Everyone in the world seems to love the idea of wrapped hand-held foods — Jamaican beef patties, Indian samosas, or Cuban pastelitos. But the wrapped food with the best shot at making the top of the list of classic street food snacks is the empanada (from the Spanish empanar “to fill”), a half-moon of flaky crust filled with spicy beef, shrimp, chicken or vegetables.

It is made by folding a circle of thinly rolled dough over a filling into a semicircle and then sealing the edge. There are controversies among South Americans about the origin of this turnover. Some think the Portuguese first brought them to Brazil; others claim it was the Spaniards. The undisputed fact is empanadas are among the most widespread snacks all over Spain and as far away as Latin America and the Caribbean.

Each country has its own traditional empanada — a wide array of doughs enclosing an even wider range of fillings. Empanadas can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They can be served as appetizers or snacks, but they can also easily make a full and satisfying meal.

  • For the meat filling:
  • * minced meat (not too lean), 700gr
  • * onions, 2 (big), or 3 (medium), diced
  • * spring onions, 3, sliced
  • * vegetable stock, 1 cube, crushed
  • * olive oil, 3 tablespoons
  • * butter, 30gr
  • * tomato sauce, 300gr
  • * green pitted olives, 300gr, cut in halves.
  • * hard-boiled eggs, 2, diced
  • * paprika ( mild or hot), to taste
  • * cumin, 1 teaspoon (remember empanadas have a Moorish origine)
  • * salt & pepper
  • For the dough:
  • * all purpose flour, 1 kilo.
  • * pork fat (or butter), 200 gr
  • * “salmuera” (mixture of water and coarse salt)
  1. In a large frying pan, sauted the onions in the oil and butter. (Using butter is important since once cold, it will make assembling the empanadas easier). Sprinkle the crushed cube of vegetable stock (This enhances flavour). Add in the meat. Cook until slightly coloured (it is not recommended to cook well meat well, since then, the empanadas will be baked or fried, so a double cooking process will make meat harder!)
  2. ncorporate the tomato sauce (this is optional, but I find this makes empanadas “juicier”, Argentinians love it when their empanadas drip the meat/onions/tomato juice!; this is also why you don’t have to skimp on the onions…) Cook for 2′. Add in all the spices, the olives and hard-boiled eggs. Refrigerate, preferably 24hs.
  3. In a bowl, put the flour, adding slowly the melted fat or butter. Incorporate this using a fork. Then, put the mixture on your table, making a mound with a well in the center. Start adding the salmuera, little by little, make a ball. The mixture should not be neither too dry not too sticky. If the last happens, rub your hands with flour, and keep on kneading as you would bread dough. Continue until the dough is smooth.
  4. Form a ball, and let the dough rest (cover with a towel) for 15′. On a floured table top, flatten the dough ball, with a rolling pin, until it is 3 mm wide. Then, cut 12cm wide circles, using a pastry ring mold or a tea saucer.
  5. Nowadays, in Argentina, people rarely make the dough themselves, since it can be bought, pre cut, in the right size, in any supermarket.
  6. a spoonful of the filling is on the pastry disk, seal them by pinching and or press with fork.
  7. Place the empanadas on a baking tray, brushed with sunflower oil. Bake them (375c) for 15/20′ until golden brown.
  8. For extra brilliance and taste, you can brush the empanadas with egg yolk.
Here is the recipe for the famous Argentine dough:

Makes: enough dough for about 20 large or 30 small empanadas

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold butter, diced
1 egg
1 cup warm water

In a large bowl, briefly whisk together 3 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 tsp salt.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold butter, diced over the flour mixture, and work in using a pastry blender, two knives, or your hands, until the pieces of butter are approximately the size of tiny peas. Be careful not to overwork.
Add 1 egg and about half of 1 cup water over the dough, and gently pull the dough together using a spatula, adding more water a tablespoon at a time until the dough starts to form large clumps (you may not need all the water).
Gather together the dough, form into one or two balls, and wrap in saran wrap. Refrigerate for at least half an hour (and up to a couple days) before using.
When ready to use, roll out into a thin sheet on a floured surface, and cut into round discs.