To wrap around the filling, we had to get the pastry together to use as the crust. Using a combination of all-purpose flour and whole-wheat flour, spiked with chili powder to add a note of spice, I used my fingers to work in a few cubes of cold butter. A pastry blender or a couple knives would work, but since it was just a few tablespoons, my fingers took care of the job quickly. To bring the dry ingredients together, applesauce and a splash of vinegar were stirred in to moisten and form the dough. Keep a small bowl of icy water handy when you do this - if the dough appears to be crumbly or dry, add sprinkles of the water until it holds together. To settle the gluten down, allow the flour to finish absorbing the moisture and firm the butter back up, the dough now needs to chill out in the refrigerator for at least an hour - if you're ambitious enough, feel free to make this the day before to get this part out of the way.
While that rested, the most intriguing part of the recipe came into play - black beans and bananas! I realized this isn't a new combination to some, but to us it is... we would have never thought to put these two together. After softening a handful of onions, black beans and minced garlic were tossed in and brought up to temperature. Diced bananas were then tossed in (at this point, Jeff left the room as he really couldn't believe I did that) and the mixture was seasoned with smoky cumin, cayenne pepper and a dash of ground coriander. To preserve texture, once the bananas go in, the skillet doesn't stay over the heat for too long - just enough to lightly toast the spices and begin to break down the bananas. Off heat, the filling was freshened up with a sprinkling of fresh cilantro and given a controlled dose of heat with a shot or two of cayenne pepper sauce.
You do want to set this aside and let it come to room temperature before you begin filling the pastry - if you added it warm, it would heat the butter in the pastry up and become fairly difficult to work with. To not waste any of the crust with leftover scraps, instead of rolling the whole shebang out and cutting it out into rounds, we divvied the disc of dough into twelve pieces (this is when having a kitchen scale comes in handy!), then rolled out each into circles. Do this all at the same time, then keep the circles in stacks with parchment or wax paper in between them so you can breeze through the assembly. Filled and sealed into half-circles, for one more layer of insurance to keep the bean-y mixture inside, use a fork to crimp the edges of each together.
What a nifty little pocket meal! The sweetness of the banana didn't strike me as pushy as I thought and with the spice in the filling and crust, it worked to balance the dish well. While empanadas are often fried, these were baked and rank pretty high on the health meter - however, they didn't taste like they should be! You may not get an exceptionally flaky crust with the combination of butter and applesauce in the pastry (that wasn't my change, it was how the recipe was written), but the texture was still acceptable. Vegetarian as is, you could easily turn this vegan if need be - change out the butter in the pastry for a soy margarine or use a product like those Earth Balance buttery sticks.
Banana and Black Bean Empanadas