The Empanadas of Latin America

The essence of an empanada is simplicity. It directly translates from the Spanish, Galician, and Portuguese verb empanar, meaning “to wrap in bread.” Despite the simplicity of this stuffed, golden-crusted pastry, it’s considered to be a culturally versatile dish–varying in size, shape, filling, dough, and cooking method (depending on the geographic location in which it’s being prepared). Using the different regions of Latin and South America as a template, the colorful variety of empanada combinations can be broken down into a handful of popular and traditional styles.

Fried Corn Flour Empanadas

Venezuela – In Venezuela, it is customary to stuff various combinations of gooey goodness into corn flour fried pockets. One common recipe uses the simple ingredients of white cheese and black beans. Aptly called the dominó, these black and white empanadas make for a perfect snack or appetizer. Pabellón is the national dish of Venezuela and pabellón filling is also very popular. It includes shredded beef, black beans, peppers and fried sweet plantains.

Colombia – The wide range of Colombian empanada recipes generally contain some combination of beef, chicken, pork, onions, peppers, potatoes, cheese, egg, and peas. The common thread is that they are typically corn flour based, fried to crispy brown perfection, and served with spicy aji pepper sauce (onions, cilantro, lime, vinegar). Also famous for their dessert empanadas, a few classics include rice pudding empanadas (empanadas de arroz con leche) and guava paste and cheese empanadas (empanadas de bocadillo con queso).

Belize– Known to Belizeans as panades, these corn dough empanadas are usually fried and filled with red or black beans, chicken, or fish and served with onion, pepper, and cabbage salsa. Coconut shrimp curry is a flavorful favorite combination. Belizean panades are typically lighter, though no less tasty!

Fried Yucca and Plantain Empanadas

Ecuador – Empanadas de verde are a specialty along the Ecuadorian coastal regions. Commonly fried, the dough is made from unripe plantains and engulfs a variety of cheese, ground meat, or seafood. Occasionally recipes call for adding ground peanuts or peanut butter to the dough and/or the filling!

Dominican Republic – Dominican yucca empanadas are called catibias. Typically packed with savory fillings like pork, chicken, beef, and cheese, tomatoes, and potatoes; the starchiness of the yucca crisps nicely when deep-fried.

El Salvador – Sweet plantains (platanos maduros) can be used both for a filling and for dough. In El Salvador they are used for the dough in a dessert-like empanada (empanadas de platano) that is stuffed with red beans and sweet-custard like milk, fried and sprinkled with sugar.

Baked (Salta–style) Wheat Flour Empanadas

Argentina­­ – Known for its cattle-raising regions, Argentine empanadas usually incorporate animal fat and meat into the outer wheat dough shell. Most commonly baked (unless in Buenos Aires), a typical Argentine empanada may consist of ground beef, onions, potato, hard-boiled eggs, cumin, and paprika.

Chile ­– Like Argentina, the baked beef and onion combination is popular (empanadas de pino). However, with 2,647 miles of coastline, this country is famous for empanadas of the seafood variety. The camaron y queso (shrimp and cheese) empanada is a favorite among many. Mussels and clams are also common fillings.

Bolivia­­– Salteñas are the Bolivian bread and butter of empanadas. Usually eaten for breakfast, Salteñas consist of sweet pastry dough with a savory meat, egg, and vegetable (pea and potato) stew filling. The broth is achieved by a gelatin that solidifies when refrigerated, and then melts again into molten goodness when baked.

Experience the Crave!

If you’re looking for the perfect place to experience Latin American empanadas, look no further than Empanada Loca. Once you’ve tried one of our handmade empanadas, you’ll be experiencing the crave in no time.

¡Buen provecho!

What’s Hidden in Your Empanadas?

When salt and fat is fried or baked into a handheld pocket of crisp-ified dough, it’s easy to get excited. You know the feeling? All background noises hush, you go soft in the knees, the mouth to starts to water, the heart rate increases, and basically nothing else matters until you’ve obtained that fried, salty fix. Flying saucers could descend and start incinerating your surrounding area, but—until you’ve had at least a bite or two—running for cover can wait a second.

There is certainly no shortage of fried/baked foods (especially in NYC). However, amongst the plethora of empanada restaurants to choose from, there is one important thing to keep in mind before getting carried away: all empanadas, though perhaps alluring in their oily, hot, and salty state, are not created equal. What it all comes down to, are the seemingly easily concealed building blocks of the empanada—its ingredients.

Shredded Chicken Breast—Used in All Chicken Empanadas

What exactly do we mean by ‘high-quality ingredients’? The phrase gets thrown around a lot in the food industry. At Empanada Loca when we say our dishes are of top notch quality, it’s because we start with grass-fed humanely raised meats and fresh, raw vegetables and fruits that come from good sustainable sources that minimize the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. These ingredients naturally have more nutrients and protein. What we don’t use are large-scale factory processed meats and frozen vegetables and other ingredients that often have dangerous additives and cheap fillers derivative of corn, soy, and chemicals.

When a diet of corn, soy, and grains are fed to beef cattle, they tend to be much less healthy than grass-fed cattle. These grass-fed cattle are not cruelly confined to a stall for their whole lives and are able to graze outdoors for their food. This foraging produces meat that is much lower in unhealthy saturated fat and two to six times higher in omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains a significant amount more vitamins and antioxidants. Although the nutritional value in frozen vegetables is similar to the nutritional value found in fresh produce, we strive to use only fresh produce for the sake of the superior flavor and texture that comes with non-blanched, frozen ingredients.

Emp-ChickenUnfortunately, there are those out there who use these inferior meats and produce in their cooking. They give up quality for ‘easier’ generic substitutes and try to hide them through the use of excess sugar, salts, and saturated fats. So, when it comes time for that mouth-watering, hand-held meal wrapped in bread, don’t be fooled. Taste and feel the difference––premium empanadas start with thoughtfully selected, high-quality ingredients.