It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow in Canada, which is as good a time as any for us to talk about cranberries. Though maybe it’s better to talk about empanadas, which are eternal and not bound to a single holiday or feast. Maybe the perfect Thanksgiving is a tropical one, because although today my body is here, in grey old Vancouver, covered in layers of Lycra-cotton blends and fuzzy fleece, my mind is somewhere else: under a palm tree, caftan-clad, and a little rum-drunk beside a plate of freshly fried sweet and savoury pastries.
When you can’t reconcile where you are with where you want to be, the kitchen (and just the right amount of rum) can transport you.
In Aruba, there was a bakery and if you got there early enough, you could buy still-warm pastechis filled with savoury bits of chicken or beef or pork. Pastechis are a Caribbean pastry filled with meats and cheeses, and we saw all types of them throughout our visit to the island; small, crisp pastechis filled with Gouda cheese with thin, crackly pastry like fried wontons, or bigger, chewier pastries reminiscent of empanadas, sweet and sort of like Pizza Pockets but not gross. The bakery was a bit inland, and we asked a lot of Google Maps in navigating us there (what we saved in buying pastries instead of restaurant meals we more than made up for in data and roaming charges), but it was worth it for those pastries which were so unlike anything we’d had before.
I have since done a bit of research, and the difference between pastechis and Caribbean empanadas seems to be corn: pastechi dough is flour-based, and empanada dough uses cornmeal. Both are fried, which is wonderful. Even if I am wrong, either way you can’t lose.
What follows is a recipe for empanadas, even though it’s inspired by the pastechis we ate in Aruba. I like the addition of cornmeal in these as it creates a chewier, sweeter exterior that works will with a tart, jammy filling. Using cranberries brings these home to cold climates and rainy weather and will certainly help take you where you need to go, even if only in your mind.
Cranberry and persimmon empanadas
- 1 lb. fuyu persimmons, trimmed and diced
- 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 4 to 6 cups vegetable or canola oil
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, cook cranberries and persimmons with 1/2-cup of sugar until cranberries have burst and the mixture has become jammy, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside and let cool.
Meanwhile, bring a pot with one cup of water and the milk plus three tablespoons of sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk cornmeal in and cook until thickened, one or two minutes. Add salt and nutmeg, then remove from heat.
Gently fold one cup of flour into the cornmeal mixture until a dough forms. Cover and let rest ten minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Use the remaining flour (about a tablespoon at a time, as needed) to knead your dough for about three minutes, or until it’s no longer sticky.
Divide your dough into eight equal pieces. Roll these into circles about five or six inches in diameter, or to about 1/4-inch thick. Place two to three tablespoons of filling in each, folding the dough over. Press the dough together gently, then seal by pressing the dough down around the fold with the tines of a fork.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other sturdy pot to about 350°F. Working in batches, deep-fry empanadas, flipping once to cook both sides, until crisp and golden, about two minutes per side. Drain on a plate lined with paper towel, then serve hot.