Cativias - Dominican Republic
These rich empanadas, called cativias, have a crunchy exterior and a deliciously chewy texture that marries beautifully with the beef filling hidden inside. They taste like crispy hash browns stuffed with beef. Cassava has a flavour reminiscent of potatoes, but its flesh renders a sturdier texture that holds its shape when fried; its subtle sweetness makes these little pies impossible to resist. They are among my husband’s favourite empanadas. Ordinarily, cassava (or yuca) dough is extremely sticky and difficult to shape; my tortilla press method (see below) solves that problem. These empanadas must be fried as soon as they’re shaped, but freeze beautifully and are easy to reheat. I make several batches at a time and keep them in my freezer. On busy nights, I’ll reheat as many as I want. I recommend using a food processor to make these empanadas.
Makes 12 to 14 empanadas
You Will Need
Make the filling:
Place the onions, leeks, tomatoes, parsley, garlic, and tomato paste in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade; pulse until the mixture is smooth (about 15 one-second intervals), stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the beef, salt, and pepper and process until all is combined (8 to 10 one-second intervals), stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meat mixture and cook, breaking it down with a spoon, until it is no longer pink and all of the liquid has evaporated, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the filling from the heat and let it cool completely. Transfer it to a bowl; cover and chill the filling for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Assemble the empanadas:
After the filling is chilled, make the dough as directed on page 28 and let it rest, covered with plastic or with a damp towel, for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set them aside. With moistened hands, divide the dough into 12 to 14 portions (about 2 ounces/55 g each). Moisten your hands again and shape them into small balls. Line a tortilla press with a zip-top freezer bag that has been cut open on three sides so that it opens like a book. Place a ball in the middle of the tortilla press and flatten it into a 4½-inch (11-cm) disc about 1⁄8 inch (3 mm) thick. If you don’t have a tortilla press, flatten each ball using a flat-bottomed, heavy skillet.
Place 1½ packed tablespoons of the filling in the middle of the disc, leaving a small rim; use the bag to fold the dough over the filling, forming a half-moon. Press the edges together with your fingers to seal well. Transfer the empanada to a prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling, keeping the empanadas covered as you go.
Fry the empanadas and serve:
Fit a large baking sheet with a metal cooling rack; set it aside. In a large skillet with high sides, heat 1 to 1 ½ inches (2.5 to 4 cm) of oil to 360°F (180°C) or use a deep-fryer according to the manufacturer’s directions. Working in batches, carefully slide the empanadas into the oil. Fry them until they are golden, about 4 minutes, turning them over halfway through. If the oil gets too hot as you fry and they’re browning too quickly, lower the temperature and let the oil cool slightly before frying any more. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the fried empanadas to the prepared rack to drain. Sprinkle them with salt, let them rest for 1 to 2 minutes, and serve.
Note: To freeze after frying, cool the empanadas thoroughly and place them in a single layer on baking sheets. Freeze until solid; transfer them to freezer bags and freeze for up to 4 months. Heat them in a 350°F (175°C) oven until heated through, 12 to 15 minutes.
My New and Improved Method
What I bring to the table is a new method of working with dough that makes shaping empanada discs easy. Although most Latin American cooks use rolling pins to shape perfect dough rounds, I prefer to use a tortilla press for most of these recipes. Both methods work, of course, and I offer you both techniques, but using a tortilla press makes the process quicker and simpler.
Cassava or Yuca Dough
Fried - Gluten Free - Latin Caribbean and Brazil
This hearty, gluten-free dough that tastes similar to potatoes creates golden empanadas with crispy exteriors that give way to chewy, meaty interiors. Cassava root is used abundantly throughout Latin America (where it’s also known as yuca). It can be cooked, transformed into tapioca pearls, or ground into flour. In countries such as Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Panama, you’ll find it used to make empanada dough. If you use it fresh, peel and section it before cooking it. I suggest you purchase frozen whole cassava, which you’ll find in most supermarkets catering to Latinos, because it’s already peeled and sectioned. Whether fresh or frozen, yuca is easily boiled until fork tender. Stay away from the canned stuff, as it is way too mushy and won’t work. This dough is very sticky, so keep your hands moist every time you work with it. And because of the stickiness, it is particularly important to use my tortilla press method (see page 22), which makes shaping the discs much easier. Ideally you’ll use a large food processor to make this dough. If you don’t have one, use a potato masher to mash the yuca until smooth.
Makes 12 to 14 empanadas
1 1⁄2 pounds (680 g) frozen, peeled cassava (yuca)
Place the cassava in a large pot. Cover it with cold water and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil it for 15 to 20 minutes or until just fork tender (enough so that you can insert a fork into its flesh but still feel resistance in the center). Drain it and cool it slightly. Slice the pieces in half (lengthwise) and remove the tough fiber found in the middle; discard the fiber. Chop the cassava into smaller chunks and let it cool completely. Transfer the cassava to the bowl of a large food processor fitted with a metal blade, and pulse until it comes together into a ball, 25 to 35 one-second intervals. Turn the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and, using the wrap, shape it into a ball. Cover it with the plastic wrap and let it rest, at room temperature, for 30 minutes.
Note: This dough is best made just before frying. These empanadas must be fried as soon as they’re shaped but freeze well after frying. When reheating, there is no need to thaw them; simply place them frozen into a hot oven (see individual recipes for additional instructions). If you wish to use this dough in place of a wheat-based dough in this book, plan to double this recipe so you have enough dough to use most of the filling. You can also create your own gluten-free recipes by filling empanadas made with this dough with any combination of ingredients.