As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City ‘burbs.
Photo by Judith Hausman
I love pocket-y foods: hometown turnovers, Jamaican patties and empanadas from Chile. They are practical: The gooey stuff is packed in a convenient wrapper. They are thrifty — a great way to stretch bits and goodies (says me, The Leftover Queen). They can swing sweet or savory; jam works but so does jerked pork. They have a life as any kind of meal, from hors d’oeuvres to breakfast or full-on dinner. I don’t know exactly why the little secret of the stuffing, the eat-with-your-fingers format and the variety of outsides appeal so, but nearly every culture has them.
If you have access to a selection of Latino foods, you can buy empanada rounds in the fridge case. They come stacked up like baloney and just need to be filled, folded, crimped and baked. A ruffle of salad on the side (or a tablespoon of creme fraiche for the sweet ones) and, voila, you’re a genius.
In Greek and Middle Eastern traditions, a pita (as in spankopita) is a larger, related version. It’s a mina in Sephardic traditions, a torte in French or a torta in Italian and Spanish. Pierogi, varenyky and kreplach are from Eastern Europe and wonton, gyoza, shumai and puffy white bao, the Asian versions, are all pastry with fillings. Latin arepa, burritos and tamales aren’t far behind: packets, pockets, enclosed delicacies. Why, they are practically an impulse of human nature!
Whatever filling you choose, make sure it isn’t too wet or your pocket will be soggy. For example, drain sautéed squash well; scoop up browned meat with a slotted spoon; add some flour or cornstarch to chopped berries. I could go on and on.
Photo by Judith Hausman
Fave late-spring fillings are spinach or chopped, steamed asparagus with feta or goat cheese (add an egg too to bind the greens) or something sharper like manchego or parmesan. Picadillo, which is ground beef, olives and raisins, (it’s the classic empanada filling) becomes kind of Greek with cinnamon and cumin. Bits of leftover chicken and potatoes with fresh peas or mushrooms and fresh herbs, with or without some cheese, will work well, too.
And there are lots of other pocket outsides besides the pre-made empanada discs. Cut pie crust circles or triangles from puff pastry sheets. Roll pizza dough in circles to fold over (like calzones), or try filo (aka phyllo).
This last looks intimidating, but it’s actually quite forgiving. Keep the defrosted, unwrapped sheets covered with a towel as you work, but if they tear when you lift them, just paste them together with more butter. Cut a buttered pile of three or four sheets in thirds lengthwise. Put a spoonful of filling near the bottom and do the flag wrap into small triangles. Any of these outsides can be cocktail-size or handful-size, prettily crimped or perforated, shined up with an egg wash and sprinkled with seeds, paprika or cinnamon sugar.