Where do I begin? I hadn’t intended to be away so long, you see. The last time I was here it was January, full of the promises each new year brings. My husband and I had just returned from spending the holidays in Hawaii–inspired, recharged, renewed.
But life has a way of pulling the rug from under you sometimes. A medical affliction halted all my new year plans and for a time, as minor as this condition was, I didn’t know how to handle it. There was pain and discomfort involved (and uncertainty about full healing). For a hypochondriac like me who visits the doctor for the smallest wound, I had a difficult time getting a grip on my situation. For one month before healing began I was discouraged, unmotivated and depressed. Cooking was the last thing on my mind. I had begun the year temporarily eliminating wine, white flour and sweets from my diet in an effort to shed a few extra pounds but the weight dropped rapidly more from my complete loss of appetite than from my healthy intentions. I lost 15 pounds, half of which I couldn’t afford to lose since it brought me to underweight category so it only compounded the stress.
But I’m glad to say that this story has a happy ending. Once I learned to handle my situation healing began and not just physically. The time I’ve spent away has allowed for a spiritual reboot, too. I hadn’t realized what a crazy pace I’d been going; it was sadder still to realize that my frenetic efforts were taking me nowhere. Things were good in my life but I lacked peace. Looking back, most days ended in disquiet, an unsettled heart. I had been chasing things that didn’t matter and had neglected what’s more important–namely, tending to my soul.
Taking a step back allowed me to refocus, re-center and re-align my priorities. And wouldn’t you know it, the peace returned. The enthusiasm for cooking returned, too, and I’m inspired once more.
One of the things I discovered during my time away was spelt flour. Temporarily banishing white flour from my diet had me looking at more healthful alternatives and I came across this ancient grain. It was love at first bite. Spelt is a distant cousin of modern-day wheat with a longer list of nutritional credits. It has been around since biblical times but lost favor over today’s hybridized wheat because the latter is easier (and cheaper) to process.
If you haven’t used spelt flour before you will be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to work with. I fell in love with its nutty and slightly sweet quality and I’ve found that it works well as a healthier alternative to my favorite recipes calling for white flour. It’s easier to digest, high in protein, high in fiber and B vitamins and even though it’s denser than white flour, it doesn’t impart a “wheaty” quality at all. (But a word to those with Celiac disease: spelt is not gluten-free.)
If you follow my Instagram feed you’ll see how obsessed with spelt I have been. So far I’ve used it for fresh pasta, scones, tart dough and the empanadas I’m sharing here today. Typically, one would be advised to adjust the flour to liquid ratio (use 25% less liquid) if substituting spelt for all-purpose flour but apart from the scones, I’ve found that a direct substitution works fine.
Case in point, I used my favorite empanada recipe here subbing only the spelt for the white flour and the result was a golden, flaky shell. You can get away with baking at a lower temperature (about 25 degrees F less) but it’s not critical. For these empanadas I made a simple filling of sautéed ground turkey, potatoes, onions and currants. Serve them warm or at room temperature, on their own or with mint chutney like I’ve done here and you, too, might be inspired by spelt flour.
Oh, and during my time away I did manage to go on one amazing trip. Here’s a preview of what’s coming on the blog. Of course, there is at least one more spelt flour recipe coming and I can’t wait to share it with you!
- **For the Dough**
- 3¾ cups 18¾ ounces spelt flour (whole grain not white spelt flour)*
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1 /2 teaspoons salt
- 12 tablespoons 1½ sticks unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubs and chilled
- 1¼ cups ice water
- 1 large egg beaten
- **For the Filling**
- 1 pound ground turkey
- 4 small red potatoes unpeeled, par-boiled then diced in 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/3 - 1/2 cup currants or raisins, soaked in water for 30 minutes
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Splash of soy sauce
- 1- 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce or you can use oyster sauce
To prepare the dough: Using a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and salt about 6-8 times until combined. Add the butter pieces and pulse again (about 16 times) until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal and butter pieces are about the size of peas.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl then add ¼ cup of water at a time, stirring it in using a rubber spatula. Press the mixture against the sides of the bowl to form a dough until no small bits of flour remain (you may not need all of the water).
Turn the dough out on a clean work surface and divide in two. Form each dough into a ball then flatten to a 6-inch disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to 2 days) before using.
To prepare the filling: Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a pan then add the onions. Cook until translucent, about 3-4 minutes, before adding the ground turkey. Cook for an additional 5-6 minutes until the meat is cooked through. Season with soy sauce then add the currants, potatoes and hoisin sauce and cook on medium heat for an additional 5-6 minutes, until the potatoes are completely tender. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Turn off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature before using. You can prepare the filling 1-2 days ahead of time.
To assemble the empanadas: Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Roll out one of the refrigerated disks of dough on a lightly floured surface into an 18-inch circle about ⅛ of an inch thick. Cut out 5-inch disks (I used a bowl) and transfer them to the parchment-lined baking sheet. I got about 8 rounds from each disk--make sure you cut the rounds carefully since you won't be able to re-roll the scraps to make more rounds. Repeat with the remaining disks of dough.
To fill the Empanadas, add 1 - 2 tbsp of the meat mixture then fold one edge of the dough over to create a half moon. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork. The empanadas can be refrigerated up to 3 days (or frozen up to 1 month) before baking.
To Bake the Empanadas, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the tops of the empanadas with the egg and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. If frozen, it may take about 25 minutes. (If using the convection feature of your oven like I did, I baked mine for 21 min at 400 degrees F.
Serve warm or at room temperature. I served mine here with a simple mint chutney which I made by processing some mint leaves with fresh lime juice, grated ginger and water.
You can find spelt flour in the bulk section of Whole Foods or any health food store. Unless noted, the spelt flour being sold is whole spelt flour (and not white spelt flour) which is what I prefer for its higher nutritional content.