Empanadas! Some words just inspire travel!
What is an empanada?
An empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry baked or fried, with meat or fish but also sometimes potato, egg or cheese depending on regional customs.
This is a Spanish and South American specialty originally from Galicia, in northwestern Spain, where the traditional empanada is a pie with chicken, onion and bell peppers. In Spain, empanada is a large pie serving the whole family and empanadillas are small individual empanadas.
What is the origin of empanadas?
The word empanada comes from the Spanish verb empanar which means to bread or to stuff. The history of these Spanish stuffed pies dates back to when the Muslims occupied Spain. But long before this, the first references of stuffed pies can be found in ancient Persia, many centuries before the Christian Era. One can imagine their journey to the Arab people with their traditions such as fatay and sfiha, of which we explained the origins a few months ago in our post about a Lebanese recipe named sfiha also called lahm bi ajeen.
The occupation of Spain by the Moors for several centuries probably helped with the introduction of empanadas to South America via the conquistadores. They are found throughout South America but there are several variants.
In Chile, empanadas consist of a wheat dough containing meat, onions, hard boiled egg, olives and raisins and baked like those in Argentina and Peru, which themselves are stuffed with ground meat, chicken, cheese, raisins, olives, onions, mozzarella, paprika, basil and cumin.
In Brazil, they are mainly composed of Catupiry, a salty cream cheese (requeijão) similar to the famous Laughing Cow.
Just like Venezuela’s empanada, Colombian’s is prepared with corn flour and fried, unlike in the other countries mentioned above where it is made from wheat flour and more commonly baked. It is usually stuffed with potato and ground meat, and served with Australian meat pie and Canadian meat pie that are not called empanadas but are pretty are close in the mode of preparation, or even pastels from Cape Verde.
How to make empanadas
Easy, I followed Erica’s Colombian empanada recipe for the empanada dough recipe and the filling with the only caveat that my Sazon Goya with saffron was a “hack” more than anything else. Sazon Goya is a seasoned bouillon powder available in many flavors that Colombians use extensively in their dishes. So I used a standard beef stock cube that I diluted in boiling water and in which I infused saffron threads.
Delicious! We have enjoyed the empanadas warm as a snack before the lunch I organized for the return of my son Ruben who lives in Hong Kong and is back home for the summer break. And as he loved them and he knows I can’t refuse anything to his angelic face… I made them again two days later!
- 1½ cup precooked yellow cornmeal (masarepa)
- 1 cup water (more or less, depending on cornmeal)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- ½ tablespoon sazon Goya with azafran (or 1 beef bouillon cube with a few threads of saffron)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups peeled and diced white potatoes
- 1 chicken or vegetable bouillon cube
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup chopped white onions
- 1 cup chopped tomato
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup chopped green onions
- 1 clove garlic , chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons chopped red bell pepper
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ lb ground beef
- Vegetable oil for frying
Place the yellow cornmeal (masarepa) in a large bowl.
Add the sazon Goya and salt and stir to mix well. If you can't find sazon Goya, dilute a few saffron threads in ½ cup boiling water, add the beef bouillon cube and stir until entirely dissolved.
Add the water and oil and mix to form dough. Adjust with water or cornmeal if necessary. Pat the dough into a ball and knead for 2 minutes or until smooth. Cover with plastic and set aside for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, to make the filling, cook the potatoes in a pot with water and the bouillon cube for 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. Drain and gently mash the potatoes. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the white onion and cook over medium-low heat stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, green onions, garlic, bell pepper, cilantro, salt and black pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes.
Add the ground beef. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture is fairly dry.
Transfer the meat mixture to the mashed potatoes bowl and mix well to combine.
Break small portions of the dough, about 1-½ tablespoon each one, and form each portion into a ball by rolling between the palms of your hands.
Place the balls of dough between two pieces of plastic and roll each out very thinly to form a circle.
Remove the top plastic and place 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center of each.
Then using the plastic underneath, fold the dough over to enclose the filling, forming a half circle.
Tightly seal the edges by crimping with the tines of a fork.
Fill a large pot with vegetable oil and heat over medium heat to 360 F.
Carefully place 3 or 4 empanadas at the time in the heated oil and fry for about 2 minutes until golden on all sides.
Using a slotted spoon transfer the empanadas to a plate lined with paper towels.
Serve with ají and lime on the side.