As an Argentine, I have been enjoying empanadas my entire life and consider them to be an absolute favorite food of mine, particularly the Argentine version. I can recall many family gatherings in Argentina where we would spend hours helping my grandmother make them from scratch and then enjoy the delicious finished product together.
There could not be an Argentine Food Guide without including empanadas and sharing detail about their origin and distinct qualities.
Empanadas are one of the most widely consumed snacks in Argentina. Appetizing, flavorful, and mouth-wateringly tasty, these savory filled pastries can be found everywhere in the country from upscale restaurants to roadside food stands.
Despite their Arabic and Spanish origin, empanadas have come to be recognized as a quintessential Argentine dish. Though empanadas are consumed in several Latin American and Southern European countries, Argentine empanadas stand out from the rest due to their unique combination of flavors.
In this guide, we will shed light on the origins of empanadas, their popularity in my home country, Argentina, and the different types of empanadas you should try in Argentina.
Table of contents
- Origin of Empanadas
- Popularity of Empanadas in Argentina
- The Significance of Dough in Argentine Empanadas
- Differences between Baked and Fried Empanadas
- Different Types of Empanadas Made in Argentina
- What are the Empanadas Made in Different Regions of Argentina?
- Cooking the Perfect Empanada – Important Things to Remember
- How to Serve Empanadas?
- Empanadas – More Than Just a Snack Food
Origin of Empanadas
Empanada is derived from the Spanish word ‘empanar’, which means ‘to wrap or coat something in bread’. The origins of empanadas can be traced back to Medieval Iberia. It’s believed that during the Umayyad conquest of Hispania, the Moors introduced sfeehas – a type of meat pie that is still popular in the Middle East – in Spain.
The term empanada was first mentioned in a cookbook called Llibre del Coch, which was published in Catalan in 1520. The book was authored by Robert de Nola, a Spanish chef who served under the King of Naples Ferdinand I. It was the first cookbook to be printed in the Catalan language and is considered an authentic record of the medieval culinary traditions of that era.
Empanadas were introduced in Argentina and other parts of Latin America during the Spanish invasion of the Americas. Over the years, Argentines have adopted the dish as their own, as a result of which empanadas have become an integral part of Argentine cuisine.
Popularity of Empanadas in Argentina
Empanadas are one of the most beloved snacks in Argentina today. Data shows that empanadas are the third most widely consumed food in the country – the other two being pizza and asado. Beef empanadas – commonly referred to as carne suave empanadas – are the most commonly consumed type of empanadas in the country – followed by ham and cheese empanadas and chicken empanadas.
Empanadas are so popular in the Tucuman province that they celebrate the National Empanada Festival in September every year. Every year, a competition is held to determine the best empanada cook in the province.
The Significance of Dough in Argentine Empanadas
Traditional Argentine empanadas are made with a flour-based dough, which is made with wheat flour, lard, and water. Butter is also used as a common substitute for lard. The combination of these ingredients gives the empanadas a rich, buttery flavor and a crispy, flaky texture.
Differences between Baked and Fried Empanadas
Empanadas can be baked or deep-fried. Some people believe that traditional Argentine empanadas must be fried, while others prefer to bake them, as it is a much healthier option.
The differences between fried and baked empanadas include:
- Fried empanadas tend to have a crispy and crunchy texture while baked empanadas tend to have a soft, flaky, and crumbly texture.
- Fried empanadas tend to have a rich and bold flavor while baked empanadas tend to have a delicate flavor.
- Fried empanadas have more calories and have higher saturated fat content compared to baked empanadas.
So, which one should you choose? Ultimately, it all comes down to your taste and personal preference and how much walking you are going to do that day. If you want a light and healthy snack, go for baked empanadas. If you want something more indulgent, fried empanadas might be the right choice for you.
Empanada Experience in Buenos Aires
When visiting Buenos Aires, I definitely recommend immersing yourself in an activity that will allow you to get the full experience, one great one being an empanada cooking class and wine tasting. You will get to learn how to make empanadas, taste delicious local wine and learn more about Argentina’s culinary scene.
Different Types of Empanadas Made in Argentina
One of the unique aspects of Argentine empanadas is that the empanada dough, filling, and seasoning can differ depending on the region. Ground beef is the most common ingredient used in empanadas across the country. Hard-boiled eggs, onions, and peppers are also commonly added to make the meat mixture more flavorful.
Traditional Argentine beef empanadas are commonly referred to as empanada criolla – named after criollos, who are the Argentine born descendents of Spanish immigrants. These empanadas contain beef, onions, hard-boiled eggs, scallions, cumin, paprika, and a little bit of melted fat. Green olives (with the pit removed) are also added to the meat filling in certain regions of the country.
