Each time I take a trip to New Orleans I become more and more infatuated with the food there, and the people in general, but really the food. It’s some of the best food I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. ENTIRE LIFE. Yes that might be the biggest statement I’ve probably said in my 25 years of living, but it’s also the most truest sentence I’ll ever say. If you were to ask me what my favorite dish/meal/restaurant has been, I’d go through a series of complicated but meticulously thought out reactions. My first would be a slap to your face (from pure shock of course). The next stage would be me calling you crazy. You’ve lost your mind. I can’t pick just one thing to be my all-time favorite. That’s madness! Madness I tell you! An impossible feat. I’d then probably just pick something because the pressure would eventually get to me. No need to hold a gun to my head, I’ll choose. You win.
I’ve basically eaten my way through the entire city and I have no regrets. Except maybe not eating seconds of everything. The one thing though that completed my life when I first tried it, since you’re forcing me to pick and all, would be red beans and rice. It’s insanely delicious and yet ridiculously simple. You’d think that my favorite dish would be super fancy and have all these exotic ingredients like truffles and caviar and what not, but no. That’s not the case at all. This dish sums up my taste and what I prefer in my regular day to day life. A combination of simple ingredients and flavors coming together to create something out of this world. Sure it’s a wee bit time consuming, but how else are you supposed to get all of that punch-you-in-the-mouth flavor?
If I’m going on and on about one dish, it’s because it’s that good. If you’ve had it before and love it just as much as I do, step right up to the front and give me a virtual hi-five because you’re my new best friend. If you’ve tried it and didn’t care for the dish, let’s not talk about it. I’ll pretend like you didn’t just break my heart. Perhaps though you haven’t had a plate of finger-licking red beans and rice yet. You know what I think? I think you should give it a go and try making it for yourself. You might be surprised what a star you can be in the kitchen with this dish. I couldn’t give you a simple recipe though, you know me well enough by now to not expect that. Instead, I wanted to crank things up a notch by turning my favorite cajun dish into my new favorite appetizer with these red beans and rice empanadas. It’s everything you didn’t know you wanted.
It’ll save you a bunch of time and patience if you begin preparing (mentally and physically) for this recipe a few days in advance. Make the red beans and rice themselves a couple days before you plan on making the empanadas. It’ll develop the flavors but also make it easier on you when you go and make the empanadas.
**Note: In order to make the red beans and rice ahead of time, be sure to also map out the fact that you have to soak the beans for about 8 to 12 hours before you even get started.**
Okay now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started. In a large pot or dutch oven, sauté the diced ham and andouille sausage. Stir in the onions, garlic, bell pepper and celery and cook until soft.
**Tip: Andouille sausage is a creole style smoked pork sausage that is often found in a lot of cajun dishes. If you can’t find any in your local grocery store, then just use a smoked polish sausage instead!**
Add the fresh herbs (thyme, parsley and bay leaves) and season with salt, pepper, and paprika (or cayenne pepper if you like it hot). If dried bay leaves are all you have, that’ll do.
Nestle in the smoked ham hocks into the pot. Let the veggies become a delicious bed for the hocks. We’re actually not going to eat them. Instead they’re only here to add incredible flavor and depth to our dish. We’re using and abusing. Tossing them to the side after we’re done with them.
**Tip: These might be a little difficult to find, although I always do see them in my grocery store. If you don’t see any right away, ask the butcher! They might have some in the back. Like my mamma says, you never know until you ask!**
Throw the red beans on top and give everything a great big stir.
**Note: I soaked the beans overnight in cold water. I just sorted through the dry beans, tossing any suspicious looking characters and placed them in a large pot. Covered them with cold water, placed a lid on it, and went to sleep. Then when I woke up, they were ready to go. The important thing here is to remember to actually soak them the night before. I kept forgetting to do it so I had to keep pushing the day I was going to make it. Eventually I said enough is enough Jonathan. So I set a reminder on my phone. And all was right in the world once more.**
Add the chicken stock and stir. I was going to try and give you a vegetarian option here, like I always do. I was about to say something like, you can use veggie stock instead, but then I realized there’s ham and sausage and ham hocks and came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t taste the same without any of that. I’m sorry.
Cook on medium-low, uncovered, for about 2 hours. Make sure to stir every so often so that the beans don’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn on you. It’ll all be ruined then and you might as well go home. Although, you’d probably be cooking at home so you’re already there. Never mind.
You want the mixture to be thick and the beans to be soft and tender. If you find that the liquid is too thick and/or evaporating, add a bit more water or stock as needed. There should definitely be liquid in the pot.
**Tip: I know I said it earlier, but I’ll say it again to get my point across, it’s crucial to remember to stir occasionally. Not only does that prevent the beans from sticking and burning, but it also helps you distribute all of the flavors and get the beans to break down a bit which will help thicken the sauce.**
Once done, allow the beans to cool down completely. This is important because you don’t want to fill the empanadas with hot red beans and rice because it’ll warm up the pie dough and then they won’t puff up as much because pie dough should be super cold so it’s flaky.
Anyhow, cool them beans down. Get rid of the ham hocks and the bay leaves. We don’t need them anymore. Toss them away. Say goodbye. So long. Farewell. Auf Wiedersehen. Goodbye.
Then combine the beans with cooked long grain rice.
