Humita (sweetcorn) empanadas

Empanadas are little crescent-shaped pastries from Argentina. You can hardly walk down a street in Buenos Aires without passing an empanaderia. They make a great snack - or indeed dinner to share with friends. For this recipe I've recreated my favourite flavour - humita - or sweetcorn empanadas.

Humita (sweetcorn) empanadas

Back in 2007, in what increasingly feels like another life (ie before we had kids) D and I spent a year travelling. For the first half of the year we lived in Buenos Aires studying Spanish and getting to know his extended family who live there. It was a brilliant six months, and I doubt we'll ever have an experience quite like it again. 

Being a vegetarian in Argentina - the home of the steak - isn't always easy though! It's changed a lot in recent years and it's much easier, particularly in Buenos Aires, to get really good vegetarian food - if you know what to look for and where to look. When we first arrived however, I found it a bit of a struggle. 

The many descendants of Italians living in the country have done a great job of making sure that pizza and pasta is widely available. In fact pretty much every restaurant had something I could eat on the menu. But there's only so much pizza and pasta that one can eat and it wasn't long before I was hunting out alternatives!

Empanadas were one of the alternatives that I found. They are available in lots of different flavours and every empanaderia has its specialism. Caprese - tomato, basil and mozzarella, and spinach and ricotta are widely available. But it was when I discovered humita that I really fell in love with the empanada. Humita isn't available at every empanada shop - I don't know why because it's so delicious. Creamy sweetcorn, mixed with a slighly spicy sauce - what's not to love?!

The recipe that follows is based on one from D's aunt, Chochi, so it's pretty authentic. My online research has proved inconclusive as to whether the pastry used for empanadas is made with butter or beef drippings. I suspect that both can be used. I opted to make a standard shortcrust pastry, rather than an enriched dough (and in fact have made these with vegan pastry as well) - with fabulous results. The filling also tastes pretty awesome on its own!

And what did the Sneaky Veg kids think? Well true to form they all had a different opinion: one devoured them, one half heartedly ate some of the sweetcorn and one wouldn't even look at them - let alone try them! If your child likes sweetcorn you can't go far wrong with these. If sweetcorn isn't liked then try blending the filling, or using two cans of creamed corn instead of the whole kernels.

Ingredients - makes at least 24 empanadas
1 x 400g tin of creamed corn
300g sweetcorn, fresh, frozen or tinned
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter (substitute for oil if dairy free)
1 small tomato, chopped
2 tbsp plain flour
Salt and pepper
1 tsp paprika
pinch of nutmeg
1 egg, beaten

Around 700g shortcrust pastry. There's a good simple recipe on the BBC Good Food website but shop-bought will be fine if you prefer.

Make the pastry first if you're making your own so it can chill while you make the humita filling.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a baking tray. Gently fry the onion in the butter or oil until soft. Stir through the tomato. Cook for a few more minutes, then add the sweetcorn, flour, paprika, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, over a medium heat for 5-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Set aside.

Roll out your pastry on a lightly floured surface. Cut out discs using a saucer, or a large pastry cutter. Place a tablespoon of the humita mixture into the centre of the disc. You will probably think you need more but you really don't - the empanada will leak in the oven if you overfill it!

Press the edges together with your fingers. Traditionally empanadas have a pattern, perhaps made with a fork, on the sealed edge to differentiate between different flavours. 

Place each empanada on a baking tray. Brush with egg wash on both sides then bake for 30 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time.

Serve hot. Traditionally these would be eaten alone but I like to have them with chimichurri sauce and lots of green salad.

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