Spice up your next meal by going Latino and cook up empanadas – an easy Latin American favourite bite-sized snack that has rapidly become a world-wide craze. Typically cooked baked or fried, the word "empanada" derives from the verb "empanar," which means "to wrap" or "to coat in bread" in Spanish and Portuguese. Most countries excel at their own version of the hand-held savoury pie with fillings that can include beef, chicken, seafood, cheese or vegetables. The perfect solution to your hunger cravings, this on-the-go quick eat can be served as an appetiser at a dinner party, at a picnic or even as a main meal.
Pastry dough: Supermarket bought or homemade?
No matter what flavour empanada you choose to make, every winning empanada first starts with the pastry dough. While true perfectionists may prefer to take on the challenge to make their own dough, buying a pre-packaged or pre-made pastry dough for savoury pies will also do the trick and save a lot of time. In Latin America, you’ll find various types of empanada dough, and while most recipes call for a flour-based "masa" (Spanish word for dough), various Central and South American countries specialise in a dough that consists of either corn, yucca root and potato flour.
Fill me up, baby!
There are endless proteins, vegetables, herbs and seasonings to fill inside these perfect pockets of deliciousness. With so many flavour profile combinations, there are boundless stuffing options. Maybe you are in the mood to go with a traditional beef empanada from Argentina? Or perhaps you are having a tropical inkling for a samba-inspired prawn filling from Brazil? Or if you are feeling frisky, you can even invent your own empanada filling creation!
Flavour combination profiling
The real magic of an empanada is what you put inside. Traditionally the type of fillings used in empanadas will vary depending on the cuisine, with most Latin American countries having their own authentic take on the empanada. Think of flavour profiles that accentuate one another, like minced meat, onions, garlic and cumin sautéed in olive oil until cooked; mozzarella, thinly sliced tomato and chopped fresh basil drizzled with olive oil; or curried chicken with potatoes and peas. Remember to always generously seasoning your fillings with salt and pepper.
Empanadas are king in Argentina with over a dozen different types available. Every year the Tucuman province in the northern region of Argentina hosts the National Empanada Festival. Their famous "empanadas tucumanas" take centre stage, a meat empanada that contains 400g/12oz ground beef, 1 finely chopped white onion, 1 chopped green onion, 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1tsp of paprika, 1 tsp cumin and a pinch of salt – sautéed together for 10 minutes, or until cooked. (Filling for 12 empanadas)
In Bolivia, the "empanada salteña" steals the show with its sweet and savoury empanada. What might seem like a strange cast of ingredients, making these empanadas are quite simple with 400g/12oz ground beef, 30g/1oz chopped white onion, 225g/8oz chopped and peeled potatoes, 30g/1oz chopped green onion, 1 peeled and chopped carrot, 30g/1oz peas, 2 hard-boiled eggs, 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tsp cumin, 30g/1oz green olive slices, 30g/1oz raisins and salt to taste. Mix onions, carrots, potatoes, garlic together in a sautée pan and cook until onions are translucent. Then add the minced beef, stir until cooked, and finally add in chopped hard-boiled egg, olives, peas and raisins. Add seasonings and stir until well mixed. (Filling for 12 empanadas)
Costa Rican empanadas
In Costa Rica, it's common to find both sweet and savoury empanadas. In addition to the beef, chicken and seafood mix; you'll find fried empanadas with beans and cheese appearing on the breakfast table. For a sweet dessert, try filling the empanadas with dulce de leche, pineapple jam or guava filling. Add a dollop of the dulce de leche in the middle of the empanada and then fry away to golden perfection.
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If you buy pre-made dough, make sure it is in a round and circular shape. If you are making dough from scratch, roll out the dough, and use a circular object, like a bowl or wide mug to cut into circles. Then, add a heaping spoonful of filling to the centre of each empanada wrapper. Make sure not to add too much filling or else the empanada will break or fall apart. Wet the rim of the dough with water and fold. Tip: make sure the filling has cooled otherwise it may break the pastry dough.
The repulgue: art of folding
Folding an empanada has become an art form. Each empanada is sealed using a special technique referred to as "repulgue." In order to properly enclose an emapanada, the edges are folded and pressed over one another, to create a wave-like crimped pattern. Different flavours of empanadas require different pattern techniques, with some empanadas even left open-faced to form a mini square or triangle pie, while others you can seal by pressing a fork around the edge.
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Time to get baked
Once the pastry dough is prepped, the filling is made, and the empanadas are assembled and folded, it's now time to bake. Make sure your oven is pre-heated to 200°C (390°F). Take out a sheet pan and lightly grease the bottom, this will prevent the empanadas from sticking. Place the empanadas on the pan and place in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
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Fry me up
For those who choose to fry, heat up a neutral oil -- like vegetable oil, canola oil or sunflower oil -- in a deep frying pan and wait until the oil becomes very hot. Carefully stick the empanadas in the oil, in batches of 2-3, until they are golden brown. Once they are completely fried (about 5 minutes), place on a paper towel to cool. Note: if the oils starts to get cloudy or murky, you'll need to change the oil. Dirty oil will give the empanadas a greasy, burnt-like taste.
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The insides of the empanada will be scorching hot, so make sure to let cool before you take your first bite. Each country has their own eating ritual, but accompany your empanada with a spicy dipping sauce or squirt a lime wedge to make the flavours pop. Serve it as an appetiser, main course or even as a side dish.
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