Fridge Foraging…

A lone sweet potato. One pie crust. Half of an onion. Sad, wilted parsley.  Leftover tomato soup. These are the odds and ends I found while rummaging through the refrigerator last week. I admit--much to my chagrin--that I am the queen of wasting food. I stock my fridge with so many ideas: a week's worth of ideas. Inevitably things pop up, schedules change, life gets in the way; the food passes its prime and ends up in the garbage. I've cursed myself for the last time...

Now, what to make? Grilled cheese would have been the perfect complement to that tomato soup, but alas, we were nearly out of bread. Scratch that idea. What could I do with the other ingredients that would pair well with the soup? A Chopped challenge was on in my very own kitchen. And the result...Empanadas!

I can't think of a single thing that isn't made better by tucking it into a--portable--buttery crust? And in general, a good, hearty vegetarian empanada is hard to come by. The ones I typically find are cheese-filled and not very exciting: enter my sweet potato/black lentil creation. I sautéed that half onion with tiny, diced sweet potatoes. To keep these little bundles small, I used petite, caviar-sized black lentils to round out the mix; black beans were just too big. For a burst of herbaciousness, I refreshed that wilted parsley in ice water until it began to perk up.

There is nothing like the bubbled, crackling crust of a fried empanada. Since I don't fry at home, I baked these guys and, well, it turns out change is good. Reminiscent of a pocket pot-pie, the crust gets crisp and flaky, without needing to be submerged in oil. When it came time to serve, I knew they needed a little sauce--everything can use a bit of sauce. Some leftover plain yogurt, cumin, adobo seasoning, a squeeze of lime and my go-to smoked paprika created the perfect dip. It was creamy and smoky; the acidity cut through the richness of the filling. Both went perfectly alongside my tomato soup.

I roll the dice anytime I get creative in the kitchen. My husband is usually game for anything I concoct; the challenge lies with my seven year-old son. These empanadas turned out to be a hit; he ate them up and asked for more. The adage creativity loves constraint is so apropos when it comes to using up what's in the refrigerator; without that limitation, I just stand there staring into the abyss--doors wide open--for far too long. Despite my best intentions of becoming a better planner, perhaps I just need to embrace my inner procrastinator and plan a little less, shop a little less, and create a little more. A change is about to occur in my kitchen: from here on out, it's in with ingenuity and out with waste. Maybe less actually is more...

Print Recipe
SWEET POTATO/BLACK LENTIL EMPANANDAS
These are baked, not fried, and are an interesting vegetarian alternative to the typical ground beef stuffed empanadas.
Course Appetizer
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Empanadas
Ingredients
Empanadas
Smoky Crema
Course Appetizer
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Empanadas
Ingredients
Empanadas
Smoky Crema
Instructions
Empanadas
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add oil, onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook until translucent.
  3. Add diced sweet potato and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt; stir to combine. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally; stir in garlic. Cook for another 5 minutes, or until the sweet potato becomes soft.
  4. Add cumin, paprika, remaining salt and pepper and gently stir for 30 seconds to toast.
  5. Add black lentils to pan and combine. Allow to cook for 3 more minutes until the lentils are heated through.
  6. Stir in parsley or cilantro and remove from heat.
  7. While mixture cools, unroll one pie crust onto a floured cutting board or countertop. Using an inverted small bowl, cut out 4-inch circles of dough and set aside. Gather pie crust scraps, roll out and cut as many circles as you can; you should get 12 per crust. Repeat with second pie crust.
  8. Place 2 teaspoons of filling into the center of each circle. Gently fold over dough to cover filling, crimp edges with fork. Transfer empanadas to a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet. If you have leftover filling, serve over rice the next day.
  9. Beat egg and heavy cream in a small bowl. Brush top surface of empanadas with egg mixture.
  10. Bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through cooking time, until golden brown.
Smoky Crema
  1. Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. Serve with empanadas.
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