Introduction: The History and Origin of Empanadas
Empanadas are a staple of Argentine cuisine, with a long history that dates back to the arrival of the Spanish in the country. The word “empanada” comes from the Spanish verb “empanar,” which means “to bread.” The empanada was born as a convenient way to carry food on long journeys or for military campaigns. They were easy to make, transport and eat and were quickly embraced by the locals. Over time, the empanada evolved, and different regions of Argentina developed their own unique versions, using local ingredients and seasonings.
The Classic Empanada Fillings: Beef and Chicken
The two most common empanada fillings in Argentina are beef and chicken. The beef filling is made with ground beef, onions, cumin, and paprika, while the chicken filling is made with shredded chicken, onions, red bell pepper, and olives. Both fillings are cooked with a mixture of spices, vegetables, and herbs, creating a rich and flavorful mixture. The empanadas are then baked until crispy and golden brown. The classic beef and chicken empanadas are a must-try for anyone visiting Argentina.
Vegetarian Options: Spinach and Cheese Empanadas
For vegetarians, the spinach and cheese empanadas are a popular option. The filling is made with chopped spinach, onions, garlic, and cheese, creating a delicious and healthy option. In some regions, they add raisins or boiled eggs to the filling, adding a sweet and salty flavor. The spinach and cheese empanadas are a perfect option for a light lunch or a healthy snack.
Regional Variations: Empanadas from Different Provinces
Argentina’s many regions have their own unique take on the empanada. In the North, the empanadas are spicy and filled with meat, potatoes, and peppers. The Southern region’s empanadas are made with lamb or goat meat, seasoned with cumin, paprika, and oregano. The Andean region’s empanadas are filled with potatoes, cheese, and meat, while the coastal empanadas contain seafood and onions. Each region’s empanadas taste different and are worth trying.
The Traditional Way of Baking Empanadas in a Mud Oven
The traditional way of baking empanadas is in a mud oven, called “horno de barro.” These ovens are made from clay or adobe, and the heat comes from burning wood or charcoal. The empanadas are placed on a metal tray, called “chapa,” which is then placed in the oven. The empanadas cook quickly in the intense heat, creating a crispy and flavorful crust. Nowadays, many bakeries and restaurants use modern ovens, but some still use the traditional mud oven, adding a unique touch to the empanadas.
Homemade Empanadas: A Step-by-Step Guide
Making empanadas from scratch can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. The dough is made with flour, salt, and water, and the filling is made with your choice of ingredients. The dough is rolled out, and the filling is placed in the middle. The edges are folded over to create a half-moon shape, and the empanadas are then baked until golden brown. A step-by-step guide can be found online or in a cookbook, and it’s a fun activity to do with family and friends.
The Perfect Pairing: Argentine Wines and Empanadas
Argentine wines complement empanadas perfectly. A Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Torrontes is an excellent choice to accompany the rich and savory flavors of the empanadas. The wine’s tannins and acidity balance the empanadas’ spices and meat, creating a delicious pairing. Many restaurants and wine bars offer wine and empanada pairings, allowing visitors to experience the best of Argentina’s flavors.
Empanadas and Culture: The Role of Empanadas in Argentine Festivals
Empanadas play a significant role in Argentine culture, especially during festivals and celebrations. Empanadas are commonly served at family gatherings, picnics, and parties. On weekends, people gather in public squares to sell and eat empanadas, creating a lively and festive atmosphere. During the annual “Fiesta Nacional del Sol” in San Juan, there’s a competition to choose the best empanadas in town, attracting thousands of people to try the different empanadas.
Beyond Empanadas: Other Argentine Snacks to Try
Argentina has many other delicious snacks to try, such as choripán, a sandwich made with grilled chorizo and bread, and provoleta, a grilled provolone cheese. Alfajores, sweet cookies filled with dulce de leche, and facturas, sweet pastries filled with custard or dulce de leche, are also popular. Visitors should try these tasty treats to experience the diversity of Argentine cuisine.
Where to Find the Best Empanadas in Argentina
Finding the best empanadas in Argentina is not hard, as empanaderias can be found in every city and town. Some of the best empanaderias are located in Buenos Aires, such as El Sanjuanino, La Cocina, and La Brigada. In Salta, Balcarce and El Patio are famous for their spicy meat empanadas, while in Mendoza, El Palenque and Doña Paula are known for their wine and empanada pairings. Visitors should explore the different regions and try the empanadas in local restaurants and markets.