When I was 17 I lived “pura vida” in the enchanted land of San José, Costa Rica.
There I saw the most beautiful sights and met the most beautiful people. I danced the sexiest dances with the handsomest boys, and I laughed harder than I ever knew I could. And everyday I was there I ate the most delicious food. If you’ve ever been to Costa Rica you know a bit about how they eat. Breakfast, Gallo Pinto y plátanos, lunch can be the same, and dinner too. I spent the entire summer in Costa Rica and never once did I tire of Gallo Pinto (refried rice and beans spiced to perfection with Salsa Lizano, garlic, and onions), Frijoles, Arroz and Plátanos (plantains).
Of course, Ticos don’t only eat rice and beans! The country is located in the midst of a tropical rain forest. Tropical fruits are abundant, my favorite being the Mamón Chino (aka Rambutan), and pastry shops are everywhere.
I attended a language institute on the side of a mountain in Escazú, the town where I lived. Everyday we’d take a break from our learning to grab lunch at one of the tiny bodegas called “sodas”. The soda closest to our school sold Coca-Colas from little glass bottles that we promised to return and empanadas that promised to delight my midday soul with every bite. One or two flaky empanadas filled with tender chicken, onion, and spice and a cola, or sometimes Fresca, was my school lunch most days. I’d never experienced the flaky empanadas I’d discovered in Escazú, and I haven’t since. The airy crust would stay there stuck to my lips as I delighted in savoring every last bite. My friends would point the crumbs out to me, and my excitement would grow as I learned that there on my lips I had one more morsel to cherish. Oh, I am serious, I loved those empanadas. Along with Gallo Pinto, Pico de Gallo, and Dulce de Leche filled donuts they made a mark on my soul. Now when I think of empanadas I think of Costa Rica.
This summer I will have the opportunity to go away for some months. I want to discover the gems of a country I’ve never been to, but there is a part of me that would love to spend 3 months in Costa Rica again. I’d spend it eating, and exploring its edible world. I’d live on the foods that make Ticos some of the healthiest people on earth, and live a life that can only be described as Pura Vida, which can only be understood once experienced.
I draw inspiration from many places. Life often whispers yummy ideas into my ear and I must write it down, or talk about it, or else the inspiration will pass me by.
I visited my favorite restaurant in Atlanta, The Flying Biscuit, a couple of weeks ago, and I ordered their Vegan BBQ Burrito. DELICIOUS! Oh my GOD! Then God whispered in my ear “Empanada”, and DING* Inspiration struck me, and here I am today eating a flaky empanada filled with tofu, collard greens, and mushrooms slowly sauteed in Barbecue Sauce. The crust I’m devouring isn’t the same as that of my beloved flaky Costarican empanada. I used Phyllo to achieve the tender flake and airy lightness I desired, and with good results. But in Costa Rica my empanada’s shell was somewhere between the fluffiness of a puff pastry with the flake of a phyllo. The hands that made my empanadas were skilled and so careful, as I am, but perhaps they had years of empanada making in their bones.
Try these, they are delightful, and if I may say so myself, delicious. They’re even easy to make, though the phyllo tried to give me a hard time.
After all this reminiscing of Costa Rican food I’m craving a plane ticket to visit the land where part of my heart still resides.
- 3 cups raw Collard Greens, cleaned and cut in thin 2 inch thin ribbons
- ½ block extra firm Tofu, drained, pressed, and mashed into small scrambled pieces
- ⅓ cup dry Porcini mushrooms. Fresh baby bella, or any other small mushroom will work
- ½ cup quality vegan Barbecue Sauce
- 1 tsp freshly grated Ginger
- 1 tsp Chili Pepper Flakes (optional for 5 star spice)
- Sea Salt
- Black Pepper
- ¼ lb of Phyllo Dough thawed
- 3 tbsp Butter
- 4 tbsp Olive Oil
- In a medium sized pan or skillet heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add Collard Greens, a dash of sea salt and sauté on medium low heat. When the greens have cooked down about half way add tofu, mushrooms, barbecue sauce, ginger and chili flakes. Stir and cook covered on low heat for another 20 minutes. Stir every five minutes so that it doesn't burn or dry out. Turn off heat, add salt and pepper to taste. Set the barbecue mixture aside to cool.
- Set oven to 375 degrees.
- While the filling is cooling begin work on the phyllo. In a small sauce pan melt 3 tablespoons of butter, add olive oil, and keep warm on the stove. Coat a baking sheet with a thin layer of this mixture and set aside.
- On a clean work space lay out one sheet of the phyllo and brush with the butter/oil mixture, place another sheet on top and coat, and another until you've used 4 or 5 sheets. Cut the sheets into 3 long strips lengthwise. At the bottom of each strip place a large spoonful of the barbecue filling. Fold the phyllo over the filling to form a triangle, fold that portion up, then over to form another triangle, and so on until you've reached the top. Think of it as folding a flag; though an exceptionally long flag.
- Do this for the other two strips, then layer and coat some more phyllo to assemble the rest of the empanadas. As you finish assembling, place them onto the coated baking sheet. When you've made 6 empanadas, coat the tops with the rest of the butter/oil mixture and place in the oven to bake for 20 minutes.
- When they're nice and golden, remove from the oven and allow them to cool a bit. You don't want to burn your mouth with the barbecued tofu filling!