An empanada(called pastel in Brazilian Portuguese) is a stuffed bread or pastry baked or fried in many countries in South Europe, Latin America, and parts of Southeast Asia. The name comes from the Galician, Portuguese and Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. Empanadas are made by folding dough or bread around stuffing, which usually consists of a variety of meat, cheese, huitlacoche, vegetables or fruits, among others.
Origins of the Empanada
Empanadas trace their origins to Galicia and Portugal. They first appeared in medieval Iberia during the time of the Moorish invasions. A cookbook published in Catalan in 1520, the Libre del Coch by Ruperto de Nola, mentions empanadas filled with seafood among its recipes of Catalan, Italian, French, and Arabian food. In turn, empanadas and the similar calzones are both believed to be derived from the Indian meat-filled pies, samosas. All these pastries have common origins in the Middle East and Central Asia. In Galicia and Portugal, an “empada” is prepared similarly to a large pie which is then cut in pieces, making it a portable and hearty meal for working people. The fillings of Galician and Portuguese empanadas usually include either tuna, sardines, or chorizo, but can instead contain cod or pork loin. The meat or fish is commonly in a tomato, garlic, and onion sauce inside the dough. Due to the Portuguese colonisation of Brazil and a large number of Galician immigrants in Latin America, the empadas and empanadas gallegas has also became popular in those areas. In Sardinia, the salad cake is named sa panada (meaning “meat ball cake”), or impadas. The dish was carried to Brazil and Indonesia by Portuguese colonisers, where they remain very popular, and to the Hispanic America and Philippines by Spanish colonisers. Empanadas in Latin America, the Philippines, and Indonesia have various fillings, detailed below.
National Variants of Empanada
To the novice eye, the stuffed pastry known as an empanada might look the same from country to country in South America, but there are distinct differences in each region. Most countries have a basic beef version and chicken version. Ham and cheese, potatoes, chilli peppers, vegetables, seafood, hearts of palm, tropical fruits…whatever is available and popular in a particular region is usually featured in the local empanadas.
The bolani is an Afghan variant of the empanada. Bolanis are flatbreads stuffed with vegetables such as spinach or potato. They are served in the evenings during the Muslim feast of Ramadan as well as at other times. They are usually eaten at festivals and at times deemed important by the Islam religion.
Argentine empanadas are often served at parties as a starter or main course, or in festivals. Shops specialise in freshly made empanadas, with many flavours and fillings. The dough is usually of wheat flour and beef drippings with fillings differing from province to province; in some, it is mainly chicken; in others, beef (cubed or minced depending on the region) is used, perhaps spiced with cumin and paprika; others include onion, boiled egg, olives, or raisins.. Empanadas can be baked (Salta-style) or fried (Tucuman-style). They may also contain ham, fish, Humita(creamy corn or spinach); or a fruit filling is used to create a dessert empanada. Empanadas of the interior regions can be spiced with capsicum. Many are eaten at celebrations. In those places (usually take-away shops) where several types are served, a repulgue, or pattern, is added to the pastry fold. These patterns indicate the filling. In larger cities, empanadas are more commonly eaten as take-away food, sourced from restaurants specialising in this dish. They usually carry dozens of different varieties, which is not the case in northern provinces, where empanadas are usually made at home, with more traditional recipes.
This province hosts the National Empanada Festival, in the town of Famaillá.
The only varieties are: beef, mondongo (tripe), and chicken, with the latter two being the most authentic.
Preferably, they are cooked in a clay oven in a tray of fat, or in a gas oven.
The Tucumanian empanada is hearty — the meat filling being minced into 3 mm pieces, then partially cooked and allowed to cool while it absorbs juices. Cooking is finished along with the final baking.
In addition to meat, spring onions, pimento and vinegar are added. Potatoes, peas, and olives are rarely used in the Tucuman preparation.
The dough is simply prepared from flour, water, and lard.
A traditional celebratory meal in Tucumán might include: empanadas, Tucumanian locro and meat tamales, and wine from Amaicha del Valle, or Colalao del Valle. Cheese from Tafí del Valle with honey and/or bitter orange syrup is a dessert.