**Note: I just cooked up 4 cups of long grain rice on the stove in a pot. I love rice. If you have a rice cooker, awesome. Use that. Anyway you like to make rice, do it.**
**Note: You’ll probably only need to mix about half of the bean mixture with rice. There’s no way we’re going to use up all of the filling for the empanadas. The good news though us, you’ll be able to eat the red beans and rice by itself. You’ll thank me later. It’ll be the best thing you’ve ever eaten.**
Roll out the chilled pie dough and cut out into 4 inch circles (or as big of an empanada as you’d like). Fill with a couple spoonfuls of the cooled red beans and rice mixture. Top with sliced scallions. For the healthy factor.
For the pie dough—I didn’t want to include that recipe also because then the post would’ve turned into a novel and then someone would’ve complain that their scrolling finger hurts and that there’s too many photos SO I didn’t. I figured you could just use your favorite pie dough recipe and make a double batch for this OR you can use my flaky pie dough recipe from the Shepherd’s Potato Pie post!
Roll out and cut into large circles with a 4-inch cookie cutter. Fold the dough over the filling making a half circle, empanada shape. Then crimp the edges with a fork or fold over with your fingers, sealing the edges well so that nothing spills out during baking. Brush them liberally with an egg wash (egg whisked with splash of water).
Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for about 20 t0 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remember to rotate the baking sheets, halfway through baking. Back to front and upper and lower. So I know what you’re thinking right about now….”What in the world am I supposed to do for 25 minutes while these bake?!?” Well, you can eat all of the leftover red beans and rice, that’s what you can do!
While the empanadas bake or while they cool down slightly—since you’ll be too busy stuffing your face with leftover red beans and rice while they bake—go ahead and make a quick cajun remoulade sauce to go alongside them. You know, for dipping and dunking and dredging. No empanada is complete without a sauce.
In a small bowl, mix together some mayo, creole mustard (or any grainy mustard you can find) and a few dashes of hot sauce. Nothing too complicated but super tasty.
You can make the sauce in advance and just keep it, well-wrapped, in the fridge for a few days. It’s perfect on other things too. Try it as a spread for sandwiches or a sauce for fried catfish!
By now the empanadas should be cooled down slightly so that when you bite them you’re not burning off your mouth.
Okay so let’s be honest and real for a second and I’ll admit that it’s a lot of work for some empanadas. The red beans and rice portion of the dish does take up a big chunk of your time, BUT it’s 100 percent worth it. If you’re not feeling the extra step of making pie dough and rolling it out and filling and crimping and baking, well that’s okay. Just make the red beans and rice and eat that for dinner all by itself. That’s the real star of this post.
These are a great appetizer for parties, especially parties you really want to impress people with. You can even make them ahead of time and freeze them (prebaked). Place them on a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the freezer until completely frozen. Then, transfer to an airtight container or freezer bag, and store until ready to bake.
**Tip: Freezing the empanadas (or anything really) in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper first, helps them not stick together when you transfer them to a container or bag later on!**
Once you’re ready to get your party on and bake these frozen empanadas you can place them on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush them with an egg wash and bake (no need to thaw) until golden brown. You’ll have to add about 10 minutes more to the normal baking time.
I highly recommend making a double batch of these (since you’ll have all that extra red beans and rice filling) because once the first batch is all gone, and they will all be gone in a second, then you won’t have to cry because you’ll have a second batch to devour. You’ll save tears that way. Precious tears.
- 1 pound red beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
- 3 tablespoons olive oil or butter
- 1 cup ham, chopped
- ½ pound andouille sausage, sliced
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 celery stalks, diced
- 2 green bell peppers, diced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon paprika or cayenne
- 3 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
- 2 smoked ham hocks
- 10 cups chicken stock
- 4 cups cooked white rice
- ¼ cup scallions, sliced
- 1 large egg
- 2 batches Flaky Pie Crust (From Shepherd's Potato Pie Post)
- 1/2 cup mayo
- 2 tablespoons Creole mustard
- a couple dashes of hot sauce
- The night before: Rinse the beans and sort through to discard any debris. Place in a large pot and fill with cold water to cover the beans. Allow to soak for at least 8 hours or overnight.
- Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat with the oil or butter. Add the ham and andouille sausage and cook for about 3 minutes to brown. Add the onions, garlic, celery, and bell peppers. Stir and cook for another 4 minutes to soften. Add the salt, pepper, paprika or cayenne, bay leaves, parsley and thyme. Nestle the ham hocks into the veggies and cook for 4 minutes. Add the drained beans and chicken stock, stirring well to completely combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 2 hours or until the beans are tender and have thickened. Make sure to stir occasionally to prevent them from sticking and burning. If the beans start to dry out, add a bit more water or stock to loosen them up, a little at a time. Remove from heat and allow to cool down completely.
- Toss the cooled beans with the cooked long grain rice (or as much as you'll think you'll need for the filling). Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough (half at a time) to a large rectangle about a quarter inch thick. Cut out circles with a 4-inch round cookie cutter. Fill with about 1 tablespoon or so of filling and a few scallions and crimp or fold the edges to seal them shut. Place on the baking sheets and repeat until all the dough is used.
- Note: you'll most definitely have left over red beans and rice but you can eat that for lunch or dinner the next day! Or make more empanadas!
- Whisk the egg in a small bowl with a splash of water. Brush the empanadas liberally with the egg wash and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. While they bake, make the sauce by whisking the ingredients together in a small bowl. Serve the empanadas warm with the cajun remoulade. Enjoy!
- yields: about 24 empanadas