Apart from ground beef, chicken, ham, and cheese, lamb meat, and llama meat are also used to make empanadas in different regions of the country. Another popular variation of empanadas in Argentina are made, instead of ground beef, with knife-cut meat for a somewhat more flavored and textured alternative. You can also find other variations like “empanadas picantes” or hot empanadas for a spicier punch with the addition of ground hot pepper or chili powder.
Although it may not sound like it would taste right, one trick I learned from my family is to sprinkle a bit of sugar over the cooked empanada, which adds a great contrast of sweet and savory flavors. Definitely worth giving a try!
What are the Empanadas Made in Different Regions of Argentina?
The Tucuman province’s love for empanadas knows no bounds. They have been celebrating the Fiesta Nacional de la Empanada – a three-day-long festival dedicated to empanadas – for the past 45 years. Matambre (a cut of beef – typically taken from the ribs of the cow) is the traditional choice of filling in Tucuman empanadas.
Mondongo (tripe) and chicken empanadas are also commonly made in this region. The meat filling typically includes chopped green onions, garlic, and bell peppers and is seasoned with sweet paprika, cumin, and pepper. Traditional Tucuman empanadas are baked or fried in a clay oven, which gives the empanadas a unique flavor.
The empanadas made in Salta contain minced beef, potatoes, onions, bell peppers, hard-boiled eggs, and scallions. They are typically baked in a clay oven. In some parts of Salta, llama meat is also used to make empanadas.
Jujuy empanadas are made with llama meat and goat meat. Beef and chicken empanadas are also equally popular in the region. The filling also includes potatoes, onions, pepper, quinoa, peas, and spices. Jujuy empanadas are traditionally served with hot sauce.
San Juan empanadas contain black or green olives in the filling and are seasoned with spices like paprika, oregano, and cumin. Traditional San Juan empanadas are cooked in wood ovens.
The empanadas made in Entre Rios are truly one-of-a-kind. They are stuffed with milk-soaked rice, which is unique to the central provinces of Argentina.
La Rioja empanadas are made with goat meat, lamb meat, or rump steak. Hard-boiled eggs, garlic, onions, and green olives are also added to the filling.
Corrientes, Misiones, and Formosa
In the northern parts of Argentina, manioc or yuca flour, which is made from cassava, is used to make the empanada dough. In Misiones, a small portion of cassava is also included in the filling. This is why the empanadas made in these regions tend to taste slightly different from the ones made in other parts of the country.
Lamb is the main ingredient used in the empanadas made in Patagonia. In the coastal areas of Patagonia, seafood is also used to make empanadas. The most common choices include king crab, spider crab, salmon, and octopus. The meat filling is flavored with rosemary, thyme, dill, oregano, parsley, and garlic.
Cordoba is known for its sweet and savory empanadas, which are juicy and absolutely delicious. The filling includes diced beef, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, raisins, and white sugar.
Cooking the Perfect Empanada – Important Things to Remember
- The dough should not be too dry or too sticky. You can use ice-cold water to achieve the right consistency. You can use pre-made empanada dough, but the empanadas taste better if you make the dough from scratch.
- Allow the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes. It can make it easier for you to roll them into shape.
- Cook the meat and other ingredients thoroughly, drain all the excess liquid, and set them aside. Before you stuff them, make sure they are not moist. Otherwise, the empanadas might become soggy and chewy.
- Do not stuff the empanadas with too much filling. If you do, the empanada might crack or break while cooking.
- If you intend to bake the empanadas, place them on a baking sheet, brush them with egg wash, and bake them until they turn golden brown.
- If you intend to fry the empanadas, refrigerate them for at least 20 minutes and then fry them for one or two minutes.
You can also make a big batch of empanadas and freeze them so that you can cook and eat them whenever you want. You can place the unbaked empanadas on a parchment-lined baking sheet, freeze them until they are solid, and then put them in a freezer bag. You can keep them for up to three months.
How to Serve Empanadas?
Empanadas can be served with chimichurri sauce or salsa criolla. Provoleta can also be an excellent addition, as the molten, gooey cheese can complement the spicy flavor of the empanadas. Ensalada rusa – a traditional Argentine salad made with potatoes, peas, carrots, and mayonnaise – can also be served with empanadas, providing a delightful blend of flavors that harkens back to the rich tapestry of European history that has influenced Argentine cuisine.
Empanadas can be enjoyed with beer or paired with Argentine wines like Malbec, Cabernet, Torrontes, and Syrah.
Empanadas – More Than Just a Snack Food
Argentina’s passion for empanadas runs deep and is an integral part of our country’s culinary culture. This beloved treat that is both a snack food and a meal, holds a special place in the hearts and palates of Argentines and also remains a favorite of tourists and travelers. To put it simply, a trip to Argentina will not be complete until you try our delicious empanadas.