Empanadas are a type of stuffed pastry turnover that is common in Latin American and Filipino cuisines. They resemble pastry turnovers from other cuisines, such as British pastries, Asian samosas, and Russian pirozhki.

The term empanadas comes from the Spanish verb, empanar, which means ’embreaded’. In other words, something that is wrapped or coated in bread. In this case, pastry is used as the wrapping. Smaller versions of empanadas are called empanadillas. Empanadas are typically made by folding a type of shortcrust dough over a filling, then cooked by either baking or frying. Popular fillings for empanadas include minced meat, cheese, corn, or vegetables.

How different countries make empanadas

The way empanadas are cooked and served typically differ depending on the country and region. Every culture has its own unique method of preparing, stuffing, and cooking the delicious meat pies. That said, here is a simple breakdown of regional differences:

  • Argentina: In Argentina, empanadas are traditionally served as a starter or snack during parties. During the religious holidays of Lent and Easter, many people eat empanadas stuffed with fish (usually tuna or dogfish).
  • Belize: Empanadas are known as panades in Belize. They are typically made from corn dough and stuffed with chicken, fish, or beans, deep fried, and served with a topping of cabbage or salsa.
  • Cape Verde: In Cape Verde, empanadas are usually referred to as pastels and often stuffed with spicy tuna. One popular variety of pasteis is known as pastel com o diabo dentro. It features a very spicy filling and made from a combination dough of cornmeal and sweet potato mash.
  • Philippines: Empanadas in the Philippines are traditionally stuffed with minced meat, pork, or chicken, potatoes, onions, and raisins. The dough is made from a wheat flour and comes in two varieties, either baked or flaky fried. In the northern regions of the country, empanadas are stuffed with green papaya, mung beans, and chorizo sausage. Poqui poqui is another type of Filipino empanadas that is filled with eggplant and cabbage.
  • Sicily: Sicilian empanadas are known as impanatiglie. Usually, they will be stuffed with almonds, walnuts, chocolate, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and minced beef.
  • Portugal: In Portugal and Galacia, empanadas are prepared similarly to a meat pie. Rather than folding several small empanadas, they are more like a large pie that is sliced into pieces. Stuffings include tuna, sardines, or chorizo, as well as codfish or pork loins with a tomato, garlic, and onion sauce.

The history of empanadas

As almost every country int he world has its own version of empanadas or meat pies, it is difficult to fully trace the history of the dish. However, it is said that the first evidence of an empanada comes from Persia in 100BC. They were then brought to Spain by the Moors in Gibraltar, who spread the dish to Europe. The earliest recipe for empanadas comes from Spain’s first ever Catalan cookbook, Llibre del Coch by Roberto de Nola. When the Spaniards colonised the New World, they brought their delicious savoury pastries with them. This marks the spread of empanadas into Mexico and South America.

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