but did everything else according to the recipe. They turned out great! Like the ones I had in Argentina. The dough is a keeper as well. Thanks for sharing this deliciousness!

  • James Mortem

    Fantastic commentary . Apropos if you need to fill out a Homeschool Official Transcript , my family filled out and esigned a template document here

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