To make venison filling:
In a medium size bowl, combine ground venison and season with salt, black pepper and juniper. In a large, shallow-sided sauté pan, over medium heat, brown the meat. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings in the pan.
Raise the heat and quickly add the oil, onion and bell peppers, sautéing the mixture until it just begins to brown. Add dates, the remainder of the spices and brown sugar and mix until just combined. Deglaze the pan with sherry vinegar. Reduce the heat to low and add reserved venison back to the sauté pan, allowing the ground meat to absorb liquid by simmering it for about three minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Mix in the pumpkin seeds and chopped cilantro. After the mixture cools completely, fold in the cheese.
To make the empanadas:
In a large bowl, cut butter into the flour until it resembles a coarse meal. Dissolve the salt into warm water and add it to the flour mixture. Mix until the dough comes together; don’t overwork the dough or it will be become tough.
Divide the dough into 18 equal portions and set aside, covered, to rest for 30 minutes. Roll out each portion of the dough into four-inch rounds, and then place about three tablespoons of the picadillo filling in the center. At this point, brush the edges with a little water and fold in half, crimping edges with the tines of a fork. Once the pies are made, set them aside on a lightly floured baking sheet.
To cook the empanadas, preheat the canola oil in a large pot to 350° (clip-on frying thermometers work well) and fry the pies three at a time until golden brown, about three to four minutes per side. Remove the pies immediately and drain on paper towels. Keep the pies warm in a low-temperature oven until they are ready to be served.
Recipe courtesy of Gary Kucy