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Portuguese Pastry with the Devil Inside

This Brazilian appetizer gets its name from the hot peppers in the filling. Be sure to use fresh tuna, if available, because the hot pepper marinade permeates the raw fish and gives it a more pungent flavor. The combination of sweet potato, cornmeal, and tuna may seem strange at first, but just one bite will convince you otherwise. “Fantastic” will be your response. Double the recipe if you are planning a party. These pastries, along with soup and salad, also make a nice lunch.–Cherie Hamilton

LC Dough Dos And Don'ts Note

With regard to the dough, any kind of cornmeal will do. As author Cherie Hamilton explains, “I have made this recipe with both finely ground cornmeal (harina) and regular cornmeal. The regular cornmeal gives a coarser texture to the dough and a more substantial pastry. The harina makes a lighter dough.” And as one of our very own recipe testers suggested, if you don’t know if you’ll like the sweet potato and cornmeal dough, you can simply swap standard empanada dough.

Portuguese Pastry with the Devil Inside Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 2 H
  • 3 H
  • Makes about 24 pastries

Ingredients

  • For the pastry
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, unpeeled (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 cups yellow cornmeal (finely ground or regular)
  • For the filling
  • 1 pound fresh tuna, finely chopped by hand, or two 6-ounce cans tuna, drained
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes, or 2 chile peppers, finely chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Directions

  • Make the pastry
  • 1. Rinse the sweet potatoes and place them in a large pot along with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and gently simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. When the sweet potatoes are done, remove the from the pot and let them cool. Reserve the cooking water.
  • 2. Peel the sweet potatoes, discarding the skin. Cut the sweet potatoes into dice and mash until all lumps disappear. With a wooden spoon, stir in the cornmeal, 1/2 cup at a time. Continue to add the cornmeal until the mixture forms a soft dough. If the dough seems too dry, add a teaspoon or two reserved cooking water from the sweet potatoes as needed. Roll the dough into a ball, cover with a damp cloth, and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
  • Make the filling
  • 3. Place the tuna in a bowl. Add the salt, red pepper flakes, garlic, and vinegar and mix well. Marinate the tuna at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • 4. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and transparent. Add the tomato and tomato paste, mix well, and simmer until the tomato is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tuna mixture and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes (or, if using canned tuna, until the mixture is heated through). If the mixture appears dry, add a teaspoon or two reserved cooking water from the sweet potatoes as needed. Remove from the heat and let cool.
  • 5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Place a sheet ofplastic wrap on counter. Place 1 heaping tablespoonful dough, about the size of a golf ball, in the center of the plastic wrap. Press with the heel of your hand to form a circle 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Place a tablespoon filling in the center of the dough. Fold the plastic and dough over the filling to form a half circle. Pull back the plastic and pinch the edges of the dough to seal. Transfer the pastry to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining filling and dough.
  • 6. Heat 1 inch oil in a large skillet to a temperature of 350°F (180°C) or a little higher, until a teensy piece of pastry dropped in the hot oil immediately sizzles. Fry the pastries, working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, until golden, about 3 minutes each side. Drain on paper towels and serve warm or at room temperature.
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