Right now I’m not sure there is a more symbolic Latin American starter than the empanada, and while popular in Chile, Brazil and the other countries, it’s within Argentina that the empanada has really come into its own, with more variations on its fillings than anywhere else. For those who don’t know an empanada is a hand-held pastry, usually baked or fried. To the English it would resemble a flattened Cornish pasty. Originally invented by the lower classes where costs restricted ingredient availability, it has now spread everywhere and you cant walk down many streets in BA without coming across a shop that sells them.
Empanadas are made by folding a pastry sheet around a cheese, meat, vegetable or sweet filling making them suitable as a meal, snack or an easy dessert. The most popular choice of filling is uncontentiously “carne” or beef and considering that in Argentina this so cheap and readily available, it is hardly surprising. They can be made with either diced or ground beef combined with onions and spices.
We at The Argentine Experience have made more empanadas than we care to remember, and we started with the very basics – mozzarella cheese, tomato, salami and ham with a traditional empanada sheet. This sheet is basically a wheat flour dough containing dripping rolled into a circular sheet, the idea being that your filling is placed in the middle and then you fold the sheet around it to create a semicircle and then seal the edges with a fork. Once sealed, the empanada is glazed with a whisked egg and baked in the oven at 170-200 degrees Celsius for up to half an hour depending on size. By European and American standards at least, the Argentine palate could be considered to be unadventurous. I know at least one Argentine that thinks garlic is too spicy! So with this in mind we asked our chef, Bo, to give us some advice on how to make an empanada more international!
Bo – “Empanadas are a great food to snack on, and they are everywhere in Argentina but for me they just aren’t spicy enough! My first suggestion before we even discuss fillings is to say that in my opinion it is better to use puff pastry over traditional empanada pastry, I personally find the traditional pastry to be too heavy and I don’t like chewing through it in order to get to the fillings! When it comes to the fillings themselves don’t be afraid to stray away from the traditional. For example when I first arrived I grew quickly bored by the fillings here, I’m from Thailand my taste buds are used to much stronger flavours so I soon began experimenting with various stews and curries and they work really well. Basically think of your favourite soft foods and more often than not they will work in an empanada. Stews, shredded slow cooked meats such as lamb and beef, white fish in a thick white wine sauce can work really well, and for the vegetarians; things like ratatouille, mashed roasted vegetables such as sweet potato and carrot with herbs and spices can really make your empanada come alive. You could argue that this would no longer make it an empanada but that’s the great thing about making things yourself, you can really add your own flair to existing recipes.”
By Richard Porter. Richard works for The Argentine Experience.