During my week-long trip to Argentina, I sampled a different empanada every day; some were filled with salty cheese, others beef, occasionally the humita filling I describe here. At times they were fried in an old cast iron pot and I also saw them being baked in wood–fire clay ovens, coming out of the heat with patches of smokey char. Each chef I encountered, I asked about the origin of the version he or she was cooking. They would smile, explain that their methodology, usually learned from a mother or grandmother in a distinct region of Argentina (or in some cases, Chile) was superior to all others and that I was in for a treat that evening. No doubt they were correct and I hesitated to tell him I never met an empanada I didn't like. They were sassed up hot pockets, for goodness sake! You had to be crazy to not enjoy savory pastries.
For me, a specific flavor rose above all others and when I met my holy grail empanada, filled with a delicate corn mixture, humitas, which was both savory and sweet. I grilled the chef behind the pastry. He relaxed into our conversation, beaming with pride and listed easy directions and ingredients I could find in the US. Often times I return from abroad bursting with ideas from the country I was just in and the food I try to recreate falls short. This recipe, I'm happy to report, turned out pretty close to the perfect version I snacked on with a fabulous glass of chardonay in hand, under a heady willow tree in Mendoza, Argentina. These little corn morsels are the ideal snack for kids and adults during an early dinner or late afternoon snack with wine or lemonade.
Empanadas with Corn Filling ("Humitas")
Makes 12 small or 8 large empanadasFor the dough: 3 cups flour 1 1/2 sticks butter, chilled and cut into cubes 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 large egg 8 tablespoons cold water For the filling: 4 cups fresh corn (approximately 1 bag of frozen corn is fine) 3 green onions, thinly sliced 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon mustard 3 tablespoons milk 1 small squeeze of lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar For assembly: 1 large egg, whisked Sea salt or Maldon salt to taste (for garnish) In a food processor, pulse to combine the flour, butter and salt. Whisk together the egg and the water and add in individual tablespoons until dough just comes together. Press into two discs and cover with plastic wrap. Chill for about 30 minutes to an hour in the fridge. In a large skillet on medium heat, cook the corn and green onions in olive oil for about 3 minutes. Add garlic, mustard, milk, lemon juice, paprika, salt and sugar, and cook for 5 minutes more until the corn is soft and spices have melded. In a food processor, pulse about 3 or 4 times, until the mixture is homogenous but leaving a few corn kernels whole. Remove dough from fridge, and roll out on a floured surface as thin as you can, about 1/4 inch or so. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut round circles using the back of a small saucer (I used a 3-inch for small empanadas and a 6-inch for larger empanadas). Transfer rounds to a parchment–lined baking sheet. Place 1-2 tablespoons of filling into the center of each round, folding in half and crimping with a fork to enclose the pastry. Brush the tops with egg and dust with a little sea salt or Maldon salt, if you have it. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until empanadas are golden brown. Serve immediately with white wine or lemonade.
• Related: Argentine Appetizer: Empanadas (Images: Leela Cyd Ross)