Foodstuffs: In Nashua, A Lesson in the Art of the Empanada

Dec 17, 2015

Credit (From El Rincon Colombiano's Yelp page)

 

Step into the Rincon Colombiano on a Saturday night, and you’ll probably have trouble finding a seat. There’s just a few tables, a long counter—tonight, all full. And in back, Owner Beatriz Delacruz and her two daughters barely have room to move in this tiny kitchen.

There’s lots of different dishes coming out this swinging door. I came for the empanadas.

I ask Rosamena, one of Beatriz's daughters, to explain what the empanada means to her.

"Es la raiz de nosotros."

It’s our roots, she says.

"Todo el mundo…nos criamos con la empanada." 

All Columbians grew up with empanadas.

"El maiz, la carne, las papas, y la salsa."

The corn, the meat, the potatoes, the salsa.

Si, somos nosotros, la empanada.

It’s who we are, she says.

Every culture has its starchy staple — some kind of dough filled with something delish. In Poland, it’s the pierogi; in Japan, the gyoza; in East Africa, mandazi. In most of Latin America, it’s the empanada.

Making an empanada is simple, but profound.

"Basically, it’s cornmeal," Rosamena explains. "You cook the meal until it gets to a certain texture. Then you grind it up, mill it, add some saffron." 

That’s the masa—the dough. The filling is a kind of stew, called a guiso.

"Okay, now, the guiso. The guiso is inside the empanada. They come with mashed potato, they have salsa, with tomatoes, onions, garlic, cumin, and saffron. And beef."

Rosamena rolls out the masa, spoons in some of the guiso, folds it over and seals the edge with a round piece of tin .

Then: Fry it, and serve piles of them up with a dish of salsa. 

These empanadas are not just Columbian empanadas; they’re specific to the region these ladies come from, Bayuna.

When Beatriz, Rosalena’s mom, arrived in New Hampshire and opened El Rincon 12 years ago, they say it was the first Columbian restaurant in the state. I ask if it was hard at first to get the locals interested.

It wasn't, Rosamena says. Word spread fast. One person would try the food, like it, and bring more people.

"Asi que eso fue una cadena."

12 years later, it’s only 6 o’clock, and Rosamena’s already rushing to make a new batch of masa to fill the latest order.