Argentine Style Empanadas

This post is going to take me back to my time studying abroad in Argentina.  I spent six months during my junior spring semester studying in Mendoza, Argentina. I knew I wanted to study abroad before I started at Dickinson, but I did not expect to end up in Argentina. This unexpected journey gave me the happiest period of my life. I made great friends with the group of students I came with from Dickinson. I had an unbelievable host family that treated me like I was part of their family. I learned so much about the country’s history. I explored vineyards, cities, historical sites, and more. Oh, and last but certainly not least, I ate amazing food.

I fell in love with Argentine food, above all else empanadas. An empanada is a pastry that can be baked or fried, savory or sweet, similar to a hand pie. Empanadas originate from Spain, but given the Spanish Empire’s influence in their colonial territory, each country in Latin America, as well as the Philippines, have their own variation of empanadas.

In my probably biased opinion, Argentina has the best empanadas, specifically the beef empanadas. I was pretty much obsessed with them while I was studying there. I was perfectly happy with a plate full of beef empanadas for just about any meal. I truly miss being able to find high quality hand-made empanadas at ease in restaurants around the city.

So, while I in PA visiting family this past week, I was propositioned to make empanadas, bringing back some awesome memories. My cousin, Vanessa, had the opportunity to take a trip to Argentina this summer with her high school. This was the first time I got to see her since her trip. I was so excited to talk to her about her experience. I was so happy that she got to see this gorgeous country that I love so much.

So, I happily obliged to helping make empanadas when I came to their house on Friday afternoon. My aunt had done all the shopping, so we got started shortly after I arrived.

It had been awhile since I made empanadas completely from scratch. The first time I tried making empanadas was in 2013 when I returned from Argentina. My attempt at making the dough was a bit disastrous. I was afraid to make them after that, and only made them again with frozen empanadas dough shells from the Latin market. They were decent, but nowhere near as good as the ones I ate in Argentina.

This time, I braved it out and made empanadas completely from scratch using this recipe from Laylita’s Recipes. At least, I wouldn’t be making them all by myself. Team work is amazing, and we had a great team made up of my Aunt Cris, my cousins Vanessa and Mariah, and myself.

I prepped the ingredients for the filling with the help of my cousins. My aunt cooked the filling while I worked on the dough. The dough needed to chill in the fridge for about a half hour. That gave us time to complete the filling. Smoked paprika gives this filling a gorgeous color and a deep flavor.

We also had a mishap with the dough, but fortunately, my cousin, Mariah, suggested we add more milk to the dough. This was absolutely the right call, as our dough was looking more crumbly than I wanted. Empanada dough is stiffer and less flaky than pie dough or puff pastry dough. Adding more milk made this dough stickier. However, this did make it much harder to roll out.

With a great assist from Mariah, we filled our empanadas using a pastry press they had picked up. You can absolutely hand-fold empanadas, but a pastry press can make this process easier with a more uniform look. Working one by one, we stretched out the dough onto the press, brushed the edges with egg whites, scooped filling into the dough, and then pressed them closed. Even before baking, they looked great.

Empanada making is a long process. With four people, this still took three hours. However, this labor of love resulted in some gorgeous golden brown empanadas. I certainly have never made empanadas that turned out this well. Even before eating them, I could tell these were my best yet.

We enjoyed the empanadas with fresh chimichurri I made, and my uncle’s caesar salad. He makes very good caesar salad. These two dishes paired very well together. I was excited to take on this challenge, but in the back of my mind, I wasn’t sure how well they would turn out. These empanadas were so delicious though. I am proud of the work we did together. If empanadas weren’t so much work to make, I would probably make them more often. This experience has made me less afraid to make them from scratch, so maybe there will be more empanadas in my future.