Try your hand at making these delicious gluten free empanadas known as catibías or empanaditas de yuca (cassava empanadas), a popular street food in the Dominican Republic. The dough for these little hand pies is easy to work with and fries up to be wonderfully crispy and chewy at the same time, surrounding a savoury ground beef filling. A tasty snack!
This month for our Eat the World recipe challenge, we are headed off to the the warm islands of the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic, to be specific. It's the second largest country in the Caribbean and encompasses a diverse culture. It boasts over 250 miles of the world's best beaches, is steeped in history, and a has a stunning geography including mountains, caves, waterfalls, and jungle. It's also one of the tropical places to go to experience a rich and varied gastronomy. The freshest of seafoods and a dazzling variety of fresh tropical fruits are the hallmarks of Dominican cuisine. Street food has a lively place in the hearts (and bellies) of Dominicans, with a plethora or fried and filling snacks available.
A favourite are these little hand pies, catibías, also known as empanaditas de yuca (cassava empanadas). These naturally gluten free empanadas are comprised of a dough made of cassava flour, stuffed with a savoury meat, chicken, or seafood filling and deep fried. So good. And surprisingly easy to make at home.
What is Cassava Flour?
Cassava flour is the dried and finely ground flesh of the tubular root of the yuca/yucca/cassava/manioc plant. It is the whole root, so it contains all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber of this plant common to South America, Asia and Africa. Cassava flour is gluten free, nut free, grain free, and also paleo, vegetarian, and vegan. It is a great substitute for wheat flour, and is used to make many dishes and baked goods in the countries where it is grown. Cassava flour is not to be confused with tapioca flour/starch. They both come from the same plant, but whereas cassava flour is the ground whole root, tapioca flour has been further refined and is the pure starch of the root extracted from the rest of it, so it contains no fiber or nutrients. Cassava flour is creamy in colour and has a heavier texture, whereas tapioca starch is pure white and very light and fluffy. Tapioca starch is commonly used as a thickener or mixed with other gluten free flours to provide a stretchy texture to baked goods.
You can find cassava flour in health food stores, online, or in the natural section of some supermarkets. It is a fantastic flour to use for gluten free baking or in diverse international dishes such as these delicious gluten free cassava empanadas from the Dominican. I've adapted the recipe from these two sites: Cassava Empanadas and Cativías.
Empanaditas de Yuca
Oh my, what deliciousness. Yes, they are fried, and that is what makes them such a treat (because fried = flavour). And you won't be eating them every day, will you? So every now and then, it's fun to eat something just a little different than you'd normally have. And because you make these gluten free empanadas yourself, you can control what's in them. If you shallow fry them in about 1 inch of oil, you don't have to deal with vast quantities of bubbling oil - just cook them in a small pot and only fry 3 or 4 of them at a time. Meat or seafood fillings are traditional (conch is a popular seafood filling), or you can even put a few cubes of cheese inside of the dough pockets and make plain cheese empanadas. Make the filling ahead so you can fry up the empanaditas quickly. The cassava flour dough is easy to make and fun and pliable to roll. If you have leftover filling, you can either make another half-batch of the empanada dough and freeze some empanadas for future treats, or use the leftover filling to fill tacos, quesadillas, or add it to scrambled eggs, nachos, fried potatoes, or make sandwiches with it.
Easy Steps for Making Gluten Free Empanadas from Cassava Flour
First, cook up the ground beef filling in a skillet and let it cool (this can even be done the day before).
Stir together the cassava flour, a bit of salt and oil, and enough boiling water to make a nice pliable dough (kinda like playdough).
Divide it into 16 equal pieces, and roll each into a ball. Then roll out each ball into a circle, and plop on a spoonful of the cooled meat filling.
Run a finger dipped in water around the outside edge of the dough circle to moisten it. Then fold the dough over the filling to make a half-moon shaped empanada.
Press the two edges of dough together firmly to glue them together, then crimp them with a fork for a further bit of insurance that they are completely sealed.
