Tis’ the season for sap to be boiled into gold! Maple festivals abound as the temperature swells and dips above and below freezing, coaxing the sugar water from its cozy trunk. If my sweet tooth had a tail, it would have wagged vigorously when my friend Josh, Sapsquatch sugarmaker, mentioned he would be stoking the fire in his shack this weekend with a few tunes to candy the air. Though Josh refers to himself as a former “treehugger,” this description still suits him perfectly. He spends his weekends tending to a forest with such passion it oozes from his pores like maple syrup.
Caught in the seasonal limbo from Winter to Spring, an eager crew of friends and I arrived at the sugarbush underdressed, which in retrospect was how these Maple, Lemongrass and Pork Empanadas were first conceived: warming up and working up an appetite. Like the art of making sugar, the sugar shack itself is an exemplary model of resourcefulness. The walls, which are discarded billboards, are hoisted on sturdy limbs and the stove for boiling provides warmth (though we couldn’t muster our own body heat to stay long enough to discover this ourselves). As Josh described the various stages of harvesting sap and bringing it to boil, we (pitiably) chopped firewood, cracked beers, sipped maple-whiskey shots, dipped our cups into buckets of crystal pure tree juice and sucked in the fresh air.
My own love affair with maple syrup is not so secret, in particularly when it comes to granola, and so I can’t begin to describe the newfound satisfaction I will have when cooking with nature’s sugar. I’ll also pour in the memory of a fair, contoured forest, the warm welcome of the sugarmaker himself, the music of sap dropping into a metal bucket, the unmistakable smell of lingering snow, the biting air, the sparks from a newly lit stove and the muddy trail I took home on my boots. I am hungry.
Maple, Lemongrass and Pork Empanadas
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Cook Time: 50 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 5 large or 10 small empanadas
- All-purpose flour – 3 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting
- Whole wheat pastry flour – 1 1/2 cups
- Sea salt – 2 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
- Extra virgin olive oil – 3/4 cup
- Water – 2/3 cup very cold water
- Water – 1/2 cup hot water
- Yellow mustard seeds – 1 teaspoon
- Olive oil – 2 tablespoons
- Garlic – 4 tablespoons, minced
- Pork – 1 pound, ground
- Maple syrup – ¼ cup
- Soy sauce – 1 teaspoon
- Fish sauce – ¼ teaspoon
- Lemon grass – 1 tsp
- Parsley – 2 tbs crushed dried parsley
- Dried Chili (optional) – as much as you desire for heat!
- Kale – 1.5 cups, shredded
- In a large bowl combine the flours and salt, and mix it with a fork.
- Using a fork, mix in the olive oil a small amount at a time, until the flour forms coarse crumbs.
- With pastry cutter or fork, mix in 3/4 cup oil until it forms coarse crumbs.
- Add the water a few tablespoons at a time, stirring until the mixture just comes together.
- The dough will be flaky, but using your hands, knead the dough in the bowl to form a ball.
- Cover the bowl with a plate or plastic wrap, and refrigerate the dough while you prepare the filling.
- Put the mustard seeds in a small bowl and submerge them with hot water. Leave them to soak.
- Place a piece of paper towel on a plate. In a wok or large saute pan, heat the olive oil until it is very hot. Add the garlic and let it hiss in the oil, mixing a couple times, until it becomes toasted brown in color. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic to the paper towel. Now you have garlic chips and garlic oil!
- In the same oil, add the ground pork. Stir the pork until it is almost full browned, but still shows a pink hue.
- At this point, add the maple syrup, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Stir well and let the pork continue to brown for about 2 minutes.
- Add the lemon grass, parsley, and optional chili. Simmer for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a colander (resting over a bowl or in the sink). Be sure there is still sauce in the pan. Set the pork aside while you prepare the kale.
- Add the kale to the pan and saute until it absorbs the remaining sauce and wilts. Add the pork back into the pan briefly, stir the mixture and remove it from the heat. Now you are ready to assemble your empanadas!
- Preheat the oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease it with butter.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Divide the dough into 5 or 10 balls, depending on the size of your empanadas.
- Lightly coat a clean surface with flour. Roll out each ball into a circle and add the filling to the center (about 2 tablespoons for small empanadas and 4 tablespoons for large). Sprinkle the garlic chips over the filling. Fold the circle in half, tucking the filling back in if it spills out.
- I like to keep a small dish of water nearby so I can wet my fingers and moisten the edge of the dough where the two sides of the circle will seal together. Use a fork to press gently around the edges for a beautiful pattern and a tight seal. Trim the edges for a perfect half-moon shape, and add the trimming to the next batch of dough you roll out. Repeat until you have used up all the filling and dough.
- Place the empanadas on the baking sheet and bake at 425 for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 and continue baking for 30-35 minutes, until the edges and top of the empanadas take on the tint of maple syrup. Devour.
- Note: You can store the empanadas in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days, or pop them in a Ziplock and freeze them right away for up to 3 months. Defrost in the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes.