Anytime is a good time for an empanada
File photo of empanadas. Philippe Desenrck, Getty Images
In Miami, you could spend an entire weekend disagreeing with people on where the best empanada comes from. But it would take you less than five minutes to find an empanada, some restaurants carry 18 varieties.
It’s because people remember the empanada they grew up with, the one mom or grandma made, or the one that they ate after school at a nearby cafeteria. The nostalgia of it all lasts a lifetime. And that’s why the question always sparks debate. So who has the best empanada? Where do we start?
It’s a tale of diversity. Some people believe the Moors brought empanadas to Spain. From there, everyone agrees that the Spanish brought it to Latin America.
When I visited my parents in San Juan, Argentina, I remember thinking about the vineyards and malbecs on the plane, but I will never forget the small empanadas I was served at the first “Parillada” restaurant we went to. The first thing that caught me by surprise was that they served the empanadas at the same time as they brought out the bread. In San Juan, you don’t have to order empanadas - they come with the meal.
These bite sized treats were exquisite. Like most Argentine empanadas, these had a complexity of flavors. The taste of cumin-spiced beef and onion played well with the saltiness of the olive, and the hard-boiled egg and raisins added wonderful contrast in texture. The crust was thin and flaky and it was practically impossible to eat just one. I ate three, and saved just enough room to have short ribs “Al Asador” with “chimichurri,” which is bar none the best steak sauce!
In my travels to Argentina and Chile and I realized that each empanada carries a little world of flavors from a particular region or culture. The common bond between every empanada worldwide is that it’s wrapped in dough and filled with stuffing, but the size, shape, stuffing, texture, and cooking process all differ.
The Chilean empanada is the national dish of Chile and was introduced by the Spanish in the 16th century. The traditional empanada is similar to the Argentine empanada except that the crust is denser and less flaky.
In Spain, empanadas have tuna, cod, chicken and chorizo as a popular stuffing. In Colombia, they deep fry beef empanadas and eat them with a spicy “Aji sauce” made of hot peppers, scallions, cilantro, lime, vinegar, and salt. In Bolivia, they are called salteñas and made of beef or chicken, and usually contain carrots, peas, potatoes, olive, raisins and a quail's egg. In Mexico, they are more on the sweet side and served as desserts. In Peru, modern empanadas have surfaced that are stuffed with “aji de gallina” and “lomo saltado”.