Saturday, January 19, 2013

Empanadas, pastelles, hallacas ... Trinidad Arepas

In Venezuela, the hallaca (pronounced hayaca) consists of minced meats (beef, pork, chicken or a mixture of any or all) seasoned and cooked with raisins, olives and capers; sealed in a cornmeal paste, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. We call these pastelles in Trinidad.

Pastels in Brazil are light pastry envelopes with any of various fillings - usually savoury; sweet fillings are less common - deep fried. It is thought that they may have originated in the samosas of India adopted by the Portuguese. In Venezuela, these little fried pies - cornmeal paste filled with meat - are called empanadas.
Arepas in Trinidad, empanadas in Venezuela

In Trinidad, we make empanadas but are more likely to call them arepas. In Venezuela, ask for arepas and you are likely to receive round patties of cornmeal fried or grilled, then split and filled (like an English muffin).

So after that bit of history and etymology, here's a way to use surplus pastelle meat when you have no more banana leaves!

This year, the family made about four dozen pastelles, some of which were chicken and some of which were beef. The surplus beef mixture had been stored in the freezer. Thawed, it was enough to fill a dozen fat arepas.

Promasa cornmeal, 2 cups
Water, lukewarm, 2 and a half cups
Salt, half teaspoon
Coconut oil, half to three-quarter cup

Fat and overstuffed with richly seasoned pastelle meat,
these are indeed luxurious arepas/ empanadas

Mix promasa and salt with water until all lumps are kneaded out. Shape a dozen egg-sized balls. Flatten each ball into a circular shape and fill with a heaping tablespoon of meat mixture. Fold the cornmeal dough over the meat and use a little water to moisten the edges and press to seal. Flatten the crescents as much as possible without causing them to pop open. (I really stuffed these that are shown here.)

Heat oil in a pot. Fry two or three at a time. Drain on absorbent paper. Enjoy while still hot.

Fried in coconut oil for a rich crust, two of these make a meal!

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