Empanadas from Salta are called salteñas, and are distinct from Tucumán-style empanadas, as they are smaller and baked without the addition of fat or oil. Typical fillings include carne suave or picante – beef or spicy beef, cheese, ham, or chicken. The beef versions typically have potato, egg, red pepper, and spring onion with the meat.
Buenos Aires and the city of Buenos Aires – The preferred empanada one is very similar to that of Tucumán, but with a greater variety of fillings.
Jujuy – Empanadas Jujeñas are very similar to those from Salta, though peas, red peppers and goat meat are more favoured.
Santiago del Estero – empanadas tend to commonly use peas, white onion, and hard-boiled egg.
Córdoba – The empanadas from Cordoba are characterised by the use of raisins, potatoes, and sugar. Typically, Cordoba makes empanadas criollas containing minced meat, carrots, egg, onion, garlic, olives and raisins.
Catamarca, La Rioja – Empanadas Catamarqueñas and Las Riojan tend to have garlic, potatoes, ground beef, onion and olives as the fillings.
Cuyo (Mendoza, La Rioja, San Luis, San Juan) – Contains ground beef, onions (yellow and/or spring), green olives, hard boiled eggs, and various spices (cumin, paprika, oregano, etc.)
Entre Rios – The empanadas here are often stuffed with milk-soaked rice.
Corrientes, Misiones, and Formosa – Empanada pastry is occasionally made with manioc flour, and although beef as a filling predominates, fish is not unusual.
La Pampa – Here, empanadas reflect the crossing of various regional influences from Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Mendoza, and Patagonia. The most frequent empanada fillings can include red peppers, carrots, hard-boiled egg, and currants.
Patagonian provinces (Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego, and Islands of the South Atlantic) – The most frequent filling is lamb, although in the coastal zones, seafood, is common. In Neuquén, the usual condiment is merken.
During Lent and Easter, empanadas de Cuaresma filled with fish (usually dogfish or tuna) are popular.
Bolivian empanadas are made with beef, pork, or chicken, and usually contain potatoes, peas and carrots, as well as a hard-boiled egg, an olive, or raisins. They are called Salteñas and are moon-shaped pouches of dough customarily seamed along the top of the pastry. Salteñas are very juicy and generally sweeter than the Chilean variety, though levels of spiciness differ. In the afternoons, fried cheese empanadas are served, sometimes brushed with sugar icing.
The traditional Spanish empanada is a relatively recent addition in Brazilian cuisine, probably through influence of neighbouring countries such as Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. Rather, the Brazilian pastel is a similar, though distinct, dish with a more flaky, pastry-type crust than the dough used in the empanada. Also, it is usually fried. When baked, using a slightly different kind of pastry, it is called Pastel Português (Portuguese pastel), though its Portuguese origins can be disputed. The pastel is a very common food with a variety of stuffing such as : mozzarella, chicken with catupiry, meat, heart of palm, small shrimps, pork; and also sweet “pastéis”, filled with brigadeiro, goiabada (and goiabada with cheese), doce de leite. Another dish that is similar to the empanada is the empada, a pastry pie the size of a muffin, that is baked in small steel or aluminium shells in the oven. The empada is commonly filled with chicken, chicken with cream cheese (catupiry), heart of palm, and sometimes beef. It resembles the English pork pie in appearance, except for its size which is much smaller. The dough will usually contain some kind of fat such as lard or hydrogenated fat to give it a crusty shell.
Cape Verde cuisine features the pastel, as well. Cape Verdean pastéis are often filled with spicy tuna fish. One particular variety, thePastel Com o Diabo Dentro(Pastry with the Devil Inside), is particularly spicy, and is made with a dough made from sweet potatoes and polenta (cornmeal).
Chilean empanadas can have a wide range of fillings, but three basic types are the most popular: One is baked and filled with pino (Empanadas de Pino), a traditional filling consisting of beef, onions, raisins, black olives, and a hard boiled egg. The second is usually filled with seafood and fried. The third type contains cheese and may be baked or fried ( Empanadas Fritas de Queso ). Many variations on each of these basic types are found (e.g.: pino without raisins and olives, all kinds of seafood such as mussels, crab, prawns, or locos(similar to abalone), and mixed shrimp/cheese, etc.). They are considerably larger than the Argentine type, usually with one empanada being enough for a meal.
