When I was a little girl I used to follow mi papá, Jose Soza, around the garden and watch him plant all sorts of vegetables in the backyard. He would make a hole in the ground with a stick and I would put the seeds in the hole, then he would go back and cover the hole with the stick. He died very young, at the age of 53; I was only 10 years old.
After he passed away mi mamá continued the tradition. We always had fresh tomatoes, green chile, squash, and sometimes we also had sugar cane. When she had a good tomato crop, more tomatoes than she knew what to do with, she would can them. But the best part was when she made sweet tomato preserves. Mi mamá never threw anything away if she could help it. Remember they came from an era where everything was used in one way or another.
What are sweet tomato preserves you ask? A lot of people ask the same question. They have never heard of such a thing. You have to remember that tomatoes are considered a fruit and can be preserved by adding sugar for a surprisingly delicious sweet filling for desserts.
Mi mamá made empanadas with the tomato preserves. It’s a taste like no other. When I make these delicious pastries and share them with family and friends, I love to have them guess the filling. They quickly take a bite, raise their eyebrows, and then give me a quizzical look. Then I always hear, “It’s very good but I don’t know.” Sometimes they guess strawberries, rhubarb, and other red fruits. They are very surprised when I say its tomato; I have never had a disappointed taster.
If you are swimming in tomatoes give this recipe a try. You will be pleasantly surprised with its tangy and sweet dual flavor.
Sweet Tomato Turnovers (Empanadas)
Yield: Makes 24 to 30 turnover or flower-shaped empanadas
6 pounds roma tomatoes
1 stick cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ½ cups brown sugar or 1 (16-ounce) piloncillo
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
Make tomato filling:
In a large pot add enough water to cover tomatoes and set over medium heat. While water comes to a boil, rinse tomatoes and remove stem; with a paring knife make a small X on the bottom of each tomato. Carefully add tomatoes to the hot water and boil for 5 minutes, remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for another 5 minutes.
Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. Add the tomatoes to the ice water and give them time to cool off, about 10 minutes. Add more ice if necessary.
Peel cooled tomatoes; start from the bottom up. The curled edges help make the peeling easier.
With your hand, crush the tomatoes, into a non-stick pot. If they are still too hot, use a potato masher. Add the cinnamon and cloves and over low heat, boil roughly mashed tomatoes for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
Strain most of the water out of the tomato puree but leave enough in the tomatoes so they are not dry. I usually drain about 1 ½ to 2 cups of liquid. Reserve about ½ cup of the tomato liquid; refrigerate to cool.
Remove the cinnamon and cloves from the tomatoes. Mash tomatoes again in the pot with a potato masher. Add sugar or piloncillo and cook uncovered for another 30 minutes. If needed add more sugar to taste.
Add the cornstarch to ½ cup of reserved cold tomato liquid and whisk until well combined. Add cornstarch mixture to tomatoes and continue to cook for about 15 minutes. Cook until the consistency is like preserves.
As the tomato preserves cool it will thicken.
Can as needed or use immediately.
Make empanada dough:
Mix the first 3 dry ingredients. Cut in the shortening with the dry ingredients. Works better if you use your hands. Add the eggs, milk and sugar. Continue to work in with your hands. Split the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and put into the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes.
Take out one half of the dough and split it into 12 rounds of dough.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Roll out one round of dough into a small round circle. Take a paring knife and cut off the edges creating a square. Add about one tablespoon of preserves on one half of the rolled out dough. Bring down the top corner and match it up with the bottom corner, creating a triangle. Seal off the edges of the dough by pressing down on the edges with a fork. This also makes for a pretty pattern when baked.
Continue doing this until you have used up all your rounds and the scraps of dough.
Remove the second half of the dough from the fridge and repeat.
Assemble flower-shaped empanadas:
Roll out one round of dough into a small round circle. Take a paring knife and cut off the edges creating a square. Add about one tablespoon of preserves directly in the middle of your square. Pull up the four corners of the dough and pinch together tightly at the center, making sure that all four corners won’t come apart. With your fingers, squeeze the outer tips of the dough, creating a seal so the preserves don’t escape during baking.
Brush each empanada with egg whites, sprinkle with sugar. Layer a large cookie sheet with parchment paper, place the empanadas on the parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes on the bottom rack in the oven. If after 15 minutes you notice the tops are not brown, move the baking sheet to the broiler and let them brown for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Watch them carefully to make sure they don’t burn.
Written by Vangie / Photos by Veronica