This year I was once again lucky to work at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and though I wasn’t in the kitchen this time, I still made friends with some of the cooks who came to show their craft. The one I grew closer to was Ms. Yolanda Franco García, who came from El Retiro, Antioquia. Obviously, we bonded over our love of cooking (and feeding others). She taught me how to make empanadas, and I taught her how to make apple pie.
Ruth Reichl once said that “you cannot be a good cook if you don’t have a generous soul and the impulse to take care of people,” and Ms. Yolanda certainly embodied this. No sooner would I say that I was hungry, that a bowl of beans, rice and meat would be presented to me. She presented me with her buñuelos and natilla on the last day and I can honestly say that I meant it when I told her I wanted her to move in with me so she could feed me and spoil me.
The official Folklife Festival Blog recipe for her empanadas can be found here, and I am not going to re-type it, but the way she told it to me was a little different, so I am adding below the extra stuff she told me about.
For the dough:
Instead of cornstarch, you can also add yucca (or cassava) flour.
To give the dough the orange color, you can add yellow coloring, or a little bit achiote.
Or, as she said to me with a wink, “you can always buy empanada flour at the supermarket” :)
For the filling:
You may add diced rell bell pepper and cilantro leaves to the vegetable mix.
Do away with the meat if you want a veggie version
If you are like me, and like to top the empanadas (or arepas) with the “ají pique” (a spicy mix of onions and cilantro), follow instructions below. This is not Doña Yolanda’s recipe, but one my mom got me a long time ago:
1/4 lb white onion, diced finely
2 stalks scallion, diced finely
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped finely
2 c vinegar
2 tbsp lime juice or bitter orange
2 tbsp oil
salt, pepper and spicy peppers to taste
Mash the peppers and let them sit in vinegar for a few hours. Remove the peppers and add to the same vinegar, the rest of the ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Cover well and refrigerate if you want to use it later.