In Chile and Argentina and throughout Latin America, empanadas are ubiquitous. They’re on café menus, prepared at home, served to kids at school, and packed into lunches to take to work. An empanada is basically a turnover with a savory filling inside. In Argentina, two types of dough can encase the filling: a flaky dough similar to a croissant or a more bread-like dough. The most common filling is beef, but we saw others filled with butternut squash and corn, cheese, chicken and vegetables, even seafood. Hand-held meat pies seem to exist around the globe: calzone from Italy, pasties from England, pierogi from Russia, banh pate so from Vietnam, and…drumroll please…Hot Pockets from the US.
At Tierra Negra Cooking Classes in Buenos Aires, we made our very own empanadas and boy were they delicious! Chef Manuel Escalante Posse taught us how to roll the dough into a smooth circle, add a generous spoonful of beef filling, fold the dough to make a semi-circle, then crimp the edge to hold it shut. Manuel told us that beef empanadas generally have the same rope-like crimp along the edge. If you master the technique, you’ll have 12 twists of the rope, representing the 12 apostles, a concept taught centuries ago by evangelizing Spanish priests. Other fillings use different crimps to tell them apart.
To eat empanadas like a local, wrap one end in a paper napkin, bite off the other end, and pour inside a little hot sauce or llauja, a traditional sauce made from fresh tomatoes and chili peppers. In the other hand, hold a glass of Malbec from Mendoza or a Torrontes (a white wine from the Salta region), and you’ll be in Argentinian heaven.
We came back to Redmond and Seattle from our travels for a few days, with recipes in my pocket. What a delight it was to prepare those same empanadas here in Washington State with my daughter and her boyfriend. To me, the best souvenir is a recipe. Recreating local dishes in my home brings back memories of the caring people who prepared them and the cultural food traditions they sustain.
You can find a zillion recipes for empanadas online, but I’m attaching the one that Manuel gave us in class and that we made stateside, Buenos Aires Beef Empanadas.