The Big Empanada School

I am going to teach you about empanadas today, these are the famous turnovers from Latin America. Empanadas are, I dare say, THE snack of Latin America. Empanadas do require quite a bit of work, first you have to prepare the dough and then the filling, then you need to fill and seal each empanada before it is baked or fried. As many dishes, empanadas are originally from Spain. However, Spanish empanadas have little resemblance with the empanadas from Latin America. Spanish empanadas are similar to a pie. The empanada from Galicia for example is big and round, like a pie, usually filled with chicken and champignons. Often the pie topping has some braided elements and is decorated in some kind of way. This is very different from the empanadas from Latin America. In this article we will have a look at how empanadas are made in Latin America. Of course I will give a lot of recipes at the end of this article.

#1 Dough:

Empanada dough can be made of different ingredients. Yes, you will find empanadas made from wheat. Especially the ones from Argentina and Uruguay are made with wheat flour. These traditional empanadas from Uruguay with beef filling, typical Argentinian empanadas, or these Argentinian empanadas with beef and potatoe filling. The Bolivian empanadas named salteñas are also made from wheat flour. Generically speaking empanadas made from wheat flour are often baked. It doesn’t mean that they cannot be fried, however, baking them seems to be more common.

Dough circles are sold in many stores in Latin Americans – I am eating an empanada in Buenos Aires when we went on a holiday

The second popular way of making empanadas is with corn flour. Probably it also has to do with the missing gluten that empanadas from corn flour are smaller in size and are fried. It is not as easy to seal these empanadas without the glue gluten, you don’t want any of the filling to spill. A recipe for Colombian empanadas can be found here, they are made of corn flour and are fried.

Kolumbianische EmpanadasHowever, empanadas can also be made of more unusual doughs, a typical ingredient is for example plantain. Depending on how ripe it is, it may be a replacement for potatoes. If green, you will boil and then mash them to create a dough, often mixed with corn and/or some binder. If ripe and yellow, the taste is more similar to a banana, which means that sweet filliings are more common. Yuca or manioc are another starchy ingredient used for empanadas. These types of empanadas are more common in Central America. Usually they are fried, just as the corn empanadas.

#2 Additivies to the Dough

Basic empanada dough will contain water and salt beside the flour. One famous dough in Argentina uses milk instead of water. You will find variations with herbs, oregano is widely used in Uruguay. In Colombia “color”, the powder from the annatto bush is used for extra flavor, this spice is also used for the Bolivian salteñas. Sometimes doughs will be sweetened even if filled with savory ingredients. Adding butter, olive oil or beef tallow also give extra flavor.

#3 Empanada Shape

The typical shape of an empanada is the half moon. Therefore you will first cut out circles, which are filled, and then folded to create the shape. Empanadas made with wheat dough contain a braided edge, the idea is that this will prevent the filling from spilling. In Spanish this is called “repulgue”. The basic idea is that you pull away a small part of the outer edge with your index finger and thumb and then fold it back to the center. This procedure is repeated starting at the very beginning and going all around. You can watch me seal empanadas in this reel. I also need to highlight the empanadas from Bolivia called salteñas. As they are also made with wheat, you will also find the braided edges. However, as these empanadas are pretty large, instead of placing the half moons on the side onto the baking sheet, they will sit upwards, thus looking more like a bag. A recipe for Bolivian turnovers can be found here. In this video you can watch me make them.

Salteñas, bolivianische Teigtaschen

Empanadas made with corn flour usually don’t have anything braided. You will cut away as much as you can when you seal them. The dough is on the stickier side, so it will glue itselft. In this reel you can see how corn flour empanadas are prepared instead.

#4 Fillings:

If there are a lot of variations for the dough, believe me, the options for fillings are endless. Meat, fish, vegetables, potatoes, mushrooms, cheese, boiled eggs, olives, rasins, nuts, there are so many possibilities combining these ingredients. If sold on the street, it is common to mark each type on the outside so you can be sure to know what you will get once you bite into them. Recently even vegan empanadas are more common, often by simply frying vegetables and stuffing the empanadas with them. However, be aware that meat is extremely common, I feel every Latin American country declares one meat version as “their” traditional empanada. Which type of empanada you want to try next, is basically up to you. I just want to stress the fact that the sweet and salty combination is more common than you would think. It is pretty common to mix in raisins with meat or to sweeten the dough slightly even though you are going to pack the empanadas with a savory filling. One typical example would be the empanadas from Central America. Cheese is mixed with quince paste. Obviously, you can also go the fully sweet route, dulce de leche, so caramel made from sweetened milk, is super popular. However, beware, it is extra hot when fresh out the oven, so don’t burn your tongue!

#5 Dips

Just as every Latin American country declares one empanada as “theirs”, it seems to be pretty common to serve empanadas with some kind of dip. Yes, I wrote “it seems” as apparently not so in Uruguay. You will see quite a discussion below the recipe for Uruguayan empanadas (first one below) because I like to eat them with the herb dip called “chimichurri“.  How dare I! I know from many conversations I had with Latinos that other countries see this as super normal. Yes, it is common to dip empanadas, it seem logical. I mean, “chimichurri” is served with a steak in Uruguay as Americans probably serve ketchup, so why not serve it with beef empanadas as well? I will probably never understand that. But be it as it may, the dips often contain spring onions and tomatoes and some kind of herbs. Depending on the country, this may get spicy, such as in Bolivia, which likes to serve “llajua” (with a lot of chili) and in Colombia “aji“. The good thing is that you can easily prepare the dip in advance and store in the fridge. They get even tastier after a day or so and can be served with other snacks as well.

#6 Recipes:

OK, but now let’s get down to business, below show the recipe and a picture, each also includes a recipe to the dip. I hope you are inspired to try your own empanada!

Traditional Uruguayan beef empanadas

Traditionelle uruguayische Empanadas









Argentinian empanadas from Mendoza









Argentinian empanadas with beef and potatoes









Bolivian empanadas (salteñas) with chicken, olives and raisins

Salteñas, bolivianische Teigtaschen









Traditional Colombian empanadas (fried)

Kolumbianische Empanadas









Sweet chocolate empanadas with caramel (dulce de leche)

Schoko-Empanadas mit Dulce de Leche









Carribean empanadas with cheese and quince paste

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