Before I begin this post, I want to share a definition with you. It is the basis for this entire post. The definition of shortening is any fat that is a solid at room temperature and used to make crumbly pastry and other food products.
Mr. C. and I visited Argentina in 2006 and enjoyed the most delicious empanadas. I knew with the first bite that when I returned home I would be trying my hand at empanada making. I got the gist of this recipe from one of the cookbooks I brought back with me. Well, I made the empanadas, but the pastry part was simply not as good as I remembered! Now, in the cookbook, both the pastry and the filling called for rendered pork fat, preferably from around the kidney. Being both uneducated on the unforeseen qualities of lard, and following my preconceived belief that lard was terribly bad for us (no actual knowledge to back up that idea you realize,) I spurned the use of lard in favor of butter.
So last week I decided to make empanadas for a concert gathering, and I went back to my old recipe and read what I had written about lard in my 2nd cookbook. I made the empanadas practically as written, (a few changes here and there) but again the pastry “feel” was just not perfect! Don’t get me wrong. The empanadas were good, but there was still something not-quite-right with the pastry part. So before I started writing this post, I decided to do a little research on the subject of lard.
I felt very foolish as I began learning about the merits of lard versus other forms of shortening – butter, margarine, or vegetable oils such as soybean and cottonseed oil, which have been hydrogenated to create a solid (think Crisco here). Hydrogenation creates trans-fatty acids which turn polyunsaturated fats into saturated fats.
So, where previously I thought of lard as the black hat wearing villain, I now learned that some lards (leaf lard, for example) are not only OK, they are actually good for us!
But as you know, sometimes a little knowledge can be bad. In this case, the ”bad” part is that “good” lard is expensive and not readily available. (The lard you most often find in grocery stores is hydrogenated. You do not want hydrogenated lard.)
For a good article on why you don’t want to use hydrogenated lard (or any other hydrogenated oil for that matter) visit the Natural News website and search for the article entitled “Why Hydrogenated Oils Should be Avoided at All Costs”. Truly worth a read. But back to this recipe.
So as I said, I made the empanadas and they were very well received. But with my new-found knowledge, I plan to start making all my pastry dough and pie crusts with leaf lard. I’m even going to start frying our morning eggs in lard. That is, when my shipment arrives. (And yes, I did have to order the lard on-line.) I will keep you posted (literally) on how my new affair with lard works out.
In the meantime, if you need a killer hors d’oeuvre to serve during the holidays, this recipe is perfect for a large crowd. Yes it takes some time to prepare, but you can do a lot of the prep work ahead of time. And as far as the Chimichurri Sauce goes, it’s amazing! Perfect with empanadas and killer on a beautifully grilled, medium rare steak. I tell you, Argentinians know how to eat. Some of the best food I ever ate was in Buenos Aires. Just sayin’!
For more information about leaf lard, read the attached article at the bottom of this post. Actually very interesting reading, especially for people like myself who previously thought Crisco was the be all and end all of flaky pastry! (It’s a generational thing!)
- 6 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1½ c. cold leaf lard* or 1½ c. unsalted butter (3 sticks) cut into small pieces
- 3 eggs, divided (2 for the dough, 1 egg – white and yolk separated and both lightly whisked
- ¾ c. milk, plus more as needed
Mix the flour and salt in a large food processor. Add the lard and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add 2 of the eggs and pulse until blended. Then add the ¾ cup milk. Pulse until a clumpy dough forms adding additional milk only as needed to obtain a soft, smooth, and elastic dough. (My food processor is not big enough for this much dough. But because it is such a simple recipe, I cut the ingredients in half and make two batches.)
Split the dough into 2 large balls, flatten slightly into the shape of disks, cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. After an hour, the dough can be used immediately or remain refrigerated until ready to use (1-2 days max).
Roll out dough into very thin sheets and cut out rounds, 3½ – 4-inch circumference for appetizers and 5 – 6- inch rounds for main dish empanadas. (Scraps can be clumped together, rolled out, and used for more empanadas.
Assembling and baking the empanadas:
To assemble the empanadas, place a spoonful of filling (see recipe below) on the middle of each empanada disc. (I use a small ice cream scoop to measure the amount of filling for each empanada.) The amount of filling varies depending on the size of the empanada. Hint: It’s much easier to seal an empanada that isn’t overstuffed.
To seal the empanadas, brush half of the outside edge with a small amount of the beaten egg white, fold the other half over, and then use a fork to seal the edges. Simply press the tongs of the fork fairly lightly around the edge. When sealed, place about ½-inch apart on parchment paper lined baking pans small enough to fit in your refrigerator. After all the empanadas are formed, place pan(s) in refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before baking. (The time spent in cold storage helps the edges seal better and helps prevent the filling from leaking out.) Just before popping in the oven, lightly brush with the beaten egg yolk.
Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about 20-24 minutes. The empanadas are done when they are a nice golden brown. Remove from oven and serve warm or allow to cool and store in an airtight container. Serve warm with Chimichurri Sauce (see recipe below).
Note: If you have a convection oven, use it for the last 10 minutes of baking time.
