Idaho is no longer a "meat and potatoes" type of state: it is becoming a veritable culinary melting pot! New and interesting ethnic restaurants and grocery stores are opening up in cities around the Treasure Valley and a growing group of "new" Idahoans is introducing exciting unfamiliar ingredients, different approaches to old-fashioned foods and secret family recipes that have been handed down from one generation to the next.

This blog allows us a peek into the pots and pans of these travelers that have chosen to make Idaho their new home. It captures a compilation of stories and dishes from people who, far away from their country of birth, recreate familiar elements in the dishes they prepare. For many, food from their home country is a comfort to the soul: for some it's an important part of their cultural or religious celebrations and for others, it's just good eating!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Name: Jorge Kleiss
Born in: Mérida, Venezuela
In Idaho since: January 5th, 2008

Jorge came to Idaho to attend the Culinary Arts program at CWI in early 2008. Since then he's been busy with school and volunteering at the YMCA, with the ski patrol and the Boy Scouts.

"I became interested in cooking during the 2003 Boy Scout Summer Camp. It's not that I wasn't interested before, but the first day of camp I found out that I was supposed to cook for 8 people for the ten day duration of the camp. I didn't even know how to fry an egg!", says Jorge, laughing out loud. "But nobody really complained or disliked the food that I prepared so I figured I might have a knack for it". Once he returned home from camp, Jorge started experimenting in the kitchen and quickly became the main person to prepare lunches for his sisters and his parents. But the interest in food and cooking was not necessarily new to the family.

"My dad is an awesome cook, and so is my mom", he says when we're on our way to the store to get some last-minute ingredients. "Especially my dad has a curiosity for new things. He is always on the lookout for a new cut of meat or an exotic ingredient he has not cooked with before. I guess I turned out the same way because each time I go to the grocery store, I make sure I stroll down every aisle looking for new things to try."

Jorge's dish to share are empanadas. The empanada is a half-circle shaped, corn-based dough pastry that is filled with savory stuffing and then fried in hot oil. The filling is usually shredded beef or chicken stewed with vegetables and cheese but can be as adventurous as shark or beef tongue. The empanadas can be eaten as a main course for breakfast or lunch, or served at parties as a snack.

"I love making empanadas because it gives me room to be creative and stuff them with any kind of savory filling that I want. It is the kind of food Venezuelans will eat for breakfast, and it is usually eaten with a traditional sauce, similar to Tartar sauce. You really want this sauce with your empanadas: if the empanada is not overly stuffed or if the dough is not very tasty, the sauce will make up for all of that. When I was in high school, our cafetaria cook was Mr Alonso and he made the most amazing sauce. The empanadas were okay but the sauce made them wonderful. Actually, I love empanadas so much that my aunt Ester made me a huge platter on the day before I left for Idaho and I ate them all!"

For the dough
3 cups of harina PAN (available in Hispanic markets)
4 1/2 cups of warm water, divided
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 tablespoons of sugar
pinch of salt

In a bowl, pour the three cups of flour and add three cups of warm water. Add in the olive oil, the sugar and the salt and knead into a thick paste. Add another cup of water. Knead for five minutes or until the dough has come together and some of the grittiness of the corn grains has disappeared. Pour the last half cup of water on the dough, cover and let it sit for about twenty minutes.

For the filling
1 cup of celery, minced
1 cup of onion, minced
1/2 cup of green onion, minced
1 red pepper, de-seeded and minced
1/4 cup of carrot, minced
8 green stuffed olives, minced
1 pound of ground beef
1/2 cup of beef stock
2 tablespoons of ketchup
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire
1 teaspoon of cumin, black pepper and garlic powder each
2 cups of shredded cheese

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and quickly sauté the vegetables until soft. Add in the ground beef, break it up in little pieces and stir until the meat is no longer pink, then add in the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for approximately 45 minutes until it becomes a thick, meaty paste. Taste. Adjust with seasonings as needed and set aside to cool.

What you'll need
3 pieces of plastic wrap, approximately 12 inches long (Jorge uses the Harina Pan bags for this purpose)
1 small cutting board
1 small bowl with a 5 inch diameter

Place one piece of plastic wrap on a baking sheet or cutting board. Knead the dough again so that it absorbs the rest of the water and turns into a soft, pillowy dough. Break off a piece the size of a tennis ball and quickly roll it into a round. Put the second sheet of plastic wrap, long side down, in front of you. Place the dough ball on top, cover with the third piece of plastic wrap and place the small cutting board on top. Now press down with both hands, flattening the dough into a round.

Lift the top plastic sheet, and place two spoonfulls of the meat stew in the middle of the dough, lenghtwise, leaving at least an inch on each side. Sprinkle with a heaping tablespoon of shredded cheese. Now lift the plastic with both hands on one side and fold one half of the dough onto the other half.

Place the rim of the bowl, hollow side under, over the empanada and push down onto the dough, covering the filling and removing any extra dough. This will shape the empanada into a perfect half circle and seal the edges.
Peel off the top sheet of plastic and place the empanada on the baking sheet. Continue to make empanadas until either the stew or the dough is gone. This should make approximately 10 empanadas.

Heat the fryer or an inch of olive oil in a frying pan to 375F. Carefully place the empanadas, two to three at a time in the oil and fry until golden brown on each side.

Rest on a plate covered with one or two paper towels to absorb some of the oil. Do not immediately consume because the inside will be piping hot!

Venezuelan Empanada Sauce
1 cup of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of capers, drained and minced
6 green olives, minced
2 tablespoons of parsley, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of black pepper

Mix everything together, taste and adjust accordingly.

Serve the empanadas with a side of sauce and make sure there is enough for everybody to share. Let the party begin!


  1. this is the
    i love las empanadas.

    jajaja me dio hasta hambre maricoo..

  2. ummm, no offense but i made it as u said and it dose not taste that much....

  3. Hi RECOBA,
    Thank you for your comment. You touch on a very important, and often overlooked, issue. The final taste of a dish depends on many things: the quality of the ingredients, the freshness of the oil and even more subtle things like whether you're a smoker or not. Since the filling is what gives the most taste to these empanadas, I do recommend at the end of that particular section of the recipe to taste and adjust if needed. The ingredients listed in the recipe were those that Jorge used for the filling and it turned out to be very tasteful and flavorful. Unless you are in Boise and used exactly the same products we used that day, I am convinced that your filling turned out differently that his: not necessarily better or worse, just different. Most probably, your produce was grown in different soil with different water, the beef you used was raised in a different environment and on different feed ..... seemingly unimportant factors, but they do all contribute to the final taste.

    So just follow the recipe as a guideline. Taste and adjust the flavors of the filling and the dough to your liking and personalize it. You may be steps away from creating your own awesome empanada recipe!


  4. Hi Recoba, if there is anything i can help with i would love to do it, that recipe is very basic and is the one i use on my everyday cooking.
    For anything u need, ill be here for you.
    Jorge kleiss