Colombian empanadas can be either baked or fried, but are usually fried, with a major difference being they are almost always made with a crunchy cornmeal exterior, rather than with white flour as found in Argentina or Cuba. The ingredients used in the filling can vary according to the region, but it will usually contain components such as salt, rice, beef or ground beef, shredded chicken, boiled potatoes, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and peas. In the department of Valle del Cauca, they are generally filled with ground meat, yellow potato, or Creole potato. They are also served with peas, tomato, cilantro, and many other spices. In the city of Medellín, chorizo-filled empanadas can be easily found, because of the city’s love of pork and chorizo meats. In the Caribbean Region, empanadas are fried, the pastry is corn-based, and fillings include ground meat, shredded chicken, and ground costeño cheese. In the Amazonic regions of Colombia, such as the area of the city of Leticia, many sweet empanadas can be found, because of the high demand and high supply of tropical fruits of the region. Many of these empanadas are filled with some sort of jam, consisting of these types of tropical fruits, such as lulo, zapote, and many more, which can all be found in the Amazon regions of Colombia. However, radical variations can also be found (cheese empanadas, chicken-only empanadas, and even trucha (trout) empanadas). The pastry is mostly corn-based, although potato flour is also used. In Santander and Norte de Santander, is known as Pasteles and are prepared with wheat flour pastry is the most popular, with a variety of fillings that may include pineapple and even mushrooms, but the empanadas of ground or puréed manioc (stuffed with rice, shredded chicken, or minced meat, and usually, chopped hard-boiled egg and coriander) are a representative traditional food.
Colombian empanadas are usually served with aji (also called picante and ají pique by some people), a sauce made of cilantro, green onions, red or black pepper, vinegar, salt, and lemon juice, and often, bits of avocado. Bottled commercially made hot sauces are also used to add flavour to the empanadas. The sauce is normally prepared with a spicy kick, balancing very well with the nutty, neutral taste of the meat, potato and spices that make up the typical Colombian empanada. They are also known to contain carrots and chicken. Another variety includes stuffed potatoes (papas rellenas), a variant with potato in the pastry instead of maize dough; they have round shapes.
In the Cauca department, the pipian empanadas are made with peanuts and a special type of potato called papa amarilla due to its yellow color. In Colombia, empanadas can be easily found on street corners, as it is one of the most famous and popular foods in the general public, followed by arepa and pandebono. Many of the empanadas found in Colombia are homemade, and the recipes have been brought down through generations, eventually turning into a national obsession. One of the most famous bakeries in the Republic, based in Cali, Colombia and called El Molino, introduced the spinach empanada, which is filled with both green spinach and cottage or ricotta cheese. In the poorer areas of Colombia, the producers of these popular empanadas are made with the same spinach, but use queso campesino, queso paisa of Medellín, or parmasan cheese instead of cottage or ricotta cheese. Empanadas in Colombia are a favourite in most of the bigger cities, such as Cali, Bogotá, Barranquilla, or Medellín.
Costa Rican empanadas are normally made with a corn dough filled with seasoned meats (pork, beef, or chicken), or cheese, beans, or cubed potato stew, and then folded and fried. A typically sweet version made with wheat dough is filled with guava, pineapple, chiverre, or any other jelly and dulce de leche, and baked. Another version is made with sweet plantain dough, filled with seasoned beans and cheese, and then fried. Empanadas filled with gallo pinto are becoming a popular alternative for active people who need a quick breakfast. In the Limón province, the are variation of empanadas called patí filled with a spicy stuffing, and also platin-ta (derived from the English “plantain tart”) which is sweet.
Cuban empanadas are typically filled with seasoned meats (usually ground beef or chicken), folded into dough, and deep-fried. Cubans also sometimes refer to empanadas as empanaditas. They can also be made with cheese, guayaba, or a mixture of both. It can also be made with fruit, such as apple, pears, pumpkins and pineapples. These are not to be confused with pastelitos, which are very similar, but use a lighter pastry dough and may or may not be fried. Cubans eat empanadas at any meal, but they usually consume them during lunch or as a snack.
