Last week, I talked about how easy it was to make panisses, and the photo (taken with my old iPhone, yeah, yeah, haters gonna hate) had some empanadas in the background. Empanadas are, with about $10 worth of equipment you might not already own, the easiest appetizer to make.
The $10 worth of equipment you'll need is a tortilla press, which you can buy in so many places in Orange County that I won't even begin to list them. I mean, you can even buy them in grocery stores. The square, wooden ones are very nice and make a slightly better tortilla, but they're expensive, and I'm not convinced it's worth it. I have a round, metal tortilla press that I bought in Tijuana for about $6.50; the same model costs about $10 here.
While you're at the store buying the tortilla press, get yourself a bag of masa fina–better known to most slightly Spanish-speaking Anglos as masa para tortillas. This is just nixtamalized corn that's been ground and mixed with water. Do not buy masa preparada! It contains a bunch of lard and is intended for tamales. Prices will run from about 30¢ per pound for the chalky stuff at El Super to about $1 per pound for the best non-homemade masa fina in the county at La Reina Market in Anaheim.
You'll also need plastic wrap or a cut-open zip-top bag, so if you don't have one, get one at the store.
Finally, you'll need a filling. The empanadas in the picture last week were stuffed with sautéed dandelion: caramelized onion, shredded fresh dandelion greens from Sweredoski Farms at the Irvine/UCI Farmers Market, lemon juice and salt. That's it. You can also stuff with beef (or, better yet, picadillo), seafood, cheese, other vegetables. The only rules are that the filling must be cooked beforehand if necessary, and it must be dry enough to not ooze liquid everywhere.
Start by making tortillas: lay a long piece of plastic wrap on the tortilla press, make a round ball of masa about the size of a golf ball, and fold the plastic wrap over the top. Then put the lid down as far as it'll go, bend the handle over the press, and press as hard as you can. Open the handle and lid, and carefully peel back the top plastic (masa fina is sticky, picky stuff).
Put a dollop of filling in the middle of the tortilla, leaving an inch of space all the way around.
Pick up the back (longer) side of the plastic and fold the tortilla over the filling without touching it with your bare fingers. Still using the plastic, press the masa together around the edges, trying to spread the filling and get any air pockets out.
Still with the plastic, flip the empanada onto your hand and lay it gently–oh, so gently!–onto a pan with either plastic wrap or parchment paper on top.
Heat an inch of oil or a little more in a heavy-bottomed pan (don't use a nonstick pan) until it shimmers. Drop a little piece of masa in to test the temperature. If it bubbles happily, it's hot enough; if it lays there like a lump, it's not hot enough (leave it in until it bubbles). If it spatters, it's too hot.
Lay the empanadas in the pan without crowding them; then fry until golden brown, flip and fry until golden brown on the other side. Drain on a rack turned upside-down over paper or paper towels.