Empanadas are, essentially, meat pies. (There are empanadas made with fruit and vegetables as well, but this post is about meat empanadas.) Practically every culture in the world has meat pies in one form or another; empanadas are the variety - varieties, actually - that appeared on the Iberian peninsula during the time of the Moorish invasion and which can be found all over the Hispanic world today.
These are my interpretation of the empanadas we Zonians used to buy at our clubhouses. (It's difficult to explain the concept of a "clubhouse" in this sense to a non-Zonian. Just think of it as a kind of cafeteria, with perhaps a movie theater, a bowling alley, a soda fountain, and / or a public swimming pool or other such attached.)
They're cocktail empanadas; meaning the sort of thing you'd find at a party in a private home or at a wedding reception at an Officers' Club. A larger variety, suitable for a typical Zonian's or Panamanian's lunch two or three times a week, was more common.
First we fry up some ground beef and pork:
While that's cooking, we prepare our vegetables, spices, and herbs. Here we have onion, green pepper, tomatoes, parsley, and sliced green olives w/ pimento, as well as red pepper, black pepper, salt, oregano, and a bay leaf. The canonical recipe(s) also typically include(s) hard-boiled eggs, capers, and currants, but I usually leave the eggs and currants out. I've also left the capers out this time, but only because I happened not to have any at hand at the time.
Note that I've prepared a smaller bowl of all of the above ingredients. This is because I'm making a smaller batch of shrimp empanadas for someone who doesn't eat red meat. I don't think I've ever seen a shrimp empanada in Panama or the Canal Zone, but it sounded like a perfect opportunity for an experiment - and, as a matter of fact, those turned out rather well.
Rather than sweat or sauté the vegetables separately, we just add them to the beef and pork once it gets going pretty good:
For the shrimp empanadas, however, we sweat the vegetables and spices separately in just a bit of oil:
Here's what the red-meat mixture looks like after a while. We'll cook it down a bit more to reduce the volume of liquid, and if too much remains behind we'll just drain it off.
The shrimp, of course, we just throw into their pan to par-cook.
The next day (or whenever the filling has cooled), we assemble the empanadas.
Those dough rounds are just plain pastry dough, like you'd use for a pie. I always cheat and just buy some boxes of pie-dough mix at the supermarket - making the filling and assembling the empanadas is trouble enough, and nobody ever seems to notice anything wrong with the crust. I guess if I were working for Dean Fearing or somebody like that I might take more care with it.
The dough rounds are folded over the filling into half-moon shapes and crimped with a fork. Here on the left we see two pans of beef-and-pork empanadas and one small pan of shrimp empanadas, ready for the oven:
And here's what they look like after having an egg wash brushed on them and baked at 350° for a while.
These were a big hit. They always are!