During my time in the capital of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Minas Gerais has one of the most rural countrysides in Brazil with many farms and plantations but it's the richness of it's interior thats translates into hearty and nutritious foods that locals enjoy in their homes and even better on the streets. I met up with chef Leonardo Paixao, Leonardo is a serious foodie and passionate chef. At just 7 years olds he started cooking with his grandfather and by the time he was 12 he was serving up culinary delights at family gatherings. Despite graduating from medical school, his food obsession won out and he now owns a successful restaurant, but is still very passionate about food served on the streets. He loves the rich history of the food here and how the land dictates it. Leo tells me that he is going to take me to try the best empadas, which is Brazilian for PIES and for me it doesn't get better! Plus it's the dish I am best known for (as some of you might already know ;)
But please don't confuse empada with an empanada.
I met a brother and sister duo named Sheila and Humberto Abreu. They've been running their family empada stall for more than 25 years. Their stalls are the most recognised in Belo Horizonte and move to a different part of the city daily plus they also have four shops. That alone is proof that they must be doing something right. I tried three different versions of empada; chicken, cheese and prawn (which is their best seller). They were lovely, little parcels of tastiness, just perfect if you ask me!
It was great to meet someone who makes pies with as much passion as I do and his flavours have inspired me to make my own pie with a Brazilian twist. I'm using a filling based on xim-xim, a popular Afro-Brazilian stew made of chicken and peanuts.
My Brazilian Pies
FOR THE PASTRY:
- 700g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 100g cold lard, cubed, plus extra for greasing
- 150ml cold water
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg whites
- 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
FOR THE FILLING:
- 4 chicken thighs, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- Juice of 1 lime
- Olive oil
- 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
- 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- Thumb sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 2 cups dried shrimps, ground in a food processor
- 1 cup ground roast peanuts
- 2 teaspoons tomato purée
- 250ml hot chicken stock
- 50g creamed coconut, grated
- Small bunch fresh coriander, chopped
First make the pastry dough. Rub the flour, salt and lard together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs then make a well in the centre. Whisk together the water, egg, egg white and vinegar. Pour into the well and gradually mix together with a fork. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until smooth. Wrap in clingfilm and set aside to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile make the filling. Combine the chicken thighs, garlic and lime juice in a bowl, cover in clingfilm and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan and add the onions. Fry for 5 minutes until soft, then add the chicken pieces and fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the spring onions, chilli, ginger and turmeric and fry for a further 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the dried shrimps, peanuts and tomato purée, fry for a minute then add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes until then chicken is tender. Add the creamed coconut and cook for a further 2 to 3 minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat, stir through the coriander and leave to cool.
Grease two 8 holes muffin tins with a little lard. Pinch off a small ball of pastry and press into the bottom of the tin to form a base. Repeat to make 16 bases then divide the cooled chicken mixture between them. Pinch off a piece of the remaining dough, flatten into a rough circle and press on top of the filling to form a lid. Use a round pastry cutter to trim the edges then repeat with the remaining pastry.
Whisk together the egg yolks and oil and glaze the tops of the pies. Transfer to the fridge to rest for 30 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Glaze the pies with a little more of the egg yolk and oil mixture then bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.