A couple of weeks ago, I discovered an incredible taco place just a few miles from my home – Taco Bamba in Falls Church, Virginia. Apparently I’m the last person in the area to have found it – students, laborers, moms with little kids in tow and guys in suits routinely form a line out the door for the chance to indulge in these authentic, made-to-order tacos. It’s not a particularly speedy process, but no one seems to mind the wait. (I certainly don’t.) I’ve been returning for weeks, slowly working my way through the options… Today, we stopped for lunch on the way to the airport to send middle son back to college.
Hmm, sorry about the guy blocking the Camaron sign… which actually happens to be my current favorite. Or maybe it’s the Black Pearl… or the Barbacoa… or the El Gringo. I have to admit I tried the inspired La Poutina (made with french fries!), but it didn’t do well on the ride home… the concoction got a bit soggy.
This bustling little Mexican taqueria belongs to chef Victor Albisu – owner of one of my all-time downtown DC faves Del Campo (home to amazing grilled meats and tiny alfajores.)
At this point you may be thinking to yourself: So… what do these tacos have to do with empanadas? I’m getting there. You see, this taqueria gem was not the most exciting find of my month. Taco Bamba led me to the Plaza Latina, a Latin market owned by Albisu’s mother in the same little strip mall. And in this little market stuffed to the rafters with South American goodies of all sorts, I found the empanada wrappers of my dreams – the Argentine brand La Saltena – made specifically for baking in the oven. This dough is light and flaky and absolutely wonderful, and (until now) nearly impossible to find in the DC area.
Now that I found them, I have become an empanada-making fiend. My brother creates dozens of crazy-creative versions of the empanada for his restaurant. I seem to remember a bacon cheeseburger empanada along the way, and set out to recreate it. Crispy bacon, sauteed onions, ground beef, and American cheese in a happy little pastry pocket. I like to think of it as my own personal El Gringo empanada. Oh my…
At House Morell, I can never seem to make enough empanadas – there are never, ever any leftovers. These disappeared particularly quickly… Such a shame I don’t live in Chicago, where these can be found on the menu tonight. They never run out of empanadas at the Mermaid Shack.
- 4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and chopped into small bits
- ½ small onion, finely diced
- 1 lb ground beef
- ½ teaspoon steak seasoning
- 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
- 2 cups grated (or finely diced) American cheese
- 1 tablespoon pickle juice
- 2 packages empanada wrappers - If you can find them, Saltenas (hojaldradas para horno) are the best. These come in packs of 15... the recipe fills about 30 empanadas, so if you need to use a different brand (they seem to all have different counts), plan accordingly.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Fry bacon until crisp and set aside.
- Using the bacon drippings left in the bottom of the pan, on low heat, sautee the onions until they are translucent, about 10-12 minutes. Add the ground meat, steak seasoning and worcestershire sauce. Cook until browned, about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, to break up the meat.
- Let the meat cool slightly, about 10 minutes, then add the crumbled bacon, cheese and pickle juice.
- Place a tablespoon of meat onto the center of each empanada disk. Fold the dough over to make a half-moon, and seal with a decorative pattern.
- Place the empanadas on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown.
- Serve warm, or at room temperature.