Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Not Your Mama's Empanadas

This post is for Denise, who was asking for recommendations of interesting empanada fillings.

In Argentina, empanadas are a staple of the national diet.  Growing up as an immigrant kid in the U.S., I always had to try to explain to friends what they were.  Luckily, this country has become a lot more multicultural, especially where food is concerned. I don't think I have to explain that empanadas are like closed-up pockets of pastry stuffed with delicious fillings.  The traditional filling for Argentine empanadas is a mix of ground beef, cumin (and other spices), onion, chopped-up hard-boiled eggs, green olives and (optionally - but NEVER when you're making them for my sister) raisins.

If you're into this whole empanada idea and want to try your hand at it, you DON'T have to start from scratch.  There is a little-known source for empanada dough rounds (called "tapas" in Spanish) here in Portland. The shop to get them from is called "Dashen's International Market."  (Google it for location).  This is a great source for many Latin-American foods such as Yerba Mate, Dulce de Batata, Dulce de Leche, Goya products like the delicious cooked/frozen sweet plantains and so on.  There is a large chest freezer that has frozen packages of the empanada tapas.  Unless you plan to deep-fry yours, make sure you get the ones that say "para hornear." (For baking).  These will turn out more flaky when baked in the oven.

There are probably thousands of variations on what this "traditional" filling includes, and I am in no way an expert on that.  I am, however, somewhat creative in the kitchen and like to experiment with different ingredients.  Not too long ago, Denise and I brought empanadas in to work to share with everyone.  She made Cuban empanadas with a divine and flavorful picadillo filling, and I made a couple of different experimental types, which I shall list below along with some other ideas I have.

Ham & mozzarella (with or without oregano)
Fresh chopped tomato and mozzarella
Tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil
Honey goat cheese and arugula
Honey goat cheese and chopped dates
Prosciutto and asparagus
Cilantro pesto and queso fresco (Mexican cheese)
Sundried tomatoes and fresh mozzarella
Shrimp and tomato
Caramelized onions and Gruyere
Spinach and onion
Apple and cheddar cheese (I know, this one is iffy)
Blackberry & lemon zest (obiously desserty)
Grilled peaches and ricotta (need I say more?)
Apricot jam and almonds

Once you figure out what toppings you're going to use and prepare them, the rest is pretty simple.  Defrost your empanada dough (tapas) and put about 2 tablespoons of filling in the middle of each.  Moisten your finger with water or milk and run it along the entire edge of the dough, then fold it together.  Now, for sealing the empanada you have a few different options.  In Argentina, the most traditional way is to do a "repulgue."  The only way I can truly show/tell you how this is done is by recommending you search Youtube for "repulgue empanadas."  Alternatively, you can press it together and also decorate it by pressing a fork  all the way down the empanada to make ridges along the sealed edge.  If you're lucky (like Denise and I are) and have an empanada press, it's just a matter of closing the little device up, pressing it together and presto!  You're done.


  1. Don't forget Panceta y Ciruela (pancetta and plum)

  2. mmm!!! I can't wait to make some of these. I'm going to make a bunch for my brother's moving day. :)

  3. Have you really tried all these, Carol?? I mean, what planet have I been living on? As Nico would say, "a lack of adventure."

  4. I love how much you talk about me in your posts. I'm so uninteresting, particularly in the food department and yet you have managed to insert me into so many of your stories. Glad I get to be an "extra." =) Just kidding. We have fun food experiences too. Thanks for leaving the raisins out.

  5. I just read this one. It moved me to tears...
    I want an empanada!