BEEF PICADILLO EMPANADAS
- ½ c. unsalted butter or lard
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 lg. onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 T. minced fresh parsley
- 1 T. flour
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 T. smoked paprika
- 2 tsp. chili powder, or more to taste
- 1 tsp. dried oregano (I think Mexican oregano is the best)
- 1½ tsp. ground cumin
- 1 bunch green onions, very finely chopped
- ½ c. golden raisins, coarsely chopped
- ½ c. pimento stuffed green olives, coarsely chopped
Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the ground beef and onion; stir fry until the meat is no longer red and the onion is tender. (Break the meat apart as it cooks.) Add the garlic and parsley; cook for one minute. Stir in the flour and continue cooking for a couple of minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in the salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder, oregano, and cumin. Let cool before stirring in the green onions, raisins, and green olives. Taste and adjust seasoning if required. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- 2 T. drained capers
- 2 garlic cloves, rough chopped
- 1 bunch Italian parsley
- ½ bunch cilantro
- 2 T. red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp. dried oregano (Mexican is best)
- ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ c. extra virgin olive oil
Place capers and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Whirl until finely chopped. Add the parsley and cilantro and pulse 4-6 times to rough chop the leaves. (Don’t over process.) Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, and olive oil. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed.
Refrigerate until ready to use (preferably the same day).
*From The Spruce: “Leaf lard is the highest grade of various types of lard. All lard is rendered pork fat; the term is usually used to refer to rendered pork fat suitable for cooking. Leaf lard specifically comes from the visceral, or soft, fat from around the kidneys and loin of the pig. As such, it has a very soft, super spreadable consistency at room temperature.
Like all types of lard, leaf lard has a high smoking point, making it an excellent choice for frying, pan-searing, and even grilling. Also, while leaf lard doesn’t have the porky flavor of caul fat, it does have a gentle back-note of subtle, gentle meatiness that hydrogenated lard lacks. So leaf lard is a good choice when you want that high smoking point, but you don’t want the final product to taste like pork. Two example that pop to mind: frying homemade doughnuts and making homemade French fries.
Due to its natural moisture content and mild flavor, leaf lard is particularly prized by bakers for use in producing flavorful and flaky pie crusts. Yes, pie crusts.
True lard-ophiles may even choose to spread leaf lard on bread. Add a sprinkle of salt and you’ll see why it’s common practice in some regions of the world.”
According to Danelle Wolford, former nurse, and I quote, “the three main reasons to cook with lard are:
LARD IS AS HEALTHY AS OLIVE OIL!
When compared with olive oil, lard is a close second in the monounsaturated fat department! Olive oil has about 77% monounsaturated fat, with lard at 48% monounsaturated fat. Butter ranks third with 30% monounsaturated fat and coconut oil is last at 6%. The main fat in lard (oleic acid) is a fatty acid associated with decreased risk of depression. A 2005 study from Thailand also reported that oleic acid has high anti-cancer benefits and can decrease your risk of breast cancer. Those same monounsaturated fats, are responsible for lowering LDL levels while leaving HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels alone. Shocking, right?
Lard also contains high amounts of Vitamin D, a necessary fat-soluble vitamin. It is estimated that 1 tablespoon of lard contains 1000 IU of Vitamin D! As a society, we are extremely deficient in Vitamin D. As a powerful immunity booster, the intake of Vitamin D can prevent those frequent colds and flu in your home each year. Our family caught a cold ONE time this year. ONCE. We eat A LOT of Vitamin D in our household because we believe that instead of buying a Vitamin D supplement (a processed, synthetic version of the vitamin), we try to eat the real stuff.
If you think you can get Vitamin D from plants, you are right. You can get some, but nothing comes close to lard! Mushrooms are the ONLY plant source of Vitamin D, with about 21 IU per mushroom. Personally I’d rather cook with a tablespoon of lard rather than eat 50 mushrooms every day. But that’s just me.
If you think you can get Vitamin D from the sun, you are right, again. But, the problem is, humans aren’t too efficient at assimilating Vitamin D from the sun. At the recommended 20-30 minutes of sun exposure per day you will only receive 100-200 IU. Pigs, on the other hand, are super-heroes at absorbing Vitamin D. This is why so much is stored in the fat under their skin.
Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium. Vitamin D will also aid in the removal of harmful toxic metals such as cadmium, aluminum, strontium. But one of the most important tasks of Vitamin D is hormone production and regulation. When you remember that many processes in the body are performed by hormones, you can see why it’s so important to include lard into your diet. Problems with your adrenals that can be manifested as fibromyalgia, problems with your thyroid that can be manifested as hypothyroidism, and problems with your sex hormones that can be manifested as infertility are all related to your deficiency in fat-soluble Vitamin D. The natural food sources that God has placed on earth contain these.
LARD MAKES EVERY RECIPE BETTER!
We use lard to make crispy fried chicken, make deliciously flaky pies, and cooking a simple food like eggs or hash browns. Lard isn’t smelly. It’s divine! Food was meant to be enjoyed! And trust me, lard makes EVERYTHING taste a little better.
LARD IS NATURAL and SUSTAINABLE
If you were to raise a pig in your backyard and butcher it when it’s about 250 pounds, you’d most likely get about 15-20 lbs. of lard. It would take about 6-9 months to raise a pig to market weight, so if your family ate about 1 pig a year, you can guess that eating 15-20 lbs. of lard per year would be a natural and sustainable amount. For our family of four, we eat about a pound of lard a month so about 12 pounds a year.”