It was difficult to choose which nation’s national holiday we would honor for the month of September. Latin America boasts not one, but seven countries who celebrate their independence from the Spanish this month. Chile celebrates their fiestas patrias on September 18th, Mexico on September 16th, and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras all celebrate on September 15th.
I chose to honor the country that I called home for the past five years and hold dear to my heart – Chile! Chilean cuisine is often overlooked because they don’t utilize fancy spices like Mexican and Peruvian cuisine and rely on the natural flavors of simple ingredients. However, if there’s one thing they don’t fool around with, it’s their empanada. The traditional Chilean empanada is baked and has a flavorful filling of minced beef, caramelized onion, boiled egg, and kalamata olives. Fried empanadas have a crispy crust and a cheese filling that is often paired with heart of palm, shrimp, crab, or other seafood.
While I loved them baked, fried empanadas were my guilty pleasure, especially since I lived in a beach town where fresh seafood was easy to come by. My boyfriend and I had a favorite place along the coast where we’d eat on Sundays and we’d always order the same thing – four empanadas and an appetizer of ceviche. One day we saw a new item on the menu, “The Cevichón.” It turns out that they had combined my two loves into one flavorful combo – an empanada filled with, you guessed it, ceviche!!
I wish I could have pulled the cook aside and asked him for his secret recipe, but I’m currently far from my favorite restaurant on the coast of Arica. The following recipe is my guesswork of how the original cevichón is made. These bite sized empanadas can be served as hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party or at your next brunch. To any Chilean readers out there who are celebrating their national holiday on the 18th, Felices Fiestas Patrias! ¡Viva Chile, Mierda!
Ceviche Empanadas(Yield: 15 small empanadas)
1 pound Chilean sea bass, Tilapia, or Atlantic Cod
1 red onion
1 red bell pepper
1 aji limo pepper or habanero pepper, deseeded
2-3 tablespoons fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cumin
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons shortening
¾ cup warm milk
Oil for frying
- Begin by preparing the ceviche. Cut the fish, onions, and peppers into small squares and combine in a bowl (Chilean ceviche usually has the onions cut into thin strips, but because we’re using it for empanadas, the smaller the pieces, the better)
- Mash the garlic clove and add to the ceviche mixture.
- Remove the cilantro leaves from the stems and chop into small pieces. Add to the ceviche mixture.
- Juice the 4 lemons and strain to remove the pulp and seeds. Pour the lemon juice over the ceviche mixture and let set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. During this time, the lemon juice will “cook” the raw fish. When the ceviche is ready, the liquid should have a milky appearance.
- While the ceviche is “cooking,” prepare the empanada batter. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl or on a hard surface and form a well in the middle for the wet ingredients.
- Melt the shortening and add to the flour mixture. Mix until it reaches a crumbly consistency.
- Add the warm milk little by little, mixing in between, until the batter forms a ball of dough. Continue mixing with your hands until it’s smooth and uniform. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour.
- Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1 centimeter thick. Using a cup as a cookie-cutter, cut out a circle 3 inches in diameter. Continue rolling the 3 inch circle so that it becomes a thin, larger circle around 5-6 inches in diameter (It’s ok if they’re not perfect circles). Continue this process until you have used up all the dough. Wrap the empanada dough circles in a damp towel so that they don’t dry out.
- Remove the ceviche from the refrigerator and use a strainer to separate the ceviche from the juice. Set the juice aside (This part is painful because the juice holds all the flavor, but don’t worry! We’ll still use the juice as a flavorful sauce when the empanadas are done).
- Heat the oil in a wok to 350F.
- Spoon the ceviche into your empanada circles. Fill each empanada with a heaping tablespoon of ceviche. Use your finger to trace milk along the outer edges of the empanada circles (this helps the dough stick together), then seal the empanada by bringing the bottom edge up to the top edge. Press the edges down with your fingers, then use a fork to seal the empanada.
- When the oil is hot, add 4-5 empanadas to the wok and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until brown and crispy. Once done, remove the empanadas with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a paper towel.
- Remember that juice you almost threw out? It’s actually the best part of the ceviche! It’s often blended with celery, onions, and hot peppers to make a potent brew called leche de tigre. You can use it to pour over your empanada or as a sauce when you’re ready to eat. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can also drink it straight.
*Because these empanadas are fried and contain semi-raw fish, they are best enjoyed the day of their preparation.