The world of empanadas is much more diverse than I realized. Yes, they are all stuffed pastry or bread and are baked or fried to be consumed on the go, but this working-class food varies widely from place to place. The fillings for Galician and Portuguese empanadas are usually either tuna, sardines, or chorizo. The Cape Verdian pastel is made with a filling of spicy tuna. Bolivian salteñas are made with beef, pork, or chicken, and usually contain potatoes, peas and carrots, as well as a hard-boiled egg, an olive, or raisins. Colombian empanadas are usually fried and they are almost always made with a crunchy cornmeal exterior, rather than with white flour as found in the empanadas of Argentina or Cuba.
I could go on and on.
The idea of a meat pie that you can hold in your hand works in any culture, as far as I’m concerned. The British edition of this brilliant food, which has perhaps evolved to an even higher plain in Australia and New Zealand, is the ultimate food-chameleon, available in both truffle-highbrow-nonsense and gas station heat cabinet editions. And I love them all.
But back to this recipe. It’s got your meat and egg for protein, it’s got your portable dough-sealed package, it’s got the salty/sweet combo of olives and raisins… it’s almost like a tagine on the go. The Chilean “standard” empanada, which pops up in the epically diverse empanada canon of Argentina and elsewhere, is delicious.
Does it take time and effort to make empanadas? Undoubtedly. But is also so, so worth it. Spending the time to make just ten of these really makes a person appreciate how much effort goes into the men and women who make a hundred or more empanadas daily in Buenos Aires, Santiago, and elsewhere.
Chilean Style Empanadas
Adapted from the Sampson Family Recipe
Makes about 10 large empanadas
1 large onion
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
3 Tablespoons smoked paprika
2 Tablespoons cumin
A pinch of dried oregano or a dash of dried
salt and pepper to taste
20 medium olives, sliced (liquid reserved)
3/4 Cup raisins
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
5 Cups flour
1/2 Cup butter at room temperature
2 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt dissolved in 1 cup water
1 diluted egg yolk (~1:1) to glaze
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Saute onion in oil till soft. Brown meat well. Stir in spices, olives and about 1 cup olive juices; cook down till still a bit juicy. Add raisins last; simmer gently till moist but still sweet. Add more liquid as necessary.
Heap flour on clean counter. Make depression in center; add butter, egg yolks and vinegar. Mix into flour well with fingers. Sprinkle salty water, gradually over flour mixture, working in between sprinkling. When all the water is worked in, knead dough till smooth and elastic and no longer sticky. Cover with plastic wrap until needed.
Roll dough into long oblong. Cut into 10 slices. For each slice, knead in a ball thoroughly to make sure dough is elastic. Roll ball into a circle about 8 inches in diameter. Place roughly 1/10 filling on round and add slices of salted hard-boiled egg. Dip fingers in pan juices or water and moisten dough near edge. Fold over into a turnover and tightly crimp edges together. Crimp edges with fingers or a fork. Prick empanadas with a fork. Brush with diluted egg yolk and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until browned, about 15-18 minutes.