Aruba, Bonaire & Curaçao
Pastechis are typically filled with Gouda cheese, meat, tuna or other fish. The dough is made from flour, eggs, and lard or butter, slightly sweetened. Pastechis are deep-fried.
Referred to by Dominicans as pastelitos (little pies), Dominican empanadas are traditionally fried and stuffed with savoury fillings, such as cheese or meats (seasoned ground beef, shredded chicken, or pork), and garnished with chopped olives, onions, raisins and/or eggs. A variety also exists in which the dough is made from cassava flour (or wheat flour), called catibías. They are often consumed as street food bought from vendors, but are also made at home as special additions to holiday meals.
Ecuadorian empanadas may vary depending on the region of the country. In the highlands there are two main types of empanadas: de morocho, which are made of a special kind of corn filled with rice, peas and beef and are deep fried and de viento, which are made out of regular flour, eggs and other components and filled with cheese. This last kind of empana is usually served with sugar spread over. In the coast, the principal type of empanada is de verde, the dough is made of plantain and the filling may vary between cheese, beef of shrimp.
Salvadorans often use the term empanada to mean an appetiser or dessert made of plantains stuffed with sweet cream. The plantains are then lightly fried and served warm with a sprinkle of sugar. They also sometimes include red fried beans.
In Ghana, traditional-style empanadas called “meat pies” are made with a pastry shell and corned beef filling.
In Haitian cuisine, a meat-filled pastry similar to the empanada, but with a thicker crust, called a pate, is regularly eaten on festive occasions. It is essentially a meat-filled turnover. The dough is often filled with ground beef, fish, or chicken and topped with spices. The dough is then sealed and baked.
In Indonesia, it is known as panada or pastel. The Northern Celebes version, called panada, has thick crust made of fried bread, giving it bread texture, and is filled with spicy tuna and chilli peppers. The other less spicy version, called pastel, has thin crust to make it crispy, and fillings typically include finely diced potatoes, carrot, green onions, chicken, garlic, and white pepper; some people add glass noodles. A less common version can also be found, filled with curried chicken and/or potatoes with one quail egg. Another version, the pastel tutup, has the same fillings as pastel, but in in pie form like chicken pot pie, only with the soft thick crust made of mashed potatoes. Pastel tutup is baked instead of fried.
A Jamaican patty or “pattie” is a pastry containing various fillings and spices baked inside a flaky shell, often tinted golden yellow with an egg yolk mixture or turmeric. It is made like a turnover, but is more savoury. As its name suggests, it is commonly found in Jamaica, and is also eaten in other areas of the Caribbean, such as Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, but most notably that of Haiti, in which the pastry is thick and crispy, essentially a turnover. It is traditionally filled with seasoned ground beef, but fillings now include chicken, vegetables, shrimp, lobster, fish, soy, ackee, mixed vegetables or seasoned ground beef with cheese. In Jamaica, the patty is often eaten as a full meal, especially when paired with bread. It can also be made as bite-sized portions and is then referred to as a cocktail patty.
The Maldivian empanada, locally known as patty, is a pastry that contains spicy tuna fillings accompanied by chopped onions, chopped garlic, potato and of course, the Maldives chili.
In Malaysia and Singapore, it is called karipap or curry puff, one of the traditional snacks for breakfast. Another version of this snack is known as epok-epok and teh-teh, which is smaller than the curry puff. The filling can vary, some use sweet potatoes or plain potatoes. Other varieties of the epok epok are filled with a half-boiled egg instead of chicken. Another alternative is canned sardines and serunding derived from fish. Manufacturers have developed a version of the curry puff that can be frozen and later reheated by the consumer. These are suitable for the export market and can be produced in volume for shipment to various regions, such as the Middle East, where there is demand. In addition, new fillings such as tuna, have been tested. At Indian food stalls, it is quite common to find vegetarian curry puffs with potatoes, carrots, and onion as fillings.
