Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz claimed that one could write a little book on empanadas, dumplings, cakes, cupcakes, empadinhas Y cakes … That is, “those delicious empanadas, empanadas and empanadas, stuffed with meat, poultry, fish, seafood and other mixtures, and baked or fried, that are so popular throughout Latin America.” Such is the variety on offer, in fact I suggest it is probably quite a large book. As a writer Naomi Tomky Notes, perhaps with a bit of nostalgia, at Serious Eats, “I would spend a lifetime eating empanadas non-stop to try all the endless combinations of doughs, fillings and cooking methods that are so closely tied to the specific culture, flora and fauna. in each region of Latin America ”.
That’s a challenge I would happily take on, but The Guardian has refused to extend my deadline, so I chose to focus on the simple, cheese-filled type found almost everywhere. Even then, the variety is such from country to country that (as always) the following should be viewed more as an introductory guide than a definitive recipe. Portable, inexpensive, and infinitely versatile, easy to make vegan, gluten-free, and even (relatively) healthy, empanadas are hands down the best democratic party food. Well … after the fries, anyway.
Generally speaking, wheat-based cakes are more popular in the extreme south of Latin America, corn is becoming more common in Colombia and Venuezela, and starchy cassava doughs appear in Central America and the Caribbean. I tried several versions of wheat made with lard or butter – some with leavening agents like baking powder and sparkling water (see Ecuadorian blogger Layla Pujol), others to bread and crunchy (Chilean cook Pilar Hernandez’s, and others still like Lambert Ortiz’s short, crumbly Brazilian tarts. They all get the job done right, sticking together during cooking, my hobbyist kinky notwithstanding, but my head is particularly turned by the distinctive texture and flavor of The Costa Rican version of Denver-based blogger Christa Jimenez using ground corn, which comes out of the fryer deeply browned and deliciously crisp.
To do this, however, you will need masarepa – that is, cooked, dehydrated and ground corn, as opposed to fine cornmeal or cornmeal. It is readily available online, or anywhere with a large Latin American community, but I’ve also given a recipe with wheat flour below, incorporating the lard and cider vinegar. that writer Gaby Melian uses in her Bon Appetit recipe to ensure maximum flaking (Pujol replaces orange juice), but omitting the sugar that some add. If you prefer to keep them vegetarian, use butter instead.
Note that although the dough doesn’t get much simpler than the corn recipe, it is more difficult to work with unless you are used to it (I tend to end up molding it around the filling like it is playdough); the wheat version is much more forgiving.
As Jiménez explains, the Costa Rican white cheese that is used locally for empanadas “is literally only found in Costa Rica (as far as I know!)”. The same goes for many of the recipes I try, with Hernández asking chanco background cheese, “A mature cheese with a milk flavor”, and others mention fresh and farm cheeses that are difficult to locate outside of their production area. Happily, everyone is generous with their substitute suggestions, with mozzarella, havaarti, monterey jack, and ricotta among the most readily available examples in this country. I also try halloumi (the apparently squeaky Costa Rican white cheese), creamy stracchino, crumbly ricotta salata, and anari, a smooth, milky goat or sheep cheese from Cyprus.
Frankly, they’re all welcome in my mouth, although if you use something low-fat like Lambert Ortiz’s ricotta, I’d add an egg yolk, like she does, to give it a creamier texture, while dry cheeses like ricotta salata needs a little texture help in the blending department. Pujol acknowledges that “really, the combinations for cheese patties are endless, but I recommend using a mixture of melted cheese with a flavorful but less melted cheese.” With that in mind, I’ve opted for a mix of firm mozzarella and salty halloumi, but mozzarella, crumbly lancashire, or even feta would work – experiment with what suits you best (Cuca Kitchen Pop Up West London raclette tips, and there are certainly plenty of great plant-based alternatives as well that I’m not qualified to advise on).
Helian tosses the mozzarella into cornmeal, saying that “this will prevent the mozzarella from liquefying while the patties are cooking.” I quite like the way it leaves the inside of the rind a little moist and mushy, but if you prefer maximum crunch, add a little to the cheese mixture after grating.
