Food Memories: Empanadas Salvadoreñas
Words by Laura SantamariaPhotography by Mayra García
Always too hot.
The first bite was always too hot. I had appointed myself as my mother’s taste tester and could never wait for that first empanada to cool off. As a child I would forgo forks and patience and roll the treat on brown sugar, my fingers stinging. Mom and I are balling up the mashed plantain. Fat circles of flavour. She puts three more to float in the oil and puts more dough in her cupped hand.
My mother’s empanadas, with their smell of warm milk custard and fried plantain, were enough to bring uncles, cousins, and the occasional neighbour to the table. But it remains our favourite treat, in those afternoons where we sit at the table with forks, sharing the plate of piled empanadas, musing about the child I used to be, about El Salvador, about me being “far away,” as my mom likes to call the 45 minute plane ride that is our distance.
The empanadas now hold for us not only the milk custard and the ‘canela’ sticks that boil with it, but also symbols and smells of my mother’s childhood and my adulthood. They show up as surprises when we’re grocery shopping and I pick up the ripe plantains and silently put them in the cart, or when my mother asks, looking at her scribbled grocery list if we should “cook up something nice”. And though we now split custard and plantain dough duties, and I set two forks over the plate on the table, that first empanada never has time to cool, and my stinging fingers make my mom laugh. This is the taste of home, the memory we brought from the land we left. It tastes of dark nights drunk with the glazed eyes of my uncles’ old stories; I consume them every time I bite into another empanada. It tastes of the brown sugar that coats the inside of my mouth and the too hot custard on my fingers.
4 overly ripe plantains
1/2 cup of baking flour
1/2 cup of water
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 cinnamon sticks
4 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 cup of safflower oil
Cut off the ends of the plantain, slice in half and boil in a large pan for about 20 minutes. Once soft, remove from the pan and peel off skin. Mash as you would mash potatoes, and allow to cool.
Mix the flour, water and milk in a pan and bring to the boil. Add the cinnamon, vanilla extract and sugar. Beat the egg until thick and creamy and add to milk mixture, stirring rapidly. Remove from heat as it begins to thicken.
Put a bit of baking flour on your hand, so the plantain dough does not stick. Grab a little ball of dough, about the size of the palm of your hand, and flatten slightly. Add the milk custard to the centre and bring in the edges of the dough, pinching them closed.
Bring a pan of frying oil up to temperature over a medium heat. Place the empanada balls into the oil and flip after 5-7 minutes. Once they’ve browned, remove and roll them in the sugar.