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I get overwhelmed sometimes. Not in a debilitating way, just in a mind-racing, go read 20 books and a jillion web pages on the subject-kind of way. If my curiosity is piqued, out of boredom or fear or whatever, I’m a slave to information, detail and know-how. All consuming. I have to know more and get to the bottom of it.

Lately I’ve been puzzling over a few things. Small and big stuff. Whether I should be working in the field that I’m in, should I really be taking vitamin D?, the public’s perception of “fine dining” (Is it just another place to put food in their mouths? The idea of it and some of the pretensions are troubling to me…), how totally fine I felt after taking a little social media/computer break, general iffy-ness on the celebrity chef phenomenon and its effect in kitchens, WHY do I even use pinterest?, the enormity of this post and on and on.

When it all hits that crescendo of too much at once, I kind of panic in a quiet way. Unsure of what to do, I essentially do nothing. I read about the issue(s) at hand a bit more, take in more ideas, criticisms, strategies, opinions etc. Then when it’s time to move on to the next scheduled thing in my life, I feel ridiculous. The ratio of concern to productivity doesn’t match up and now I have to go to work or meet up with a friend. Without any answers. Feeling sorta shitty. What needs to happen at that point?

I make plans to dwell in the kitchen and do something, anything. It could be constructing a layer cake, it could be carrot sticks, doesn’t matter. It re-instills that feeling of capability, confidence and adaptability in the face of adversity and confusion. It’s doing something; not to take yourself away from the concern, but to pursue it in a different way. It’s mindful moving on and it brings me back into the light. New perspective, clarity and a meal.

This dish makes for a bit of (totally mindful) prep work, but it’s still relatively easy to put together. I wouldn’t say that these are authentic empanadas (“authenticity” is another thing I could go on about). It’s a pocket meal enclosed in dough that can be eaten any time of the day for sure.  Mine have a chickpea flour-based dough and slightly spicy, sweet and citrus-y filling that’s hearty with tempeh and sweet potatoes. A more wholesome and actually tasty hot pocket perhaps? I’m okay with leaving it at that.

Oh, and just as a little experiment, I’ve started a facebook page. You can like it if you want (or if, you know, you actually like it).

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spicy tempeh empanadas with sweet potatoes, pepitas and spinach
serves: makes 7-8
special equipment: a rolling pin
notes: The woman who taught us pastry at culinary school told us to start our pie dough in the shape that you want to end up with. Similarly, with this dough, you should shape it into a tight circle before rolling it out. Also, other flours like whole wheat, spelt, brown rice, GF all purpose etc would work in place of the chickpea.

3 cups chickpea flour
pinch of salt
4.5 tbsp olive oil
1/3-1/2 cup water (depending on how your dough feels)

1/2 block of tempeh (125 grams)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, fine dice
1 cup grated sweet potato
1 fat clove of garlic, minced
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 tbsp (or less if you want!) chili flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp dried oregano
2 handfuls of spinach, rough chop
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup raisins
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Cut the tempeh into 1/2 inch cubes. Bring some water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add the tempeh cubes and simmer for about 20 minutes. Drain the tempeh and set aside.

While tempeh is cooking, make the dough. Place the chickpea flour and pinch of salt in a large bowl. Add the oil and 1/3 cup of water. Stir to combine. Begin to knead the dough, adding more water as necessary to bring it to the right consistency. The dough should feel slightly tacky and dense. Form dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and set aside on the counter at room temperature.

Make the filling: Heat the 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute until soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the grated sweet potatoes and saute for 1 minute. Add the drained tempeh and start mashing it up with the back of your spoon. Add the garlic, thyme, chili flakes, cumin, lemon zest (not the juice yet) and oregano. Saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes, keep mashing/breaking down the tempeh. Remove pan from the heat. Add spinach, pumpkin seeds, raisins, and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Season the whole mixture to taste and set aside.

Cut the dough into 7 or 8 pieces. Form one piece into a circle, trying to avoid little cracks in the dough on the sides. Dust your work area and rolling pin lightly with chickpea flour. Roll out the circle evenly to 1/4 inch thickness. Spoon about 1/4 cup of filling onto the circle of dough, slightly off-center. Fold the dough over the filling, pinching the dough at the widest point of the circle. Fold all of the edges of the dough over each other to enclose the filling. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Place finished empanadas on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush a little olive oil on top if you like. Bake for 20 minutes or until edges and bottoms are slightly browned and dried.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

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  • dana @ my little celebration13/03/2012 - 4:46 pm

    Gorgeous! I love the use of chickpea flour and tempeh in this recipe. So creative and healthy!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle13/03/2012 - 4:59 pm

    Love that I’ve finally got a way to use tempeh- a usually daunting protein!

