Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Making Cheese Empanadas With The Neighbors

Being a former restaurant owner and foodie, I love learning about local foods. Costa Rica is blessed with some of the best fruits, vegetables, fish etc. in the world but local cuisine is sometimes lacking creativity and strong flavors.

Since moving to the country, my neighbor Mariellas has been inspirational in teaching me some local favorites. We just planted an organic vegetable garden that both our households will share and we also have plenty or oranges, limons and bananas on our land.

On a lazy Sunday, our neighbors invited us over to make cheese empanadas. Their family has cows and makes the local cheese which is a fresh cheese that looks like a cross between tofu and feta. Often the corn comes from our garden. A couple of weeks before, Mariellas taught me to make fresh corn tortillas. Together we husked our corn, then Hormidas and I took turns grinding it with a hand grinder. The tortillas were like none I had ever tasted before.

We made the dough with cornmeal, salt, grated cheese and a little water. They showed me how to use the tortilla press to make the shell which then got stuffed with more cheese. After a few minutes I was on my own making the empanadas and then frying them. I made about 20 that Janet and I shared with Hormidas, Mariellas and their 3 children. The tortilla press got demystified today and I'm ready to add it to my kitchen tools. I'm excited to start making simple corn tortillas and also to fill the empanadas with vegetables for variety.
I thought a city kid like me might feel isolated in the country, but I'm finding the opposite is true. My neighbors all stop by and chat and the kids have found me a definite curiousity. I'm looking forward to learning some new local dishes and more importantly to share the meals with my wonderful neighbors, the Arias family of La Paz.