- Written by Cynthia Presser
Pastel is one of the most loved bar foods in Brazil. This small savory pastry is usually served inside small baskets and it is ordered by the dozen or half dozen; so friends gather around the bar table to munch on the Pastelzinhos (small Pastel) while chatting, drinking a cold beer, and having a good time.
The variety of fillings is endless, but one of the most popular is ground beef and cheese. Crunchy on the outside with a creamy, meaty filling, this typical Brazilian appetizer is often called “Empanada” in the US. Empanadas are usually baked, instead of fried; and the dough is different. But… I am "cheating" on this recipe and using store-bough empanada dough!!! Store-bought dough is faster and easier to use (and it tastes great too, because if it didn’t I wouldn’t tell you to use it). Make sure you check my Hearts-of-Palm Pastel recipe if you want to make the authentic version with home-made dough. Enjoy this delightful appetizer with a cold beer!
Makes about 16 units
- 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 12 ounces lean ground beef
- 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
- ½ tablespoon sugar
- ½ tablespoon chili paste (see Cook’s Notes)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped
- 4 ounces Gouda, cubed (see Cook’s Notes)
- 16 rounds of empanada dough (1 pound), store-bought (see Cook’s Notes)
- Vegetable oil, for frying
In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, combine olive oil and onions. Cook the onions until soft, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 40 seconds. Add ground beef and cook until browned, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes, sugar and chili paste. Cook until tomatoes are soft and incorporated into the sauce, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, fold in scallions. Set aside and let cool.
Assemblage (Check Step-By-Step Pictures Below):
Sprinkle a working surface with flour. Place one empanada dough round on surface and top with about one tablespoon of ground beef. Place one cheese cube over ground beef and carefully fold the dough over, while securing the filling inside with hands. Press fingers around dough, then press a fork around the border of pastel to secure. Trim excess dough with a pastry cutter (optional).
Deep fry the pastries in hot vegetable oil. When the outside is golden brown, remove from oil and transfer to a large plate lined with paper towel. Let stand 3 minutes before serving.
Place one empanada dough round on surface and top with about one tablespoon of ground beef.
Place one cheese cube over ground beef.
Fold it over.
Secure filling inside pressing fingers around.
Use fork to seal borders.
Use a pastry cutter to trim (this step is optional, since all it does to the Pastel is making it look cutier).
Ready to be fried.
Ready to eat!!
If you like spicy, add extra chili paste to the filling. In this recipe, ½ tablespoon gives a mild-medium level of heat.
In Brazil, the most popular cheese variety for this recipe is Prato, which is hard to find in the US. Gouda and Cheddar serve as substitutes. I even like it better with Gouda!
Easy to work with, store-bought empanada dough does a good job substituting home-made pastel dough. Much quicker and less messy, empanada dough can be found at the frozen aisle of large grocery stores and at Latin markets (see pictures below). Widely available, frozen store-bought spring roll dough can also be used. I personally recommend the use of home-made dough because it is thinner, crunchier and the pastel will taste more traditional (and more delicious)! Click on my Hearts-of Palm Pastel for the home-made dough recipe.