    Could you use another flour instead of chickpea (assuming you are not gluten-free) like whole wheat?ReplyCancel

  • Sarah13/03/2012 - 5:17 pm

    Girl…I am with you on this. Same cycle: crazed pensiveness –> feel kind of bad about everything –> do something tangible in kitchen. It’s _something_, at least. Your something looks delicious at the very least…on a chickpea flour kick myself.ReplyCancel

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar13/03/2012 - 5:31 pm

    These are absolutely lovely. Great job!ReplyCancel

  • Margarita13/03/2012 - 5:48 pm

    When I get too overwhelmed because I have so much to do… I put everything off and start cooking or baking instead. It takes me away from whatever stresses are going on around me without feeling like I’m just doing nothing, because I have a product at the end… an edible one! :) This is a great recipe… do you think I can use firm tofu for this instead of tempeh?ReplyCancel

    • Laura13/03/2012 - 5:52 pm

      Michelle: You could definitely sub in whole wheat or spelt for the chickpea.

      Margarita: You could certainly use tofu! I would skip the initial boiling/simmering step though. Maybe just saute it in a bit of oil with salt and pepper, remove from the skillet, cook everything else (shallots, sweet potatoes etc) and add it back in at the end. Hope that helps!ReplyCancel

  • Kelsey13/03/2012 - 7:11 pm

    You’re the best. I’ve been feeling in the mud with “it all” too lately. We’re all in it together, love. And I love this space and your voice and all the beauty you contribute to this community. Just in case someone hasn’t told you that lately.. :)ReplyCancel

  • sara forte13/03/2012 - 7:14 pm

    oh my I NEED to make these for hugh, he love love empanadas but I never want to eat a bunch of pie crust. Your alternative sounds so perfect! More importantly, I really value what you said. It does end up being a lot to take in doesn’t it? So glad that you are here sharing your thinking time with readers :)ReplyCancel

  • janet @ the taste space13/03/2012 - 8:10 pm

    Cooking is definitely my way to escape… I can feel successful in the kitchen when everything else in life is less so. I totally relate. I love how you used chickpea flour here. :)ReplyCancel

  • Blaine13/03/2012 - 10:43 pm

    These look amazing, I’m a sucker for anything with tempeh or chickpea flour. Together is better!

    Just curious, what culinary school did you attend? I’m currently enrolled in one and loving it.ReplyCancel

    • Laura14/03/2012 - 8:34 am

      Hi Blaine!
      I went to George Brown College in Toronto. Lovely experience. Glad you’re enjoying your time in school :)

  • Erin14/03/2012 - 9:29 am

    This rings all too true for me as well. I unfortunately go on overload far too often but I’ve found that two things can help that: cooking and hiking.

    Love the empanadas. This is the second recipe in a weeks time that has used tempeh that I’ve drooled over. Slight confession: never had it. So, I think it’s time to change that! Lovely post as always!ReplyCancel

  • Caitlin14/03/2012 - 12:21 pm

    i absolutely adore chickpea flour for everything. i love how you used it here! i will DEFINITELY be giving these pockets a try! thank you!

    ps- i LOVE your blog. just so ya know ;)ReplyCancel

  • sarah14/03/2012 - 10:32 pm

    Yes, yes and yes. It does get overwhelming! and I’ve been feeling the same way. I don’t have much to add, just that coming to your space makes me happy and makes me want to eat healthy.ReplyCancel

  • Cookie + Kate15/03/2012 - 9:41 am

    Oh girl, I hear you loud and clear. I get all-consumed by a hunch, and other times I’m overwhelmed and fidgety and can’t get anything done while my subconscious tries to straighten something out. I’m not usually into crusty-all-over things but your empanadas look like a major exception. Did you ever get around to trying Bittman’s chickpea fries? I’d love to see how those turn out!ReplyCancel

    • Laura15/03/2012 - 10:01 am

      Aaaah perfect reminder, Kate! Gonna do that soon while I have tons of chickpea flour around.ReplyCancel

  • Kasey16/03/2012 - 7:39 pm

    I can’t even tell you how much I relate to this post (having just recently written one in a similar vein myself: http://www.turntablekitchen.com/2012/02/argentinian-beef-empanadas-a-return-to-calm/). I feel like we all struggle sometimes with the decisions that we do or don’t make. But, I, like you, turn the kitchen. It’s definitely a place that helps me find balance. It keeps me grounded. And for a short while, I stop questioning things so much.ReplyCancel

  • nancy19/03/2012 - 6:42 am

    These look great. I love the use of the chickpea flour in the dough and the portability of these.ReplyCancel

  • Jenny16/04/2012 - 7:15 pm

    I thought this was great. I used black lentils in the place of tempeh and cranberries in place of raisins. It made for a nice dinner on a very warm day.
    Thank youReplyCancel

  • Shayne20/09/2012 - 8:36 pm

    Not sure if someone asked this already, but I’m not gluten-free, so could I use all purpose flour? If so, are there any changes I would need to make via measurements?ReplyCancel

    • Laura24/09/2012 - 12:25 pm

      Hi Shayne,
      You could definitely use all purpose flour instead. Although the AP may absorb more liquid than the chickpea flour, so just gradually add the liquid ingredients until you have a pliable dough. And since AP flour contains gluten, be careful not to stir the dough up as much to avoid toughness.

