If you thought that an empanada was just a mere empanada, then my feelings for you are conflicting. You either must have eaten the same empanada your whole life without even considering any other variant, which makes me worry about you. Or could it be that you haven’t really cared enough to discover the history, the culture, the vast amount of people that Latin American empanadas manage to bring together? Then, my friend, I feel like you came to the right place.
Make no mistake, an empanada can be so good that you want to stay faithful to the same kind of empanada your whole life. But there’s a world of empanadas out there to discover. You just have to try the whole spectre if you’re into this little Latin stuffed wonder. But first:
Latin American Empanadas: Choose your country
Being from Argentina I can honestly tell you that no matter where you’re at, you’re just a few blocks away from getting your empanada on. I even remember ordering
half a dozen a dozen empanadas, getting it delivered door-to-door like it was a pizza.
Since Argentina is so huge, there are obvious geographical and climatical reasons that makes Argentina empanada tradition very disparate. Here’s a small breakdown:
The northern provinces of Argentina have been on their A-game for so long that even the most arrogant Buenos Aires native will tell you that the best empanadas are found in the region. The empanadas from Salta are made of knife-cut meat, potato, boiled egg, and scallions. In Jujuy, peas and peppers are added to the mix, making it a tad spicier version.
In the province of Tucumán, the traditional choice of filling is somewhat limited. You can choose between matambre (rolled flank steak), chicken or mondongo (tripe), but none of the pea, potato or olive embellishments. If you don’t fancy a tripe empanada, cheese empanadas with a touch of tomato are also popular. Traditional empanadas tucumanas are cooked in a clay oven.
Empanadas catamarqueñas or riojanas from the provinces of Catamarca and La Rioja in the north bordering Chile pack a more garlicky punch. These appetizing parcels are filled with beef, onions, garlic, and often shreds of green olives and/ or raisins. Potatoes and hard boiled eggs also make an appearance, aka empanadas salteñas (the province of Salta is right next to Catamarca).
Southern Provinces of Argentina
Empanadas in Neuquén, Santa Cruz, Chubut, Río Negro, and Tierra del Fuego are often filled with Patagonian lamb or seafood – mussels and even king crab, sautéed with white wine for a juicy taste.
Empanadas sanjuaninas come with a whole green olive cooked into the filling (mind the pit) and their tastiness is largely due to being made from lard or butter. Sanjuaninas are cooked in traditional wood ovens and contain various spices – paprika, cumin, oregano, for example.
Traditional empanadas cordobesas satisfy those with a sweet tooth with their sprinkling of sugar on top and juicy raisins inside. Empanadas cordobesas also tend to be juicier and include tomatoes in the mix
Subtropical Misiones and Corrientes make their masa (dough) with mandioca (cassava root) flour and fill their empanadas with meat or catch-of-the-day: catfish species surubí or manduvé, pacú, or golden dorado.
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Salteñas – named after the Argentinian city – have two main things that differentiate them from most empanadas. The repulgue, or the “braided” seam that seals the empanada closed is placed on top, and the empanadas are baked in an upright position, rather than on their side.
The filling is also particularly made – it’s a hell of a lot juicier! We’re talking plenty of stewing liquid accompanying the meat and vegetables on the inside. You may think that sounds crazy, but not really. By adding gelatin to the filling while it is still hot, and then chilling the mixture in the fridge until it thickens is how it’s done. As the salteñas bake, the gelatin melts and the broth becomes liquid again. It’s the Xiao Long Bao of South America!
This empanada is usually fried. Since the late twentieth century is a very popular dish across the country, and it’s for the most part found thorugh street vendors. You eat tucumanas by biting open the top and adding any sauces that you want so each bite has a different taste with a different sauce.
Llauchas are cheese empanadas that are most often found in the La Paz region. The dough used to make these empanadas has yeast and feels more like a pizza dough than the pastry-like dough usually used to make empanadas. The Llauchas are filled with a cheesy chili sauce and baked in very hot ovens, making them super puffy and slightly charred.
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The Chilean empanada is made with several fillings but the dough is generally made of wheat flour. The most popular versions are the so-called de pino and those made from seafood. The de pino ones are stuffed with minced beef, fried with white onions and seasoned with chili, hard-boiled eggs, olives and on occasions raisins. This version is known as the typical Chilean oven empanada, even though they sometimes gets fried in oil.
In the town of Pomaire they have something known as the “half kilo” empanadas, which weighs more than 500 grams! They are cooked in a clay oven for the most part.
The beforementioned seafood empanadas are stuffed with crabs or oysters with cheese, with mussels or a combination of clams and chopped white onions. They are usually fried in oil, but can also be baked.
