Last week I wrote about grousing from friends about recipes that were too complicated or had too many ingredients. They gave me four-ingredient recipes as examples of go-to entrees. I asked readers to share some of their own inspirations and recipes. These were the first to come in; I’ll publish more in upcoming columns.
“Thank you so much for acknowledging there are a lot of us who wish we could always cook gourmet meals but mostly depend on ‘make do’ to get dinner on the table,” wrote Carrie Rose. “And really it turns out that a lot of the quickies in my list are also goodies. I make this fast version of my Italian mother’s escarole soup all the time. If you don’t count the garlic it fits the four-ingredient rule.”
I think you could also make this dinner soup with a bag of spinach or arugula to cut out one of the prep steps, although escarole was what my grandfather always used. We always had fresh hot Italian bread for dipping in the broth as well. Your recipe brought back fond memories.
“My recipe I think is actually yours, if my memory serves. Though I think I’ve made it even easier now that you can buy grilled chicken breast strips at the grocery store. The ones I use are Perdue, and they are real chicken and not re-formed stuff,” wrote Joe Hartfield.
I do make this pretty often, usually with leftover rotisserie chicken, and I add pimentos and a dash of sherry at the end, but that would push us past four ingredients. Your substitution of the chicken breast strips was inspired, and indeed cuts out the time spent stripping a chicken from the bones.
Q. I look forward to reading your column every week. My question is, do you have any recipes for filling empanadas? I can get the empanada dough here at our local grocery store and would like to make some. I know they are normally deep-fried, but I would like to bake them to be healthier. I have bought them from our fairs here in the area, and they have fillings like beef, pork or chicken or vegetables.
Gayle Hill, Lorain, Ohio
A. The short answer is that you can fill empanada dough with anything, the same way you would turnover dough. In fact, I often make empanadas with puff pastry dough when I don’t have masa available. I’ve had empanadas for every meal, from an egg and chorizo breakfast scramble to a dulce de leche and fresh peach one at a roadside stand that still haunts my taste memories!
This is a recipe I put together that is more of a guide than a rigid list of ingredients. Feel free to add or subtract. The only mistake you can make is letting the filling retain too much liquid, which can make for a soggy crust. I’d also be sure to drain and even rinse ground beef, unless it is very lean, or fats can leach into the crust.
You can adjust the filling to your taste: Use bell pepper instead of the green if you don’t like spicy, or use chipotle chiles in adobo and skip the salsa if you prefer a punch of heat. You also can add jack or cotija cheese and/or sour cream, corn kernels, avocado, tomatillos, or olives and raisins for a picadillo-style empanada.
Linda Cicero: @TasteMemories. Write to Cook’s Corner at Food, Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.
Four-Ingredient Arroz con Pollo
Use any brand of yellow rice mix, in a box or bag.
1 (8-ounce) box yellow rice mix
1 cup frozen peppers and onions blend
1 (6-ounce) package refrigerated grilled chicken breast strips
1 cup frozen peas
Prepare rice mix according to package directions except add the frozen peppers and onions once the water is boiling. When rice is tender, add the chicken strips and peas, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook just a minute or two, until peas are defrosted and chicken is warmed through.
Yield: 4 servings
Homemade Empanada Filling
You can find much more authentic recipes, of course, in cookbooks or online. I designed this as an adaptable beginning.
1 pound of your choice: cooked boneless chicken, cooked ground beef or turkey, shredded roasted beef, tuna or other cooked fish or shrimp
1/2 red onion, chopped fine
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1⁄4 cup fresh salsa, drained
1⁄4 cup cilantro chopped
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1⁄2 lime
Empanada dough or discs
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Dice or shred the protein. Combine the remaining filling ingredients and set aside. Prepare baking sheet by coating with cooking spray or lining with parchment paper. Prepare empanada dough according to package directions. (I use premade circles.)
Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling mixture into the center of each empanada. Dampen the inside edges. Fold in half so the ends meet and crimp the edges with a fork. Place the empanadas on the baking sheets. They don’t spread, so you can place them pretty close together — you should be able to get 12 on a sheet.
Brush with the egg wash. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Yield: 12 to 14 empanadas
Not My Mama’s Italian Escarole Soup
When I went to the supermarket to buy a carton of chicken broth, I found Swanson’s now has a Tuscan chicken broth flavored with rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon, onion and garlic. Use it, skip the garlic in the ingredient list, and the soup qualifies for the four-ingredient list.
1 (16-ounce) can cannellini beans
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (32-ounce) carton chicken broth
1 head escarole (about 1 pound), chopped
Drain the beans. Take the sausage out of the casing and cook in a soup pot until brown, stirring to separate. Drain off the fat. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for a minute, then add the broth and the beans. Bring to a boil, then toss in the escarole, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 5 minutes, or until the escarole is tender. Serve with parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes to sprinkle on top.
Yield: 4 servings