All About Empanadas (and Two Recipes)
Even with the enormous landmass that is Latin America — from Mexico down through South America — and the enormous range of cultural influences, there’s one dish you’ll find in a lot of these countries: empanadas! This delicious baked, or fried, pastry treat is thought to originate with the Galician empanada of Spain, which dates back to the 1500s and which were traditionally made with chicken or cod fish.
But with other cultural influences (think of the calzone in Italy, for one), empanadas in Latin America today feature a range of fillings, as guests often discover in cooking classes and vacations throughout the region. Depending on their filling, they can be a breakfast meal, an appetizer, or a dinner entree. Or, if you fill it with fruit? Dessert!
In Mexico, empanadas are often filled with sweet ingredients, like pumpkin and cream. But head south to South America, and many empanadas are stuffed with, unsurprisingly, meat. Even so, each country seems to have their own variation of this delicious pastry.
For starters, in Peru, empanadas are traditionally baked and made with beef, olives, and eggs, and the dough is sprinkled with sugar. And how do they make this well-rounded treat? This particular recipe hails from our Taste of Peru cooking vacation.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup shortening
- 1 cup butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 cup iced water
- 1/2 tsp baking power
- 1½ cup onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1.1 lb ground beef
- 1 tsp Peruvian yellow chili paste
- 2 or 3 boiled eggs
- Halved Olives, chopped (Optional, and to taste)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp whole milk
- Confectioner’s sugar
1. Start this recipe by making the dough; mix the flour with the salt and baking powder, and then add the shortening and butter. Mix until it resembles oat flakes, but avoid using your hands. Add the iced water gradually until the mixture starts to come together. Then place it in the refrigerator for a day (or at least 3 hours).
2. Next, pre-heat the oven to 400°F while you start to make the filling. In a saucepan over medium heat, add the oil, and then begin to fry the onions until they becomes transparent. Add the meat to the pan and cook until golden. Season the meat with paprika, salt, and pepper, to taste. Mix well. Transfer the filling to a plate.
3. While the filling cools, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into approximately 3-4 inch pieces. Then teaspoon a small preparation of the meat filling into the center of each disk, and add some eggs (and olives). Add a few drops of water to the borders of the disk, and then fold the pastry in half to cover the filling. Press down the borders with your fingers to seal the turnover.
4. Place all the empanadas on a greased and lightly floured baking sheet. Before you bake them though, mix together the yolk with the milk, and “paint” the turnovers with a brush. Bake them for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Once they’ve cooled, dust them with confectioner’s sugar for a traditional Peruvian empanada.
Over in Argentina, there’s even more variety (and these empanadas are often larger than those found in Peru). Most shops throughout the country offer empanadas with a whole range of flavors. In Buenos Aires though, the most popular of all is a beef empanada, and the dough is typically made with wheat flour. Here’s one such simple recipe from Chef Liliana of our Buenos Aires cooking class.
- 3 eggs
- 1 kilo (2 1/4 lbs) wheat flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup oil
- 1 kilo (2 1/4 lbs) choice of meat
- 1/2 kilo (1.1 lbs) onions, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 red pepper
- Cumin, ground pepper, oregano, all to taste
1. Start by making the dough by mixing all the ingredients, and then letting the dough rest for 15 minutes. Then knead the dough, and cut into round shapes.
2. Next, cook up the meat and other filling ingredients similar to the Peruvian recipe. Once the meat filling has cooled, fill the empanadas (here’s a handy video on how to fold the empanadas). Place the empanadas on a greased baking tray, and cook at 350°F. Turn the empanadas after 15 minutes. Once they’re golden brown, remove from the oven, and enjoy them like they do in Buenos Aires by eating them with chimichurri!
Cook empanadas on a cooking vacation in Mendoza!
What’s your favorite empanada filling?
By Liz Hall
Sign up to receive our newsletter, which includes travel tips, recipes, promotions, and information on our best cooking vacations.