The Polarized Postdoc


with 3 comments

“Empanada” is a Spanish word with poignant connotations for my life right now. Literally, it means “breaded” or “tucked inside bread” and usually refers to a traditional dish from the north-west of Spain. This region delimited by mountain ranges and crooked coast lines is the home of velvety, furry grassed hills and the rich silver stretch of the Atlantic ocean that we call Cantabric sea.

In slang, to be “empanada” refers to that distracted state in between spirited away and absent-minded that can be experienced when you have many loose ends slashing out all over your brain. Which is exactly how I feel these days. Tucked between the dough of fate, in a cloudy haze, at times dizzy or giddy with fear or excitement. A true case of empanada.

Aside from the human version, there is also the bite size one, empanadillas, that are pretty much the local take on dumplings. They look like puffy dough balls, and are filled with an assortment of the seasonal earth and sea goodies at hand. Much like this:

As much fun as empanadillas are to make and eat, my family used to favor the bigger scale version, probably because it is more high throughput- friendly. To produce a bona-fide empanada, women folk would sit around and chop, simmer and chat, in an unspoken and informal ritual. The flow of tradition that shaped me ran deep and strongly through moments like those, and only after I fled away from home I realized the warmth and spiritual nourishment I was exiling myself from. For this, and for the flavorful bliss tightly packed in each bite, empanadas have always been high on my homesickness list.
So, to try to fight of my baker´s block and quell my existential anxiety, I decided to adapt my heirloom empanada recipe to American standards, and present it here (with experimental data) for your enjoyment. Here, take a slice of Northern Spanish heaven.
Somewhat Distracted Spanish Tuna Pie


2 Frozen or hand-made puff pastry sheets, thawed
Salt, pepper
Olive oil (Spanish if you can)
2 Big sweet onions (Spanish if you can)
3-4 Cloves of garlic
1 Red/orange pepper
1 Sweet green pepper
3/4 cup of canned peas
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
2 Eggs, hardboiled, plus 1 for washing
3-4 cans of tuna* (Spanish** if you can, or albacore)
*you can also change it up a bit and used 2-3 chicken breasts, seared.
**I usually find cans of Ortiz tuna at most higher-end supermarkets like Whole Foods or Fairways. It is expensive so you can mix it with regular albacore.
Before you commence chopping mayhem, please do remember to:
-thaw the pastry
-warm your oven to 400-425 F
-start hardboiling the eggs
-heat up olive oil covering the bottom of a wide and deep skillet
Then, chop up the onion, garlic and peppers and start simmering them at medium heat. Add salt, pepper, and herbs, but do not stress about it, you can correct the flavor later once everything else is in.

veggies ready to take it to the next step

veggies ready to take it to the next step

Cook for 10-15 minutes until vegetables are soft.
In the meantime, take the eggs out of the boiling water and cool them.
Drain and stir the peas and the tuna into the skillet, mixing well.
With you hands, crush in the tomatoes so that they are chunky, and cook them in until the liquid has reduced visibly.
Meanwhile, the dough should be ready to roll. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough from the center into two rectangles that fit your oven pan.
Cover it over a baking sheet and chill it in the fridge until it is ready to bake.
feeling the filling

feeling the filling

Peel and dice the hard boiled eggs and add them to the filling, stirring them in and incorporating everything. Now is a good time for a taste, and to correct the salt and spice. If you don´t want to overdo the herbs, but still want a bit more aroma, add on some thyme instead of the whole Provence mix.
Turn the heat down a little and continue cooking for ten more minutes to bring out the flavors.
Take the pastry out of the fridge and extend it over some parchment paper on the bottom of an oven pan.
Carefully transfer the filling with a slotted spoon to the pan. Try to leave behind as much liquid as possible, otherwise the dough will be soggy.
Once you have around 1 inch or 1 1/2 inches of filling in, cover with the remaining pastry. Push down the edges into the bottom pastry to seal and trim it all around. With the leftover dough, you can write your name on top, or the name or your loved ones. I find that swear words are also exceptionally tasty.
Beat up the remaining egg and brush it evenly on top of the pie. Bake for 20 minutes, turning down the oven or covering with tin foil if the top starts burning. Typical results are a crusty, golden top layer and a flaky dough that candidly melts in contact with the hot filling, swamping your mouth with its delicate and flavorful texture. If the first bite makes you strangely homesick and brings memories of your mother´s kitchen, you know you have successfully recreated a true empanada. Better eat one that become one, so… enjoy!
one, two, three... empanada

one, two, three... empanada


Written by polarizedpostdoc

July 10, 2009 at 14:21

Posted in personal

Tagged with , ,

3 Responses

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  1. I know a few galicians that would object to your geographical localization of empanada. But I can also attest to the deliciousness of the pictured one.


    July 10, 2009 at 15:01

  2. must. stop. licking. monitor.


    July 17, 2009 at 12:36

  3. I will try your recipe! I’m not on the calorie diet restriction.


    July 23, 2009 at 08:16

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