Empanadas are savory turnovers common throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Every country has their own variation of seasonings and ingredients adapted of course to regional taste and culinary traditions.
In Spanish, the word empanada literally means breaded. The name was most likely acquired due to the fact that this a savory filling wrapped in dough. The Spanish word for bread is pan, hence empanada.
Empanadas can be fried or baked depending on the dough recipe that you use. I usually take the lazy way out and use a dough that is already pre-made. For empanadas that we will eat as a main meal, I use a product made by Goya called Discos. They are round cutouts that come in two sizes. These work well: the only drawback is that they taste better fried! What doesn’t?
For empanadas that we will have as snacks I use a pre-made pie crust, any brand works. I then cut individual rounds with a 2″ biscuit cutter. Each pie crust round will yield approximately 12 mini empanadas. I like these because you can bake them, which is healthier than frying. Now, if you are good with pastries, by all means make your own dough. I use pie crust because it is quick and easy.
The fillings for empanadas varies; the most common ones are beef and chicken. Cheese is also used, but it is not as popular. If you use cheese you need to use a cheese that doesn’t melt too much like a farmer’s cheese. In coastal regions of Spain for example, it is common to see empanadas with a seafood filling.
As an amateur food historian, I have done some research into the origins of empanadas and discovered that virtually every culture in the world has their own version. For example, in India samosas are the equivalent. These are either vegetarian or use meat (lamb or chicken). They are normally eaten with a yogurt sauce or a chutney. Other empanada-like treats are: jiozi from Japan, pasties from Wales and wontons from China.
It is believed that the origins of empanadas can be traced to medieval Spain where they were introduced by the Moors who occupied the Iberian Peninsula between 711 AD and 1492 AD.
The recipe that follows calls for sofrito and recaito as seasonings. You can make your own or purchase either one in the ethnic section of your grocery store or you can make your own, since both recipes appear in this blog. I like to make my own sofrito and recaito and freeze it into cubes and just pop it into the many recipes I make like black beans or slow roasted Puerto Rican pork – pernil.
Here are some tips if you want to try some variations on empanadas. If you want to make the fried version, you can cook all the meat filling and let it cool completely. Once the meat has cooled take your thawed Goya discos (5″ type) and fill them with about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture. Fold them over and crimp the edges with the tines of a fork. At this point you can either fry them or freeze them for later use.
I like to make a big batch ahead of time and freeze them for a quick weeknight meal. This dough is best fried but they need to be fully thawed before you begin. I fry them in a pan of hot oil that comes just about half way up the thickness of the empanada. Get one side golden brown to dark brown and crispy and then I flip them over and fry the other side. Take them from the oil and let them rest on a plate lined with paper towel while you fry more. I typically have two frying at a time in a 10 inch skillet of oil. The fried dough version will look like these spicy black bean and plantain empanadas below.
I usually serve the beef empanadas with a salad and honestly I love to dip them into a little ketchup. So good! I used to do this as a kid. Old habits die hard. If you want to get creative you can certainly put the meat filling into puff pastry and bake them according to the pastry instructions. Just be sure the meat is fully cooled off before working with the pastry. I have found that working with the hot meat mixture turns any dough into mush. Another quick and easy baked recipe version, using a 15 oz. package of pie dough, is my avocado black bean and queso fresco empanadas pictured below. I like to brush these with a little egg wash for a nice shiny golden exterior.
So for your next party take a batch of empanadas; they will be the hit of the party!! Share the recipe with your friends.
By the way, if you would like other empanada recipes, check out these recipes for black bean and plantain empanadas and avocado, black bean and queso fresco empanadas. Here are some great picks on Latin food recipes from Amazon too! Buen provecho!
Empanadas: Savory Turnovers
Empanadas are a Latin American favorite. A party just isn't a party without a batch of these delicious savory beef turnover. You can make them ahead and freeze them too.
- Preheat oven to 350'F.
- In a skillet over medium heat saute onion and garlic until translucent. Add the beef, and break up in small pieces.
- Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir until thoroughly cooked. Move to a small container and let cool for about 10 minutes.
- Unroll pie crusts. With a 2" biscuit cutter, cut circles all around pie crust going around the perimeter and then moving in to the inside of the circle. Take a round in the palm of your hand and place a small amount of meat in the center. Fold inwards to create a half moon shape.
- To completely seal, place on the counter, and using the tines of a fork press all around the edges. Continue until you have used all the meat.
- Place on ungreased baking sheet and lightly spray with PAM or any other non stick spray.
- Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until they turn slightly golden. Yields about 36-40 mini empanadas.
- ** Sofrito and recaito can be purchased in the grocery store in the Latin food section. You can also make your own with the recipes I have provided in this blog.