Before moving to England in 2001, I had never heard of many food allergies. I had come across some people who said they had a hard time breathing and could even die from eating seafood, and maybe I had seen a lame comic scene enacting this scary situation in a movie or two. But food that stated in its label that it “Does not contain peanuts”, or “Has been manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, milk, soy, eggs, and wheat” was absolutely new and alien to me. I wondered why the Brits were so allergic to foods such as peanuts or gluten (what on earth was gluten anyway?) and thought they were either paranoid or really causing harm to themselves through their over-processed eating habits and lifestyle.
My view on this didn’t change much until my friend Kate opened my eyes about gluten intolerance, and made me realize how a lot of people (including Peruvians!) suffer from it all their lives and never realize it. The reason for this is, basically, lack of information, and the fact that traditional doctors treat symptoms individually, without realizing that a whole group of symptoms could be pinpointing to one single problem as a root: in many cases, a food intolerance.
Kate is a yoga teacher, and very much into natural holistic nutrition. She has done it all: fasting for long periods, eating raw, juicing…you name it. She also tried accupunture, reiki, sweat lodges, meditation, candida treatment, traditional medicine; but nothing seemed to help her feel healthy. There were always many things wrong in her body at the same time, and she had no clue, after years of searching, what was causing them. Until she found someone who told her she probably was gluten intolerant, and her life changed. Kate stopped eating wheat cold turkey, and everything fell into place in a matter of weeks. She now feels like never before. Except, of course, when she eats gluten. At the slightest taste of wheat, she gets sick. And I mean really sick, in bed for several days. Now that her body is clean of the poison that was stopping it from working well, it has become incredibly sensitive to it.
So now I hear many people talk about all kinds of food allergies and sensitivities, and I completely understand. The food that we eat nowadays is hardly food at all. People are overfed so many ingredients that our bodies are not prepared to take in such large and constant amounts, that our wise organisms have started rejecting them. Makes total sense to me. It is for this reason that I try to eat everything with moderation, and go gluten-free, sugar-free, etc, as often as possible.
This morning I decided to make some delicious empanadas, (typical not only in Peru, but in many other South American countries too), and was trying to figure out which was the best way to make them gluten-free, as I’m definitely not into white flour which is how they are commonly made (delicious, but…). Since we are part of the Maseca Blog Amigas, and I had some Maseca flour in store, I decided to make them with this all-natural flour made from corn. I know this flour since I was a little girl, as my mother used to make delicious tortillas, pupusas, and arepas with it when she craved Central American food. It has a very special taste that I really enjoy, and is great for making other Peruvian dishes such as tamales. I tried a vegetarian tamal made with Maseca the other morning, and it was almost the same as eating a tamal made in Peru from fresh corn. I filled it with cheese, chili pepper, and black olives, and steamed it. I was really pleased with the result.
So back to today’s recipe, I decided to make a Maseca empanada (I got the recipe at the Mi Maseca page), and filled it with cherry tomatoes, goats cheese and dill (the usual filling is minced meat). This is a gourmet empanada, and gluten-free! Lovers of traditional Peruvian food probably won’t like all this change, but I sure did! The texture was a bit different from the typical dough of empanadas, more crumbly and hence harder to eat with your hands, so I just ate it on the plate with a fork and accompanied it with a watercress, cherry tomato, and apple salad. This is the perfect “healthy” empanada, as not only is Maseca gluten-free, it’s also rich in calcium and fiber.
And to all the people out there with any kind of food intolerances, I now understand you, and this is a homage to you. You don’t have to miss out on any of our delicious food, just be a bit creative and look for alternatives like this one. I hope you like it.
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes cut in 4
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- ¼ cup goat's cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped dill
- 1 egg
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup butter
- 1 cup Maseca corn flour
- ¼ cup water
- Mix the butter, Maseca corn flour, water, and a little bit of salt, until you form an even, smooth dough. Put in the fridge for an hour.
- Sautee the shallots and garlic in olive oil, at medium heat, moving constantly, and when they become golden add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- When the dough has been in the fridge for an hour, turn the oven on to 425F, and cover a baking pan with butter and flour.
- Divide the dough in 2, and flatten one of the portions, forming a circle. If it crumbles too easily, and it's hard to handle, you may want to add a little bit of oil to it.
- In one half of the circle put half the tomatoes, half the goat's cheese (in crumbles), and sprinkle half the dill on top. Fold the other half of the circle on top, and close the empanada, pressing all along the edge. You can press with a fork too to form ridges.
- Brush with egg so that it becomes golden when baked, and place on the pan.
- Repeat with the other half of the ingredients, and bake the empanadas for 20 minutes.