Empanadas stuffed with vegetables, cheese, chicken, “Neapolitan” (cheese, ham, tomato sauce and oregano), fish (horse mackerel, puye or salmon) or seaweed is also found across the country. Fruit empanadas is also a thing, and are made mostly with apple or pear.
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In each region the empanada dough is made with ground corn or with wheat flour. The fillings vary between mashed potatoes with ground meat, or peanuts, cheese, squash or stews of meat or chicken with rice and vegetables. They are small in size, shaped like a crescent and fried in oil.
In the Caribbean coastal region, the empanadas are made with a dough that consists of either yellow or white corn, or corn flour. They are filled with queso costeño, minced meat or chicken and fried in oil.
In the region of Santander, the empanadas are characterized by being made with a dough of wheat flour. The traditional filling is rice, minced meat, cilantro and, sometimes, hard boiled, chopped eggs.
In the region of Cauca, particularly in the city of Popayán, they make their empanadas with a stew made of red potatoes, roasted peanuts, boiled eggs and achiote paste.
The most important varieties in the department of Nariño are the empanadas de añejo and the flour empanadas. The empanadas of añejo are made with a very fine mass made of fermented maize. They are filled with a stew of rice, peas and beef, pork or chicken and fried. As the corn used in the dough is more fermented than in other regions, these empanadas have a characteristic slightly spicy flavor.
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In Cuba, the empanada got an island flavor with a touch of citrus, garlic, onion and pepper. Best of all, they come fried. Usually found on the street through vendors for people on the go, most Cubans rack a bunch of empanadas during parties.
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Dominican empanadas are stuffed with beef, cheese, chicken, vegetables, crab or various types of fish. Worth mentioning is the ciabias, which are made with cassava flour dough and seasoned with cooked eggs and raisins.
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The traditional Mexican empanadas are the ones made from meat, chicken and cheese, although there are typical fillings made of mushrooms with cheese and chicken with mole. Variants of these are the square-shaped and crab-filled volovanes from Veracruz , the fried empanadas of Tabasco and the pastes, which are typical of the state of Hidalgo.
In Baja California, sweet empanadas are baked with fruit fillings and sprinkled with icing sugar.
In Sinaloa the sweet corn baked empanadas are very popular. They come stuffed with guava or pumpkin.
Nayarit & Colima
In this region you’ll stumble upon the popular shrimp empanadas, which also are prepared with dried fish and bathed in a spicy green or red tomato sauce.
In the mole capital of the world, the empanadas are of course prepared with green mole, yellow mole and quesadillas, stuffed with Oaxaca cheese and pumpkin flower and mushrooms. In this state, as in Chiapas and Veracruz, the empanadas of corn (or a mixture of corn and wheat) are fried in oil and stuffed with chicken, beef or cheese.
In Puebla the most typical empanada filling you’ll find is the mole poblano. The variants in this region leans more on the sweet side, as you’ll find empanadas made with cream, apple and pineapple.
In Yucatan the two most common empanadas are those made of casserole and tomato stew, and those made of meat, beans and chaya, a common plant of the region whose chopped leaves are mixed in the corn dough. These Latin American empanadas are usually accompanied with red or white chopped onions chopped and in some cases with tomato sauce.
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Usually, the empanadas from Panama have a dough made of wheat or corn flour and are stuffed with beef, but there are variants with chicken and cheese. Most are fried, although they can also be baked. In Colón, because of the strong influence of the Caribbean, smaller empanadas stuffed with banana puree are made. They are eaten as an appetizer or at lunch or dinner.
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In Paraguay, empanadas are consumed in all regions and sold in many fast food businesses. They are commonly baked or fried. The usual fillings are beef, chicken, ham and cheese, and tuna. An interesting variant to mention here is the mandi’o (manioc/cassava in the Guaraní language), made with corn flour and cassava and stuffed with beef.
Peruvian empanadas’ main ingredients are beef or sliced chicken, white onion, red pepper, tomatoes, raisins, olives, garlic, cumin powder, bread crumbs, egg white and oil.
The Uruguayan empanadas are elaborated with a fine mass of wheat flour and different salty and sweet fillings. They are both baked and fried. The most common fillings are beef (mostly bittersweet and spicy versions), ham and cheese, cheese and onion, and sometimes fish.
The traditional Venezuelan empanada varies from the usual Latin American empanadas. They are made with ground corn masa, although the modern versions are prepared with pre-cooked maize flour. The dough may have a yellowish toasted color. The fillings are very varied, from the most conventional ones like cheese, mechada meat, chicken, ham, caraotas and cheese. These are commonly called “dominó”. The empanadas are crescent shaped and fried in oil. Sometimes they may have more than one filling, such as the pabellón empanadas that are stuffed with shredded beef, fried plantains, fried banana slices, and grated cheese.