The Chamorro people of Guam and Saipan make an empanada filled with ground, toasted rice, red chilli, black pepper, garlic and annatto. The pastry is made from masa harina and is deep fried.
A Mexican empanada filled with queso Oaxaca, epazote and flor de calabaza
Mexican empanadas can be a dessert or breakfast item, and tend to contain a variety of sweetened fillings; these include pumpkin, yams, sweet potato, and cream, as well as a wide variety of fruit fillings. Meat, cheese, and vegetable fillings are less common in some states, but still well-known and eaten fairly regularly. Depending on local preferences and particular recipes, the dough can be based on wheat or corn, sometimes with yuca flour. The state of Hidalgo is famous for its empanadas, or pastes, as they are locally known. These trace their origins from the Cornish pasties imported by British miners. Also, syrup or fruit drizzle is often poured onto the Empanada for a distinct sweetened flavour. In Chiapas, empanadas filled with chicken or cheese are popular dishes for breakfast, supper or even as snacks.
In Nigerian cuisine, these pastries are commonly referred to as “meat pies”. They are usually stuffed with carrots and potato with the meat being either beef, lamb, or chicken.
Panamanian Empanadas are usually filled with ground beef, but sometimes may also be filled with shredded chicken, white cheese or yellow cheese. They are made of flour or cornmeal and usually deep fried, but can also be baked. In the city of Colón, due to a heavy Caribbean influence, they also fill them with plantain puree, bake them, and call them plantain tarts (tartas de platano). They are smaller than their counterparts elsewhere in Latin America and are considered snack, appetiser, or luncheon food.
Paraguayan empanadas are similar to the Argentinian ones. They are fried or baked, with a variety of fillings. The traditional ones contain ground beef or shredded chicken with green onion, parsley and hard-boiled eggs. Some other popular types are jamón y queso (ham and cheese), palmitos (heart of palm), choclo (corn), huevo (egg), and mandioca (cassava). The mandioca empanada is commonly referred as pastel mandi’o, and it is unique in this country, usually served in the San Juan festival. Paraguayans like to eat their empanadas with bread. Most commonly eaten in the morning hours (after breakfast and before lunch).
Peruvian empanadas are similar to Argentine empanadas, but slightly smaller. They are usually baked. The most common variety contains ground beef, seasoned with cumin, hard-boiled egg, onions, olives, and raisins; the dough is usually sprinkled with icing sugar. They are commonly sprinkled with lime juice before eating. Also very popular are cheese-filled (or cheese-and-ham-filled) ones besides chicken-filled one. Recently, “modern” empanadas, with a variety of filling have appeared, e.g.: chicken-and-mushrooms, shrimp or ají de gallina. In southern Perú, similar to Bolivia, salteñas (Argentinian empanadas) or Bolivianas (very similar to salteñas) are served.
Filipino empanadas usually contain ground beef, pork or chicken, potatoes, chopped onions, and raisins (somewhat similar to the Cuban picadillo) in a somewhat sweet, wheat flour bread. There are two kinds available: the baked sort and the flaky fried type. To lower costs, potatoes are often added as an extender, while another filling is kutsay, or garlic chives. Empanadas in the northern part of the Ilocos are different. These usually have savoury fillings of green papaya, mung beans, and sometimes chopped Ilocano sausage (chorizo) and egg yolk. Rather than the soft, sweet dough favoured in the Tagalog region, the dough used to enclose the filling is thin and crisp, mostly because Ilocano empanadas use rice flour coloured orange with achuete (annatto), and is deep-fried rather than baked.
Puerto Rican cuisine has several dishes related to the empanada. The closest to those of neighbouring countries is called empanadilla (little empanada). The empanadilla is made of wheat or cassava flour dough, lard and sometimes vinegar. It is filled with chicken, picadillo, chorizo, or turkey, spinach, pigeon peas with coconut, cheese, marinara sauce and mozzarella (known as an empanadilla de pizza or an empanadilla de lasagna), or cheese with fruit. Cassava empanadas are usually filled with seafood. They are very popular beach food and in cuchifrito stands. A similar dish is the pastelillo, which uses a higher proportion of lard and adds annatto powder in the pastry mix, making it yellow in colour, and fried. Common fillings are cheese, guava paste, meat, fish or chicken. They may also be found in the varieties of pizza or lasagna. These should not be confused with another form of pastelillo, which uses puff pastry, is filled with either meat or fruit paste (mostly guava) and either left plain or topped with icing sugar (powdered sugar) or sugar glaze/honey. The Puerto Rican empanadilla pastry should not be confused with what is known as an empanada in Puerto Rico, which is a pastry made with a yuca or corn wrap. Dishes that are cooked in the style “empanada” can be a steak, chicken breast or fish fillet breaded in flour and fried, much like Wiener Schnitzel.
