When do you stop becoming known as a great vegetable-focused restaurant, and just as a great restaurant? There is a connotation around this cuisine that it has to be super healthy and nowhere close to filling. However, with the right attention, vegetables can transform into full meals that will leave you impressed and stuffed. Chefs, like Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby of Vedge in Philadelphia, are pioneers in this movement to remove the stigma often surrounding a vegetarian or vegan restaurant.
In their book, Vedge, Landau and Jacoby prove that a hearty meal can still keep its focus on the vegetables. Dishes like portobello frites (a play on classic steak frites, substituting a portobello mushroom treated exactly as a steak) or winter vegetable cassoulet (using hearty ingredients to build flavor and replace duck confit and pork sausage) prove that it’s not just all salad.
In this recipe, roasted calabaza squash is roasted and mashed with coriander and cumin for a fragrant filling to be packed into a vegan crust for a baked empanada unlike any other. Served alongside green romesco, a playful variation of the classic red pepper and almond sauce from Spain, these empanadas are the perfect appetizer for vegans and meat-lovers alike.
Just like any dough, the key is to not overwork it. By carefully cutting in vegan butter and shortening, the resulting product is just as flaky and crispy as it’s butter-laden cousin. As for the filling, Landau and Jacoby love calabaza squash for this recipe, though any firm-fleshed squash will do, such as butternut.
So even if you or your family are die-hard carnivores, by focusing on flavor and technique, the line between vegetables and meat begins to blur. Quickly you’ll see that delicious vegetarian recipes just become delicious recipes.
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Squash Empanadas with Green Romesco
Prep time: 30 minutes ♦ Cook time: 30 minutes ♦ Serves 2 to 4
To this day, I am haunted by the pictures in a beautiful photo book I picked up at the airport on the Spanish island of Mallorca, teasing me for all that we had missed on our short stay. Out-of-the-way beaches, rolling green countryside, and tucked-away little villages. But it was here, on the largest of the Balearic Islands, that Kate and I started our Spanish culinary journey before moving on to the mainland. We fell in love with the bold flavors, and they remain in our cooking repertoire to this day. Empanadas are a Spanish classic, enjoyed throughout Spain and much of the Latin world. We call for baking them, but go ahead and deep-fry or pan-fry them if you want. The squash we prefer is calabaza, a West Indian pumpkin, but any cold-weather, creamy-fleshed squash, such as butternut, will work. Romesco is a fiery Spanish condiment made from almonds, garlic, and red peppers. We have some fun with it here by making a green version.
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegan butter, cold
1 tablespoon vegan shortening, cold
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups peeled, chopped Calabaza squash (about 1½ pounds)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 green bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, cut into 6 chunks
1 poblano pepper, stem and seeds removed, cut into 6 chunks
2 garlic cloves
½ cup raw almonds
½ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
To make the dough, combine the flour and 2 teaspoons of the salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or metal fork, cut in the cold vegan butter and cold vegan shortening. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and continue cutting, until the mixture is sandy in consistency. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water, a little at a time, just enough to hold the dough together. Form the dough into a soft ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes or until ready to use, up to 2 days.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
Toss the squash in a medium bowl with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, ½ teaspoon of the salt, ½ teaspoon of the pepper, the coriander, and the cumin. Transfer to a sheet pan and roast until fork-tender, 8 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven, return to the bowl, and, while still warm, mash with a potato masher or large spoon.
Roll out the dough on a work surface dusted with flour to about ¼ inch thick. Use a 4-inch-wide circle cutter to stamp out the empanadas. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the squash mixture in the center of each dough circle. Bring the edges of the circle together, forming a half circle, and pinch them together tightly. Use a fork to crimp the edges of the seal. Arrange the empanadas on the prepared sheet pan.
Bake the empanadas until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the romesco by tossing the bell pepper and poblano pepper in another medium bowl with the garlic cloves and the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Transfer to a sheet pan and roast until the peppers soften, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the almonds and roast for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and add the cilantro, sherry vinegar, and ½ cup water. Pulse until smooth.
As soon as the empanadas are done, serve them with the romesco.
Recipe from Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small That Redefine Vegetable Cooking, copyright © Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, 2013. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold.