Empanadas are one of the few foods that unite all of Latin America. Though they come in myriad regional variations – with different doughs, fillings, and cooking methods – at their core they do have a (mostly) common origin story. According to Serious Eats, the empanadas we know today come from Galicia – where the Spanish baked them into a round pie plate or rectangular dish before slicing them up into single servings. Commonly, the filling included either tuna or chicken, as well as onions and bell peppers.
As they reached the Americas, empanadas became more Hot Pocket-sized. “As it spread, dough variations lost the yeast, some morphing into a more pastry-style crust, cut with beef fat or butter (especially in the cattle-raising regions of Argentina), while others lost the wheat flour entirely: empanadas in Venezuela and Colombia are made with corn flour, and in Caribbean countries, yuca or plantain serves as the starch,” explains Serious Eats.
Basically, this means it’d be very difficult to try all the regional varieties. But here are 10 that you can get started on:
April 8, 2017, 7:30 a.m.: This post has been updated to include even more delicious empanadas.
Mendocinas are baked empanadas that come from the Mendoza region. According to Laylita, the dough contains milk, making it creamier than other empanadas. Typically, they are stuffed with ground beef, a slice of hard-boiled egg and a green olive slice.
Pastel de queijo
In Brazil, pastéis, which come in square or half-moon shapes, are the closest thing to empanadas. And the cheese-filled version is one of the popular varieties. For example, Monika Batista – who resides in the U.S. – wrote on her site, Mãní, that pastel de queijo is one of her go-tos when she returns to her native Brazil. “Whenever I fly home a pastel de queijo is one of the first things on my ‘to eat’ list,” she wrote. “You will find them at farmers market as huge rectangles or in bars and restaurants in a smaller version of thin-crust fried pastries with assorted fillings.”
She learned to make the pastel from her aunt, a nun who shared that Brazilian Cachaça (a Brazilian sugar cane liquor) is the secret to getting that dry, flaky, crunchy pastry. The filling is made up of any type of cheese, and it can include other ingredients, such as sun dried tomatoes or oregano.
Other popular versions include minced beef, hearts of palm and prawns. They are also served in pastelzinho (small) and mega pastéis (big) sizes.
Empanadas de plátanos
Countries: El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica
This plátano-loving region uses very ripe plantains for their empanada dough. But even though the outside is the same, their insides can vary. (Though there is definitely some overlap.) For example, El Salvador’s empanada de plátano is a dessert. Postres de la Cipota explains that Salvi-style empanadas have an almost custard-like filling.
From personal experience, I know Nicaraguan empanadas contain cheeses like mozzarella or queso seco. And Cocina Costarricence boasts an also delicious looking empanada stuffed with beans.
Corn flour empanadas
Countries: Colombia, Venezuela
The corn flour used for these empanadas is super fine and typically used for making arepas. Serious Eats reports that the fillings distinguish the two countries’ empanadas. In Colombia, the dough is stuffed with ground beef, potatoes, and onions.
Venezuela has one filled with cheese, but they also made an empanada version of their national dish, pabellón. It contains plátanos maduros, beef, and black beans.
Unlike many other empanadas, pastes Pachuqueños have a thinner dough and are made from wheat flour. They hail from Hidalgo and are made with pulque (an alcoholic drink made by fermenting sap from the maguey), salt, egg, lard, and sometimes milk, according to La Cocina Mexicana de Pily. They come in both sweet and savory varieties.
Bolivia’s empanadas have a coin purse look to them. The outside is slightly sweet, and the inside is packed with flavors from things like carne de res and chicken, potatoes, and onions, according to Sabrosía.
Country: Dominican Republic
Clara González of Cocina Dominicana says shredded yuca is used to make the gluten-free food. Inside, there is onion, tomatoes, and carne de res molida.
Empanadas al horno
In Chile, you can’t go wrong with any of the vast varieties of empanadas – a food typically considered the country’s national dish. But Chilean empanadas are mostly synonymous with empanadas al horno filled with pino – minced meat, onion, olives, raisins, and a hard-cooked egg.
Claudio Zunino – who runs Zunino Emporio, an empanaderia established in 1930 – said the key to a good empanada “is cooking the filling the night before to give the flavor time to ripen and develop.”
The empanada dough is made with lard, and it can be fried or baked. What is truly necessary is that the dough is rolled out very thinly, so it can be folded along the edges.
Country: Puerto Rico
As Meseidy from The Noshery explains, in Puerto Rico an empanadilla is a fried pastry, with a thick dough and rolled edge. Pastelillos are a smaller in size. It’s fried and has a thin, crispy dough. As Meseidy wrote, “a pastelillo is a snack, and an empanadilla is lunch.” Pastelillos are typically stuffed with ground beef, but they can include different types of meats.