Pastries, popping, parents, peppers, and persistence

At long last, Yoli made some perfect salteñas.

A few days ago we invited a friend over for a dinner of various Bolivian delicacies. On the menu were: salteñas, cuñapes, and mate to drink.

(Check out some pics from the dinner)

Over the years Yoli has had trouble baking salteñas. They are pretty difficult to pull off.

Salteñas are little pastries that have a filling of meat, potatoes and veggies — in liquid.

How do you put liquid inside the pastry? Well, this is achieved by using gelatin. The filling is refrigerated and the liquid becomes somewhat solid — perfect for wrapping with the salteña dough. The hot oven melts the gelatin so it becomes liquid again.

The primary problem Yoli keeps running into is that her salteñas tend to burst or tear and the juice leaks out.

In some ways this is better. Eating fresh salteñas is very difficult because of the hot juice. But that’s what makes them unique, and that’s how Bolivians like them.

These popped salteñas have been a source of disappointment to Yoli for years, who wants them to turn out perfectly.

Anyway, out of 12 salteñas Yoli made Tuesday, only one was “perfect.” We gave this one to Elie to enjoy.

But Yoli would not be defeated. The next day she made a new batch from the leftover dough and filling. This time she used a sugar solution to help “bond” the seams on the salteñas. She also put less filling inside each one.

Her efforts yielded success! Far more salteñas surived intact (and juicy). Yoli was very pleased.

(Until she was eating one and accidentally spilled hot juice all over her hand, at which point she exclaimed: “I hate salteñas!”)

The ghosts of salteñas past

We have an interesting history with salteñas. They originated from the Andean side of Bolivia, not the lowlands where Yoli grew up; for that reason Yoli actually wasn’t crazy about them. (She would rather have an empanada, which is fried) It was only after I tried them and liked them that she began to learn how to prepare them.

This summer, when Yoli’s parents were in town, she asked them to show her how to make salteñas.

Don Hector was in charge of the dough. Even he was somewhat flummoxed making them because of the kind of all-purpose flour we have here (it is somewhat different from what he would have used in Bolivia).

Still, though they weren’t perfect, the salteñas were very tasty. We recorded the proceedings on video and Yoli learned a lot.

One time, Yoli was making a batch of salteñas and wanted to add a little kick to it. She threw in a packet (or a few?) of hot spices that we had saved from some Chinese food takeout. That was a big mistake, as we learned. A pinch of that stuff goes a long way. The filling was fiery; virtually uneatable.

Not wanting to throw out all the meat and veggies and potatoes, I asked Yoli to try rinsing all of it so that we could re-use it.

She gave it a shot. The result was pretty flavorless salteñas that were still somewhat spicy.

I guess we live and learn!

About Josh Renaud

I'm the Emperor of the Renaud Empire, which is to say that I'm the husband of a Boliviana and the father of three daughters and one son. When I'm not conquering lands and expanding borders, I'm a newspaper designer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Find me on Twitter (@Kirkman) or Google+.
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