These crispy, corn masa, chaya empanadas are a Yucatecan antojito (snack) that will conquer your heart. The masa is studded with chaya, filled with cheese, and served on a tomato-habanero sauce.
Allegra and Luca
This recipe is made in collaboration with Allegra and Luca. Which is a company committed to responsible fashion. They work closely with local artisans in Mexico that hand-make the garments. The artisans are paid fair wages and the garments are made in a sustainable way. Here’s a brief interview with their founder Allegra:
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?? What motivated you to start your business?
I started Allegra & Luca in 2014 after working in childrenswear for nearly two decades. I studied textile production in North Carolina and later at FIT where I also had one of my favorite jobs working in their amazing textile collection. My favorite pieces that I return to year after year are the sun-drenched, hand-printed, and hand-embroidered pieces from the Caribbean and Mexico that I grew up with and this was ultimately the inspiration for focusing on these crafts, like Batik and Otomi embroidery. I was very interested in combining these age-old techniques with new color palettes, for a travel-infused aesthetic that is easy to wear and accessible. I feel strongly that we make our items accessible enough that responsibly made fashion isn’t reserved for luxury customers.
Why the name Allegra and Luca?
Luca is the name of my older son. He was and continues to be an enormous inspiration to me!
What is the one thing you think people should know about traditional Mexican embroidered dresses and their artisans??
I hope that we are all beginning to have a better understanding of the importance of purchasing traditional designs from artisans in their country of origin. We are so accustomed to seeing knock-offs of traditional Mexican embroideries and patterns all over the market that it is often too easy to forget that these are techniques and designs that have been passed down from generation to generation. Working with fair trade, women artisans in Mexico, and collaborating with them to preserve their traditional crafts will always be at the core of our business. Purposeful craftsmanship allows us to support those who are in vulnerable communities by providing sustainable income, empowering their creativity, and offering a safe working environment
You can find Allegra and Luca’s dress collection HERE.
What is Chaya??
Chaya is a leafy green (leafy perennial shrub), grown extensively in the Yucatan region of Mexico, known in the US as spinach tree. Its leaves are maple-shaped and mild in flavor. It was first domesticated by the Mayans in pre-Hispanic times. Not unlike today, it was consumed in salads, agua fresca, tamales, stews, and empanadas.
According to the Larousse of Mexican gastronomy, there still is great respect given to the plant itself. So much so, that before cutting the leaves off the plant it is very common to pause and talk to the plant and ask for its permission. It is said that if you don’t do this, the plant will liberate its small thorns and cut those who take its leaves without permission.
Chaya is an excellent source of iron, protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. It is more nutritious even than vegetables such as spinach, amaranth, and Chinese cabbage. It has acquired a reputation as a superfood and it is believed to have curative properties for diabetes, cancer, high cholesterol.
Chaya: Chaya is pretty hard to find in the US, but you can find it in South Texas and Florida. If you don’t have access to chaya then you can make these chaya empanadas with swiss chard, spinach, or watercress.
Masa Harina (Instant corn flour): I love the brand Masabrosa Instant Corn Masa, they have an organic version that is very affordable and available at my local HEB. Bob’s Red Mill also has a version of masa harina that is organic. There’s also Masienda that made with non-GMO heirloom corn.
Vegan Cheese: I used Vegan Chao cheese, but you can use your favorite vegan cheese. You can also fill these with sauteed mushrooms, zucchini blossoms, and cheese, or your favorite veggie saute.
Tortilla press: If you’re looking for a tortilla press I use this one from Hernan. If you don’t have one you can place the masa between two pieces of plastic wrap and press it with your hands or a rolling pin.
Comal: To cook these chaya empanadas I used this comal (cast iron griddle) to make them without oil, but you can also fry them.
Storing and Serving
These do not store well after cooking, but to work ahead you can make the empanadas and keep them in the fridge covered until ready to use. Serve this with the habanero-tomato sauce in the recipe below or you can serve with topped with crema and pickled onions.
- tortilla press
- comal (cast iron skillet)
- 2 cups Masa harina (nixtamalized corn flour)
- ¼ tsp. Salt
- 1 ¾ cups Warm water
- ⅔ cup Chopped chaya watercress, or Swiss chard (20g)
- 8 oz Vegan cheese grated (about 2 cups)
- 1 tsp. Avocado oil (optional)
- ½ White onion diced (95g)
- 1 Habanero pepper whole (18g)
- 4 Plum tomatoes medium, pureed (593g)
- 1 Garlic clove minced (4g)
- Oil for frying (optional)
- To make the dough: In a large bowl combine masa harina and salt. Pour in the water while slowly mixing the masa harina with your hand. The dough should be moist, but not sticky, like a soft playdough. If necessary, add more water until you reach the right consistency. Stir in chaya and knead for 5 minutes by hand inside the bowl, cover with a moistened kitchen towel and let rest while you make the tomato sauce.
- To make the tomato sauce: Heat oil in a large skillet to medium heat and add the onion and habanero pepper . Sauté until tender and translucent, 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Pour in tomato puree and simmer until the sauce has thickened and become a deep red color, 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- To make the empanadas: Roll the dough into balls the size of a golf ball (50g)(1.7 oz.). Line your tortilla press with two sheets of plastic (cut grocery bags work the best). Place one ball of dough in the center of the press, and press down to about 1/4 inch (6mm) thick. Open the press, and remove the sheet of plastic on top of the dough and place 1 ½ tablespoons of the cheese in the center. Fold the dough over the filling, making the edges meet, press edges to seal, forming an empanada. Peel the remaining plastic off and place the empanada on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Repeat this process with the rest of the empanadas.
- To cook the empanadas: Heat 2 inches of oil in a large skillet to 360°F. Drop in empanadas and cook until golden brown, 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the oil and place on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the oil. To cook these without oil: Heat a seasoned large cast iron skillet or comal over medium heat. Add two empandas to the skillet. Cook until the edges start to dry out and change color, 3 minutes. Flip the empanadas, the cooked side should be crisp and with brown spots. Cook the other side until golden brown, 3 minutes.
- Serve the warm empanadas on top of the habanero tomato sauce.
Although dorastable.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates.