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Taste of the Caribbean: Reading, Writing and Empanadas

Taste of the Caribbean: Reading, Writing and Empanadas
Empanadas/SBPR

Reading, writing, math, social studies, science – all of our earliest years in school are filled with the same basic subjects. Depending on where your school might be located, a foreign language may be thrown into the mix as well. For those of us who attended St. Croix Country Day School, the foreign language was Spanish, a class that literally added some serious sabor to the annual curriculum.

On one very special day each year, our elementary Spanish teacher, Mrs. Rivera, would set aside the text books in favor of some flour, ground beef, forks and frying oil so she could teach us all how to make our own empanadas. As the father of twin seven-year-old boys now, I look back on this in utter amazement.

Seriously, there had to be about 15 kids in each class, many of whom were probably never even allowed in their parents’ kitchens. At the same time, I don’t ever remember Mrs. Rivera having any help from the type of teacher’s assistants so ubiquitous in my kids’ classes today.

Ingredients, Filling:
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium-sized onion, diced
  • 1 medium-sized green pepper, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 package Sazon
  • 1/8 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

For me, trying to direct my two kids toward successfully crafting their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is tough enough. Mrs. Rivera was always alone, totally out-numbered and in charge of an interactive cooking demo for a recipe that has epic mess written all over it; at least when the chefs are all under four feet tall and more interested in Atari, Ranger Rick, Menudo, et al.

Somehow, though, she always pulled it off with no incidents, aside from the odd bout of indigestion, and a modicum of mess that us kids were more than happy to help clean up. This says a lot about Mrs. Rivera, one of the very best teachers I ever had, and empanadas. Not only are they easy to make, but the cooking process can be a lot of fun. Here’s how you can make your own beef empanadas tonight…

Start with the dough by combining the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl and sifting it all together. Then add your water and 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. Mix it all up for about five minutes. Knead and add extra flour sparingly as needed to form the dough. Let sit for at least 15 minutes while you start on the filling.

Ingredients, Dough:
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 cup warm water

For the filling, brown the ground beef and drain off the excess oil. Next, add your onion, green pepper, cloves, tomato paste, Sazon, cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Cook it up for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Then let it sit and cool a bit as you get back to your dough.

Divide the dough into palm-sized pieces and roll each of ’em flat (but not too flat) into four-inch circles. Now, preheat oil in a frying pan. While the oil is heating up, place a couple spoonfulls of filling onto the center of each flat piece of dough. Lift and fold one end of the dough over to the other, making a crescent shape. Seal both ends with a fork and drop ’em in your heated oil to fry. You’ll want to fry each one for about five minutes, then place ’em on a plate lined with paper towels to dry and cool off.

Now you’re ready to enjoy an A+ Spanish Caribbean treat!

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