Empanadas. A national dish, the working man’s lunch. These tasty parcels have their place on street corners, in lunch boxes and at celebrations the world over.
There is a deep history that is tied to empanadas. The first mention pops up in a Spanish cookbook published in 1520. Familiar bonds and fiercely held traditions see them being claimed by numerous nations as ‘theirs’. Each territory has their own fillings, each as diverse as the cultures that claim it.
They all follow the same basic culinary guideline — a soft pocket of dough that’s stuffed with a scrumptious filling. After that proviso, they’re up for interpretation. Which ever version you were exposed to first will likely take pole position as THE empanada. (The more I learn about empanada, the more I hear echoes of the great pavlova debate.)
My first experience of empanada were through a co-worker and friend from Chile. Denisita, the Empanada de jour will always be Empanada de Pino. Beef, egg, olive and sultanas. Now there’s a national dish with pizzaz!
That introduction to Chilean food and the memories associated with someone dear to me sharing their culture make it my origin story. Quite literally millions of people all over the world will have their own. That’s the thing about food, it is has universal properties. Fierce battle lines can be drawn over who claims the dish, but the story is the same in the end. Food, like language migrates and mutates fast. Especially the good flavours and the fun swear words. Dios Mio!
The empanada may have Spanish roots, with deep ties to south America, but the idea is present around the world. My favourite example is the Cornish pastie. A strong tradition with roots shared as a ‘working man’s lunch’, the Cornish pastie was originally a full meal baked into a basic dough to protect the food from dust in the mines. The workers wouldn’t have time to come up from the mine for lunch, so they would peel the pastry back and eat the meat and vege inside.
I feel like the empanada can be anything you want it to be, depending on what’s on hand. Local, seasonal ingredients have influenced the empanada wherever it is found, and I think we should take the same approach! I have given a very generic, tex-mex kinda style empanada filling below. You should mess with it. See what’s in your pantry, what leftovers are in the fridge. Could be a good chance to use up those odds and sods from last week’s vege box!
Empanada dough (Makes 10 – 12 large portions)
600g plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
150ml lukewarm soy milk
150ml lukewarm water
Mix by hand, do no knead. Rest in fridge for at least 30 minutes.
2 onions diced
6 garlic cloves
Mince, or mince replacement (Grater goods chorizo mince is the Cadillac option) lentils are a cheap option
1TB Coriander powder
2Tb smokey paprika
½ tsp chilli powder
4Tb vege stock
Tinned tomatoes or relish
1C frozen corn
1 can of red kidney beans
1 can of black beans
Liquid smoke to taste (or smokey BBQ sauce, hot sauce ect)
Saute onions and garlic in oil. Add spices and cook out, add beans and heat through. Add relish or tinned tomatoes and cook down. Add corn and mince or mince replacement. Add cracked pepper, salt, lime juice and liquid smoke to taste. Allow to cool.
Roll dough into a ball, 100g for a large portion. Roll each ball into a round, using plenty of flour. Place on top of each round a handful of spinach and spoon empanada mix on top. Sprinkle chopped with coriander. Add cheese if you please! Fold the dough over the mix and pinch the edges together. I fold each pinch of the dough over my index finger to create a wave pattern.
Glaze with milk of choice and bake at 180 degrees till golden brown. Enjoy!
Recipe by Noemie & Pedro