Trim off any ragged edges of the dough, and your gluten free empanadas are ready to fry. Heat about 1-inch of oil in a pot, and slip in 2 or 3 empanadas at a time to fry until they are crisp and golden.
Drain the hot empanadas on paper towels, and enjoy immediately!
If you can't make it on a tropical holiday right now, at least you can indulge in a little Dominican street food. Make yourself a tropical drink, put on some island music, and invite over a few friends for a beach party.
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Check out all the wonderful Dominican Republic dishes prepared by fellow Eat the World members and share with #eattheworld. Click here to find out how to join and have fun exploring a country a month in the kitchen with us!
Sneha’s Recipe: Locrio de Pollo (Dominican Chicken and Rice)
Palatable Pastime: Spicy Plantains
Amy’s Cooking Adventures: Taco Shepherd’s Pie (Pastelón de Papa)
Kitchen Frau: Empanaditas de Yuca (Gluten Free Cassava Empanadas)
Pandemonium Noshery: Habichuelas Guisadas
Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Pastelón de Harina de Maíz
A Day in the Life on the Farm: Chimi Burger
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Empanaditas de Yuca (Cassava Empanadas)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I like avocado oil)
- 1 small onion finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced or pressed
- 1 lb (454gms) lean ground beef
- 1 sweet bell pepper, any colour finely diced
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped manzanilla olives (stuffed green Spanish olives)
- 1 tablespoon juice from the olive jar
- 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup (240ml) tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro optional
- 2 cups (280gms) cassava flour (not tapioca starch)
- 1½-2 cups (360-480ml) boiling water
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- vegetable oil for frying, 1" deep (2.5cm) in small heavy-bottomed pot Use an oil with a high smoke point.
Make the Filling First
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent (3-4 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
- Add the ground beef and cook until completely browned and the liquid has evaporated, stirring and breaking up any chunks as the meat cooks.
- Add the bell pepper, olives, olive juice, salt, and pepper. Stir in the tomato sauce and cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the meat mixture is fairly dry.
- Stir in the cilantro, if using, and leave the filling to cool completely.
Then Make the Empanada Dough
- Combine the cassava flour, salt, and 1 tablespoon of oil in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Pour 2 cups (480ml) boiling water into a 2-cup measuring cup. Add about ½ cup (120ml) of the water at a time to the flour, mixing well after each addition, until you have a crumbly, slightly dry dough. This should only take about 1½ cups (360ml) of the water, but you may need a bit more, depending on how absorbent your cassava flour is. The dough will be quite hot. After you've added the 1½ cups of water, see if you can squeeze and knead the dough into a ball. If it's still too crumbly, add a bit more water at a time until you can form a ball.
- Knead the dough into a smooth ball (it should be like playdough), then roll it into a thick log, 8-9 inches long (20-23cm). Cut the log in half and work with one half at a time, keeping the unused dough covered with plastic food wrap or a damp towel.
- Cut the log half into 8 equal pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the others also under the wrap. Roll each dough piece into a ball, then use a rolling pin (or empty bottle) or a tortilla press, roll out the ball into a 4½-inch circle (11-12cm). If the dough sticks to the work surface or rolling pin, dust it lightly with cassava flour.
- Wet the edge of the circle all the way around using a finger dipped in water.
- Place a heaped tablespoon of the filling onto one half of the dough circle. Fold over the other half of dough and press the edges firmly together to form a half-moon shaped empanada, pressing out any air before completely sealing it.
- Press the tines of a fork over the sealed lip of dough around the curved side of the empanada. Trim off a thin strip of dough all around the crimped edge to make a neat border.
- Repeat the procedure with the rest of the dough pieces, and then the 8 pieces from the other half of the log, to make 16 empanadas.
- Heat 1-inch (2.5cm) of oil in a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot (large enough to hold 3 or 4 empanadas without crowding). The oil is hot enough when it reaches 365°F (185°C) on a thermometer, or when you stick the dry handle of a wooden spoon into the oil and after a few seconds it starts to make lots of small bubbles around the handle. (If it doesn't bubble, it's not hot enough yet.)
