Empanadas - Norman Van Aken's  Word on Food on Starchefs

In Galicia, Spain, they say that making love and kneading dough are two things that shouldn’t be rushed. The first empanadas I encountered were about as far away from a bedroom as one could imagine. I was in a laundromat in Key West. One of the charming things about some of the laundromats there is that they often have tiny Cuban coffee stands in them, like the “M and M Laundromat” on White Street and the historical “Margaret Truman Launderette” on, where else, of course, but Truman Avenue. Little heated cabinets showcase varieties of empanadas that are filled with mixtures primarily made of chicken, pork and beans.

Featured in the cuisine of every New World country as a snack, appetizer or street food, empanadas (in Spanish, literally “baked in pastry”) are crescent-shaped turnovers made from different kinds of dough, ranging from gossamer-like phyllo to coarse cornmeal, and stuffed with well-seasoned combinations of meat, chicken, seafood and vegetables, or fruit mixtures and dessert elements.

Their most common name is empanada but they are also known as empadas, empadãos, empadinhas, pasteles and more. They vary in size from Colombia’s 2 inches long caucana, a favorite cocktail party tidbit stuffed with pipián paste of crushed peanuts and hot peppers, to Bolivia’s 6 inches long salteña, stuffed with cubed beef and potatoes and stinging peppers, a meal in itself.

The larger ones are intended for first courses or components of salads, while the smaller ones, called empanaditas serve as restorative morsels. Empanadas go far back in history and may have originated in the Middle East, but they were carried throughout the world by travelers and traders and now peripatetic cooks and chefs.

Empanadas are either baked or deep-fried, seldom, if ever, steamed as the Chinese do with their dumplings. But those who worry about too much fat in their diet needn’t concern themselves. Wherever empanadas are fried, there is usually a baked version. In the U.S., Latin American bakeshops sell fresh or frozen empanadas to be either baked or fried at home.

Whether baked or fried, enjoy your empanadas, nice and slowly…

I'm Norman Van Aken and that's my "Word on Food".


  Published: Jan 2004