What are Empanadas?

S. N. Smith

Cousin to the Cornish pasty and the Indian samosa, the empanada is a hand-held stuffed pastry pocket. Empanadas are fixtures of various Latin American, Caribbean, Filipino, Spanish, and South American cuisines.

In Argentina, empanadas are often made with potatoes and ground beef.
In Argentina, empanadas are often made with potatoes and ground beef.

The name “empanada” comes from empanar, a Spanish verb that means “to wrap or cover in bread.” The empanada is most typically formed by wrapping some type of filling in a folded-over circle of dough, crimping the edges shut, then baking or frying. Although there are slight differences in the pastry dough, the real diversity is in the variety of fillings that are found across cultures and cuisines.

Empanadas may feature green olives.
Empanadas may feature green olives.

The filling, dough, and method of cooking vary not only by country, but also by geographic region and demographic within countries. For example, socioeconomic factors as well as geographical features may influence whether a region’s empanadas contain more potatoes or meat.

Green peas are often included when preparing empanadas.
Green peas are often included when preparing empanadas.

In Argentina, the traditional empanada features chopped or ground beef combined with onion, green olive, hard-boiled egg, and sometimes potato, seasoned with cumin or paprika. Argentinean empanadas may be either baked or fried, with the

Guavas are a popular filling for Puerto Rican empanadas.
Guavas are a popular filling for Puerto Rican empanadas.

former being the predominant style in more cosmopolitan settings.

People in Uruguay sweeten their empanadas with ingredients like quince.
People in Uruguay sweeten their empanadas with ingredients like quince.

Colombian empanadas may be wrapped in either potato-flour dough or corn-based dough. Beef with rice, hard-boiled eggs, and peas fill empanadas here, as do combinations of chicken, cheese, fish, carrots, and potatoes. Colombians enjoy their empanadas with aji, a piquant sauce made from vinegar, pepper, cilantro, green onions, and salt.

Savory empanadas are seasoned with salt, pepper, and other spices.
Savory empanadas are seasoned with salt, pepper, and other spices.

In Mexico, empanadas often appear at the breakfast table or as a postre, or dessert. Fillings, often sweet, may include mashed sweet potato or pumpkin or fruit. In the Chiapas region, chicken or cheese pastes, which are similar to empanadas, are eaten.

Potato flour, which can be used to make empanadas.
Potato flour, which can be used to make empanadas.

In both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, guava and cheese make a popular filling duo for fried-dough-like empanadas (called pastelillos in Puerto Rico).

Uruguay offers sweet empanadas filled with dulce de leche, quince, and/or chocolate. Venezuelan empanadas are made with a maize-based dough. The fillings for these empanadas reflect the gastronomic diversity of this region—fish, black beans, shellfish, as well as a combination of cheese and beef are available in different areas.

Smaller versions of empanadas, called empanaditas, are often served as hors d’oeuvres or appetizers with a dipping sauce or a simple sprinkle of fresh lime or lemon juice. For busy modern cooks who want to prepare this convenient grab-and-go meal, packaged premade pie crust can be substituted for homemade empanada dough.

Empanadas feature hard-boiled eggs.
Empanadas feature hard-boiled eggs.

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Discussion Comments

motherteresa

A friend of mine from Chile makes delicious empanadas. They are practically a meal in themselves.

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