- Add 3 or 4 empanadas to the hot oil - they should be able to float without touching each other. Fry for about 3 minutes, then flip them over and fry the other side for 3 minutes, or until they turn light golden at the crimped edges. Empanadas made with cassava flour are done when light golden (they don't darken as much as flour empanadas).
- Remove the fried empanadas to a plate covered with several layers of paper towel to drain for a few minutes.
- Serve hot.
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Check out my past ‘Eat the World’ Recipe Challenge posts:
(in alphabetical order)
- Argentina: Red Chimichurri Sauce
- Australia: Anzac Biscuits (Crispy Oatmeal Cookies)
- Bangladesh: Chingri Masala (Shrimp Curry)
- Bulgaria: Patatnik (Savoury Potato and Cheese Pie)
- Cambodia: Noum Kong (Cambodian Rice Flour Doughnuts)
- China: Kung Pao Chicken
- Colombia: Pan de Yuca (Warm Cheese Buns)
- Ecuador: Pescado Encocado (Fish in Coconut Sauce)
- Egypt: Fava Beans and Feta
- England: Gluten Free Fish and Chips and Mushy Peas
- Ethiopia: Four Ethiopian Recipes for a Fantastic Feast
- Fiji: Spiced Sweet Potato and Banana Salad
- Finland: Lohikeitto (Creamy Salmon, Potato, and Dill Soup)
- France: Axoa d’Espelette (A Simple Stew from the Basque Country)
- Georgia: Charkhlis Chogi (Beets with Sour Cherry Sauce)
- Greece: Moussaka
- Guyana: Fried Tilapia in Oil & Vinegar Sauce (fish dish)
- Hungary: Túrós Csusza (Pasta Scraps with Cottage Cheese)
- India: Kerala Upma (Fluffy, Kerala Style Breakfast Upma Recipe)
- Iraq: Tepsi Baytinijan (Eggplant & Meatball Casserole)
- Ireland: Dublin Coddle (A tasty Sausage and Potato Stew)
- Israel: Cucumber, Feta, and Watermelon Salad
- Jamaica: Rice and Peas (Coconut Rice and Red Beans)
- Japan: Chawanmushi (Steamed Savoury Egg Custard)
- Kenya: Maharagwe with Ugali (Red Beans with Cornmeal Slice)
- Laos: Ping Gai (Lao Grilled Chicken Wings)
- Lesotho: Chakalaka & Pap (Veggie & Bean Stew with Cornmeal Polenta)
- Luxembourg: Stäerzelen (Buckwheat Dumplings)
- Mexico: Cochinita Pibil Tacos (Pit Barbecued Pig to Make in Your Oven)
- Netherlands: Boerenkool Stamppot (Kale-Potato Mash with Sausages & Pears)
- New Zealand: Classic Pavlova
- Poland: Polish Honey Cake
- Portugal: Tuna and Sardine Pâtés
- Puerto Rico: Piña Colada Cocktail
- Scotland: Cranachan (Raspberry, Whisky & Oat Cream Parfaits)
- Senegal: Mafé (Beef and Peanut Stew)
- Slovakia: Bryndzové Halušky (Potato Dumplings with Cheese & Bacon)
- Sudan: Peanut Butter Creamed Spinach & Peanut Meringue Cookies
- Sweden: Swedish Meatballs with Cream Gravy
- Switzerland (Christmas): Basler Leckerli Cookies
- Thailand: Shrimp Laksa (Khung)
- Trinidad & Tobago: Peanut Butter Prunes
- Turkey: Çilbir (Scrambled Eggs with Garlic Yogurt)
- Ukraine: Buckwheat Kasha with Beef
- United States (Soul Food): Smothered Pork Chops
- Uruguay: Torta de Fiambre (Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwiches)
- Vietnam: Caramelized Pork Rice Bowls