Like the majority of South America, Argentina is a traditionally Catholic country, thanks to its Spanish colonization, and in Argentina's case, its abundant Italian population. And like Catholics in other cultures, Argentina has an array of holiday dishes, including Empanadas de Vigilia--literally, Vigil Empanadas--which are prepared during the Lenten season before Easter.
The idea to include these recipes here came from our friend, Gianna, who brought their existence to light, if you will. She, like most Argentineans, would rather talk about food than politics, religion, or any other of the taboo subjects we Americans tend to embroil ourselves in over dinner conversation.
For those who didn't grow up with Catholic traditions, here's a crash course: Lent is the 40 days before Easter, the day on the church calendar when Christ rose from his tomb. During Lent, Catholics observe Christ's crucifixion and entombment, and on Easter, they celebrate Christ's resurrection. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, falls before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Mardi Gras is the last day of decadent food before the Lenten season begins. Lent is a time of fasting, quiet, reflection, and in honor of Christ's sacrifice, the sacrifice of a worldly comfort of our own. For the 40 days of Lent, many people traditionally give up eating red meat, and eat simpler meals of fish and vegetables instead.
Not coincidentally, ancient Pagan traditions of Oester maintain a period of late winter quiet and reflection, the end of winter, a lean time in the ancient pantry, ending with the start of Spring, emerging from darkness, a 'resurrection'. And of course, seasonal vegetables and fruits and flowers appear in the Spring, a time of renewal no matter what religious doctrine you follow. But here I am, embroiling myself!
Typical Empanadas de Vigila are stuffed with seafood or other meatless fillings; tuna, spinach , and Roquefort all make an appearance. But don't get the idea that just because these empanadas are made during Lent that you have to sacrifice flavor--the combinations are delicious. There are several variations and combinations. These ones are Roquefort (Blue Cheese) and Walnut. They are simple to make and a wonderful vegetarian option--serve them during Lent or alongside traditional meat empanadas at other times of the year. Happy Spring!
More photos on my flickr photostream, From Argentina With Love.
Empanadas de Roquefort y Nueces
Roquefort and Walnut Empanadas
1 cup crumbled Roquefort (or Blue Cheese)
1/2 -3/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup pitted black (Kalamata or similar) olives, chopped fine
3 tablespoons walnuts, chopped fine
salt, to taste
ground pepper, to taste
1 egg, beaten
little cup of water, to moisten the edges of the empanada
flour, to dust the cookie sheet
powdered (confectioner's) sugar to top, optional
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the cheeses, olives, walnuts, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Lay out several tapas on the counter top, to prepare them assembly-line style. Put about a tablespoon of filling in the center of each empanada. Wet your index finger with a little water and moisten the top half of the tapa. Fold the bottom half to meet the top half, pressing around the edges to seal. Cup your hands around the filling, packing the filling with the outside edge of your hands. Seal using the repulgue technique, folding edges over and over in a pattern, or seal the edges using the tines of a fork. Place the sealed empanadas on a lightly floured cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Brush the beaten egg mixture over the top of each empanada. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the top is a golden brown. Dust with confectioner's sugar, if desired.
For more empanada recipes, and a great empanada dough recipe, click here.
For a video on the repulgue technique, click here.