      Hope that helps :)


  • Roxanne10/02/2013 - 5:49 pm

    Oh man, does this post resonate with me. I go down the same mental spiral all too often. And I hate how counterproductive it actually is, when the initial idea is to be productive in some way, perhaps too many ways. It’s nice to remind myself to return to simplicity- rice and beans, a piece of toast and banana, a good book. But time in the kitchen is also sacred and amazing for all the reasons you stated.
    I loved the concept of this recipe and decided I had to try it out. I love the health advantages of using chickpea flower especially. Mine unfortunately didn’t turn out so well. The filling is fantastic, but the dough was difficult to work with, spread out and fold. It felt dry and like it was just crumbling up. I added some water and it was slightly improved and I managed to roll out some empanadas. Out of the oven, though, they turned out kind of how they felt- dry, chalky, crumbly.
    Any ideas as to why? Was the flour maybe too old? Should I’ve added more oil?

    Thanks for the ideas and inspiration!ReplyCancel

    • Laura Wright11/02/2013 - 10:10 am

      Hi Roxanne!
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m so sorry that the empanadas didn’t work out for you! From the sounds of it, I think your dough may have needed a bit more fat/oil added in. Every batch of chickpea flour is different in terms of absorption so depending on that, the dough may need more moisture to bind it. I generally make doughs like this by feel, adding the water or oil until a I reach a point of elasticity in the dough. I’m not sure how much of a role freshness in the chickpea flour plays, since I know that mine wasn’t terribly fresh when I made these. I’m glad that you found the filling tasty though. Hopefully the dough rolls out a bit easier for you next time :)

      Thank you so much for the feedback!

  • […] From: The First Mess […]ReplyCancel

  • Amalia26/07/2013 - 12:10 pm

    I had the same problem as Roxanne. My chickpea flour was pretty old as well… I will definitely try these again as my boyfriend enjoyed them despite my crumbly tough empanada dough and the filling was quite yummy.

    Great blog!ReplyCancel

  • Sandranista27/08/2014 - 11:51 am

    excited to try this with ingredients I have around the house! The kitchen is a refuge for me too; it’s our art!ReplyCancel

  • Juliette Ober19/10/2014 - 11:06 am

    Thank you for this – the recipes and the thoughts. I try my best to use my own insight and bloodhound nose/palette to keep our veg/vegan life simple with few ingredients but when I’m stuck I grab the computer and run to you. Thank you for sharing your time.
    This post was most inspiring as I wrestle daily with what the social media aspect means and offers to my own path. Rescuing and retraining Thoroughbreds is so rewarding daily and so without any need for documentation – or is it? Can I, in good conscience not share what I know? I tell myself I have to write, explain, photograph for the horses but then I get tied in the tight web of icky computer time and feel trapped.
    It was nice to read that I am not alone!ReplyCancel

  • on the menu. – Floptimism14/02/2016 - 4:28 am

    […] roasted broccoli, too. pink grapefruit and avocado salad with halibut and roasted beets, perhaps? spicy tempeh empanadas with some black bean […]ReplyCancel

  • Karrie21/09/2016 - 7:19 pm

    This looks so delicious! But grating a sweet potato sounds like it would annoy the hell out of me. Think I could use carrot instead?ReplyCancel

    • Laura21/09/2016 - 8:10 pm

      You could totally use carrot instead, and I think it’ll be just as good! ;)

  • Nathan24/07/2017 - 9:37 pm

    Am I crazy, or is the step where we use the lemon juice missing from this recipe?ReplyCancel

    • Laura25/07/2017 - 1:50 pm

      You’re not crazy! It’s added with the pumpkin seeds and raisins. Just edited the recipe to reflect this. Thank you!

  • Nicole25/10/2017 - 7:04 pm

    These sound amazing! If I have smoked, ready to eat tempeh, do you think I should still do the boiling step or skip it? Thanks.ReplyCancel

    • Laura26/10/2017 - 6:12 am

      I would definitely skip the boiling step! Also that smoked tempeh sounds delicious.

  • […] glad I did. It started when my partner went looking for a new empanada recipe, and discovered these tempeh empanadas. We both immediately put the cookbook on hold before they’d even cooled from the oven. Since, […]ReplyCancel

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