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#Huangry: Tirado's Empanadas

Have you ever given thought to how much effort is required to make a meal? It’s really not that much. Slap some bread and cheese together. Boil some pasta and toss it with butter and olive oil. Throw a bunch of stuff into a pot on high heat and hope for the best. I’m not saying the results are delicious, just that cooking can be pretty simple when it’s all said and done.

I think that’s why comfort foods are so special to us. They are engrained in our lives, and as a result, seem elemental, essential, and simple, even though they’re anything but. Comfort foods are almost always time and labor intensive—an investment that’s unnecessary for the sole purpose of sustenance. It’s that commitment to all the additional complications that gives comfort food their richness and soulfulness, and it’s something that’s almost impossible to fake. You’d never mistake microwaved Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for your mother’s recipe simmered for an entire afternoon. 

Dumplings are that way for me. I know—this column is supposed to be about empanadas. But before you crucify me for a bait-and-switch, let me explain. I’ve never made empanadas, and I didn’t grow up eating them. Empanadas aren’t really a part of my cultural heritage. That makes me a little underqualified to evaluate empanadas as a comfort food.

But dumplings are a part of my cultural heritage, and I’ve spent many hours with my mother rolling out dough, mixing fillings together, folding morsels into dumplings, and cooking batches of dumplings. As far as I’m concerned, empanadas are just a variation of dumpling: there’s a filling stuffed and folded inside a wrapper, and a ton of steps to get you to that point. 

Between the Caribbean chicken (shredded chicken, sofrito, potatoes, and carrots) and the Tirado’s beef (ground beef, sofrito, and potatoes) empanadas, there’s more brightness and pep to the chicken empanada, while the beef incarnation is a solid, soothing blanket on your tongue. They’re different characters for different moods, and luckily, Tirado’s has five other fillings for a fairly diverse selection of empanadas.

For Tirado’s Puerto Rican turnovers (empanadillas, if we’re being technical), it starts with making sofrito, a rich, savory base whose main ingredients are cilantro and aji dulce peppers (both organically homegrown by the Tirado family)—think of it as a roux, or the Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking. Fillings are sautéed in the sofrito to add flavorful depth before being dropped into homemade pastry dough and folded into hand-sized half-moons. Only then are these turnovers fried into hot, savory pockets. 

It’s definitely not the most efficient way to make food, but how else do you propose getting flaky pastry dough and savory meats on a bed of richness, all in one bite? Between the Caribbean chicken (shredded chicken, sofrito, potatoes, and carrots) and the Tirado’s beef (ground beef, sofrito, and potatoes) empanadas, there’s more brightness and pep to the chicken empanada, while the beef incarnation is a solid, soothing blanket on your tongue. They’re different characters for different moods, and luckily, Tirado’s has five other fillings for a fairly diverse selection of empanadas. 

Are Tirado’s empanadas as good as my mother’s? Probably not, because if you were paying attention, you’d know that my mother’s never really made empanadas. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the care that goes into each turnover. That’s the wonderful thing about comfort food—their soulful warmth is universal, even if the individual flavors aren’t.


(+) PROS 

  • When is comfort food unwelcome?
  • Flaky, crispy pastry dough pocket. This is a hot pocket done right.

(-) CONS

  •  It’s fried and it’s heavy, which means you should use discretion when pairing these with the summer heat.
  • Location is a bit out of the way

Tirado’s Empanadas and More
1316 Stallings Rd, Greenville, SC
(864) 982-2419, tiradosempanadas.com
Empanadas, $3.25 each, or three for $9


Originally published in the [Greenville Journal] on May 20, 2016.