In Spain, empanadas are often made from a rather thin, pliant, but resilient wheat pastry, although thicker pastry is not uncommon. The filling varies, but tuna, sardines or chorizo are used most commonly in a tomato puree, garlic and onion sauce. Spanish empanadas are fried in olive oil or baked in the oven.
In Galicia, the empanada can also be prepared similar to a pie, with cod or pork loin, the empanada galega (Spanish: empanada gallega). Empanadas can be eaten at any time of the day.
In Sri Lanka, empanadas are called “patties”, and are made with a tuna and potato filling. Patties are either baked or deep fried in coconut oil.
Creole cuisine empanadas are commonly eaten in the United States, especially in the South and the Southwest. In Louisiana, empanadas are Creole savoury meat pies, commonly made in Louisiana by Creoles in South and North Louisiana. They are a half-circle flaky crust, filled with seasoned pork, beef, chicken, and cheese. In the Southeastern United States, a similarly prepared dessert is referred to as “fried pies”. They typically consist of a pastry filled with a filling made from fresh or reconstituted dried fruit such as apples, apricots, peaches or sweet potatoes. The filling is placed in a dough circle, folded over in half, and then fried.
New Mexico empanadas fried in lard
Among the Spanish and Mexican families who colonised New Mexico, a winter tradition consists of gathering to making sweetmeat empanadas for Christmas. These small empanadas are made with hand-ground cooked pork, sugar, toasted local piñon, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, sealed in tortilla-like dough, then deep-fried in lard until lightly golden brown. Variations include making them from beef, and using different nuts or spices. Gathering the family to make and share these sweetmeat empanadas is one of many traditions in New Mexico that continues to thrive.
Uruguayan empanadas are generally made from wheat flour and can be fried or baked. There were introduced by the Spanish and Italian settlers in the middle of the 20th century. The most common empanadas are those with beef, but also other kinds, such as ham and cheese, olives, fish and spicy stuffing are made. The most famous sweet empanadas in Uruguay are those that combine dulce de leche, quince and chocolate covered by sugar or apple jam.
Venezuelan empanadas use corn flour-based dough and are fried in oil or lard. The stuffing varies according to region; most common are white salty cheese, shredded chicken or beef and ground beef. Other types use fish (shredded school shark or cazón), caraotas or black beans, llanero white cheese, guiso (meat or chicken stew made with capers, red capsicums, tomatoes, onions, garlic, olives, panela, red wine, and Worcestershire sauce). Oysters,clams, shrimp and other types of seafood are used as fillings in the coastal areas, especially on Margarita Island. Also, it can be made of fried ripe plantains (tajadas) and white cheese, which has a sweet flavour. An empanada filled with meat, black beans (Venezuelan-style), and fried ripe plantains (tajadas) is called empanada de pabellón, after Venezuela’s national dish, the pabellón criollo. When the empanada is cut open after deep frying, and doctored with added fillings, it is called empanada operada, a term which refers to a surgical intervention (operación in Spanish). The empanadas can be eaten at any time of the day, but are usually consumed as a breakfast, and are frequently served with guasacaca (guacamole) and/or hot sauce. To distinguish the types of empanadas in Venezuela, it is common to call those made with a wheat flour-based dough (or pastry) and baked “Empanada Chilena” ; Venezuelan empanadas are made with a corn flour-based dough.
The Virgin Islands version of empanadas are called patés. They are served as a snack or street food. Filled with beef, chicken, saltfish, conch, lobster or vegetables, patés are made with flour and are usually fried.