Onion is a common addition – I prefer to sauté it first, like Helian does, rather than use it raw, like in Pujol’s recipe, but best of all for me are the chives from Lambert Ortiz, which add a fresh green note ( And, as a bonus, it doesn’t require precooking.) Helian also includes crumbled ham, which is of course very nice, although it does reduce the cheese to a small part when for me it deserves to be the star.
Helian flavors it with dried oregano, while Pujol gives another recipe with roasted poblano peppers, which seems very worth a try, if you come across them. But if you want a bit of spice, I would imagine pickled jalapeños or smoked chipotle pasta would be welcome too (alternatively serve with hot sauce).
Pujol sprinkles his freshly fried empanadas with sugar, saying that the contrast between the salty cheese is “something characteristically Ecuadorian”. Sorry to say I struggled with the raw onion and sugar combination, but if you’re more open-minded, she assures readers that it’s delicious.
Shaping and cooking
Although they are very easy to make (as long as you keep the corn masa moist and the wheat masa cold), the tricky part is making sure the patties are fully sealed to minimize the paths out of the melted cheese. I say minimize, because if you manage to produce a leak-free batch, you should probably move on to professional production. (Consolation prize: the crispy puddles on the baking sheet are just about the best, as far as I’m concerned.)
I can’t deny that I love the fried patties I try, so crispy and flaky and, yes, very slightly greasy, but for a party, it’s more practical to bake them, so I’m not standing over the fryer in your cheery rags. If the appearance is less important, fry them (carefully) in a pan in no more than a third of neutral oil at about 180 ° C, until they are golden brown. Either way, serve immediately, before the cheese cools and sets, with salsa or chili sauce and lots of napkins.
Homework 30 min + resting
Cook 25 min
For the pastry
285 g of masarepa (corn flour for arepas)
½ teaspoon fine salt
500 ml of warm water
Oil, non-dairy milk, or beaten egg, brush
55 g of lard, butter or vegan baking block
240 ml of water
1 tablespoon fairly neutral vinegar (eg, cider, white wine, rice)
½ teaspoon fine salt
400 g of all-purpose flour, more extra to dust
Oil, beaten egg, or milk, brush
300g firm cooking mozzarella, grated
100g halloumi, lancashire crumbly, feta cheese, etc.
4 chives, trimmed, the white and green parts finely chopped (optional)
If you are making the corn dough, mix the flour and salt in a large bowl, then whisk the water until you have a moist, but not runny dough (add more water if it cracks) and let it rest for 15 minutes.
If you are making the dough from flour, melt the fat, then add the water and vinegar and pour into a large bowl. Gradually mix in the salt and flour (remember the liquid will be hot), then turn to a floured surface and knead until you get a smooth, smooth but not sticky dough. Wrap and chill for at least an hour, until cold.
Handling the dough with wet hands at all times, divide the corn dough into large golf balls and cover all but one with a damp kitchen towel.
Use a tortilla press or cover a board with cling film, place a ball on top, cover with another sheet of cling film, then place a board or flat-bottomed glass bowl on top and push down until you have a thin circle of mass.
If you are using the wheat dough, divide into balls the size of a large golf ball and, on a floured surface, roll them into spheres. Cover with a damp kitchen towel while you make the first patty, spreading or flattening it into a thin circle.
Mix in the cheeses, chives, and salt, then spoon a large tablespoon in the middle of the dough circle (you want to fill it generously, but not that much, it will be hard to close), then bring the edges together and pinch to seal (a little water it can help).
Put on a lightly greased baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.
Once all the patties are in shape and on the tray, put them in the refrigerator to cool while heating the oven to 200C (180C fan) / 390F / gas 6. Spread the cakes with beaten egg or oil, bake for 25 minutes , until golden brown, and serve immediately.
Empanadas: wheat, corn or cassava? And baked or fried? What is your favorite filling and what do you serve with them?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism