A few years ago I had my first empanada at a potluck lunch (I swear, I attract potlucks. Or maybe they attract me? I just can't seem to get away from them). It was a lightly salted, crispy, pastry pocket with a steamy, sweet and cheesy filling nestled inside. At first, I couldn't place the guava, the first taste that bursts through as you bite into and shatter the outside, or even the cheese. But, hot and gooey, sweet and cheesy... I knew I wanted another and the recipe.
From small Latin-inspired restaurants in New York or here in DC, to Buenos Aires, I've now tasted some amazing empanadas. I have them for breakfast or dessert, with both traditional or unique filling combinations. I'm still waiting for Jose Andres (of DC restaurant fame) to come up with something like a mousse of baby goat and olive empanada. On a stick, dipped in cotton candy. Or gelatin. And you must hang from the ceiling to eat it. (For those who know of him, his creations are inventive.)
Regardless of what I've tasted, near and far, when making them myself I always seem to go back to Emma's traditional recipe. I have lost track of her these days, but I owe her for sharing such a no-fail, very handy recipe. Thank you, Emma!
Guava and Cheese Empanadas
*1-2 packages of defrosted empanada rounds (I prefer Goya's package of 10, in the frozen section)
*1-2 8oz. packages of cream cheese
*1 large tin or 2 small packages of guava paste (again, I prefer Goya, for the quality and price)
*vegtable oil (or corn or canola- all but olive oil)
Begin by unwrapping and opening all ingredients. The process resembles that of an assembly line...pastry round, guava, cheese...pastry round, guava, cheese. Just a small chunk of both guava and cream cheese towards one end of the pastry round will do, as you need to be able to fold over pastry, seal it and not worry about the filling oozing out. Sealing requires either a fork pressed all along the edge, or a crimped design using your fingers. Both seal the empanada shut, while also creating a decorative edge. You may want to run some water along the edges for extra reinforcement.
Using a large, deep frying pan, pour in enough vegtable oil to come about 1/4 or 1/2 the way up the pan. Heated on high and before the oil is smoking, begin to drop in and quickly fry the empanadas. They take about 1-2 minutes per side, flipping when they turn a golden-brown color. Some may open a bit, and some may be darker than others- its OK. Also, try not to crowd the pan (3-4 at once is best) as that will lower the overall heat of the oil and you may not acheive that crispy, crunchy texture.
Gently sprinkle with salt while they are still hot, and let cool on paper towels or brown paper bags to soak up some of the excess oil. These empanadas will last in the fridge for up to a week if properly wrapped up, or frozen, uncooked, for one to two months. An excellent make-ahead dish or to keep frozen for a quick snack, party appetizer, dinner or treat!