What Are Empanadas: A Guide on Everything You Need to Know
From the sweet to the savory, there's no filling that isn't made better when it's wrapped in a delicate, flaky pastry.
Therein lies the magic of empanadas.
This popular Latin American food is renowned around the world as a decadent and filling main course. Today, we're uncovering the history behind this dish, how to make it, and the many variations that make it so unique.
Ready to make your mouth water? Read on for all you need to know.
What Are Empanadas?
Before we get too far, let's briefly discuss the history and origins of our subject: empanadas! What's the background of these rich and satisfying pastries, and how does today's version measure up?
Similar to an American turnover but far more versatile, an empanada is a fried or baked pastry shaped like a crescent moon. Once the bread has been made with flour dough or corn flour dough, it's then stuffed with myriad fillings depending on the occasion and your taste.
Then, you'll fry it up until it's golden brown and savor it one bite at a time!
The Origin of Empanadas
Throughout Latin America, you'll find many different kinds of doughs, fillings, and cooking methods used to make empanadas. Yet, most variations have their roots in the same place: Galacia, Spain.
Their first appearance took place during the Moorish invasions in Medieval Iberia. In fact, in 1520, a cookbook in Catalan describing regional Catalan, French, Italian and Arabian food mentions empanadas by name! At that time, bakers would create the pastries as round pies or in rectangular dishes. Then, they'd slice them into single servings.
Over time, Spanish colonists carried the dish to Latin America and the Philippines, and it wouldn't take long for empanadas to become synonymous with that country's culture. They're also an essential and popular dish in Argentina, available across Buenos Aires and the rest of the country as both fast-food fare and restaurant staples.
Fillings: Yesterday and Today
During those beginning days, the most common empanada fillings were chicken or tuna, along with bell peppers and onions. Now, almost every corner of the world has its own take on the meal.
Take Argentina, for example. Here, a typical empanada consists of a flour-based dough with various forms of meat fillings, including cubed or ground beef, ham, or chicken. You can also find hard-boiled eggs, olives, peppers, and onions folded into the mixture. Across the country, different regions take their own approach to the cooking process. In Salta, empanadas are usually baked, while in Tucumán, they're fried.
Around the world, a few of the most popular fillings include:
- Mexican chorizo
- Pulled pork
- Lobster or crab
- Baked potatoes
- Fruit (apples, guava)
While meat and vegetable reign supreme, it's not uncommon to find empanadas filled with fruit as an unexpected yet indulgent dessert.
The Many Names of Empanadas
As you travel the world, you'll hear empanadas called a variety of different names depending on where you go and who you speak to. For instance, Americans call them meat pies, and Jamaicans call them beef patties. At the same time, Indians call them samosas, and people in Latin America or Spain call them pastelillos or pastelitos.
The glory of this dish is that there is not a right or wrong way to cook it. Instead, you'll find that different regions and cultures prepare it in unique ways.
Traditional Empanada Preparation
Although modern kitchen amenities make it easier than ever to make empanadas at home, this wasn't always the case. Though they might be standard weeknight fare in many households, there was a time when their preparation was both difficult and time-consuming. Today, many cultures still preserve and practice these cooking methods.
In Galicia and Portugal, empanadas were usually baked as oversized pies. Used to feed the local laborers, the pies were then cut into large pieces so the workers could transport them more easily. Both hearty and portable, this meal became a fast staple.
In this region, you'll normally find empanadas filled with tuna, chorizo, or sardines, although they can contain codfish or even pork loin. Binding the meat together and adding a savory touch is the tomato sauce that traditionally contains garlic and onion.
How to Make Empanadas at Home
An instant crowd-pleaser, they’re also customizable. This means you can make some with meat to please the carnivores, a veggie-only option for the meatless crew, and a simple, sweet one for pickier palates.
While you can buy some versions frozen, few things beat a batch of freshly fried empanadas that you made yourself. And, when they’re this easy to make, you’ll find yourself reaching for the ingredients more often than you might think.
As mentioned, there is no right or wrong way to make an empanada. However, this simple step-by-step guide is a basic approach that you can use to get started.
Using beef and a flour-based dough, this Argentinian-style empanada is a popular favorite, though you can swap the meat for any other filling you’d like.
[[ recipeID=recipe-8ke1nndn6, title=Argentinian-style Empanadas ]]
Celebrating Empanadas at Every Meal
In the United States, National Empanada Day falls on April 8. There's a reason that this dish has stood the test of time, evolved along the way, and become more than just an on-the-go snack option for wearied workers.
To this end, why not make them as much of a staple in your family's diet as possible? In addition to traditional lunch or dinner versions, you can also create breakfast empanadas and dessert versions, as well!
Most early-bird versions are made with a form of breakfast meat (ham, sausage, bacon), along with eggs and cheese. Popular dessert ingredients include apples and cinnamon, chocolate and caramel, deep-fried bananas, and more.
Because this food is so dense, it's best to stick to a light and comforting drink. Pair yours with a Yerba Mate, and you've got an instant, balanced meal.
Try Your Hand at a Batch of Empanadas
Their elaborate shape and intricate design make empanadas look fancy. However, it might surprise you to find that this is one of the easiest and quickest dishes around. It's also adaptable, so you can encourage everyone to come to the table and stay there.
Are you looking for the ideal complement to your recent batch? Our drink does just that.
We pride ourselves on providing the highest-quality ingredients to deliver a delicious cup every time. Contact us to learn more recipes and discover how our Yerba Mate can make even the most excellent meal that much better.