What’s your favorite merienda? For most Pinoys, it must be filling, convenient, and affordable. It can be light or heavy, sweet or savory. It doesn’t have to be special halo-halo every time because a simple lugaw or even instant pansit will suffice. But do you know what snack ticks all the boxes? Empanadas!
These portable hand pies are lifesavers when hunger pangs strike. You can eat them on the go, and they barely put a dent in your daily budget. Plus, you’ll find them everywhere – cafes, neighborhood bakeries, or street vendors. A ton of variations are out there! They come in all shapes, sizes, fillings, and cooking methods. Read on to learn more about these golden pastries.
A Brief History of Empanadas
The exact origins of the empanada recipe are unclear. Many consider Galicia, a Northwestern region in Spain, as its birthplace. It eventually travelled the world through Spanish colonizers and integrated into Latin American and Filipino cuisines.
Its name comes from the verb “empanar,” which means to coat or wrap. It alludes to the method of filling a flattened dough with various ingredients, including sardines, tuna, chorizo, pork loin, and vegetables. Just like American turnovers, it can have sweet fillings, like fruits and chocolate. And similar to Italian calzones, the snack can contain a tomato-garlic sauce or a handful of herbs and spices.
Did you know that the traditional empanada recipe features fish and a tomato-based sauce? The variations in flavors and fillings result from the regional availability of ingredients. Here’s what you can expect from the Pinoy version.
The hand pies sold in many parts of the country contain ground meat (pork, chicken, or beef) sautéed with bell peppers, peas, potatoes, and raisins. Modern adaptations do away with tomato sauce to avoid spoilage. Instead, you can use soy sauce and Knorr Chicken Cubes as flavorings.
Other filling options include chicken curry, ham and cheese, beef taco, spicy tuna, and pork humba. For a healthier take, go for all veggies. You can also replace minced meat with umami-filled mushrooms and spinach for a nutritious pie.
Mastering the pastry dough is an essential part of learning how to make empanadas. The standard recipe uses flour, salt, eggs, cold butter, and water. A quick tip is to mix the dough, then wrap it in aluminum foil and cling film. You can keep this in the freezer for 3 to 6 months. Having pre-made dough cuts down prep work drastically.
Fried vs. Baked Empanadas
There are two common methods to cook these treats. You can fry them, like when making crispy Ilocos empanada or empanada de kaliskis. Or you can bake them until tender or crumbly. Each method has its pros and cons:
- How to fry: Fill a pot with vegetable oil. Drop the pies and fry until crispy and golden. Make sure to keep the oil’s temperature between 320° to 350°F (160° to 175°C). Don’t forget to strain between batches.
- Pros: This method is more accessible and convenient. It helps to use a thermometer, but you can always fry without special tools and equipment. A fried empanada recipe also requires a shorter cooking time, approximately 15 minutes per batch.
- Cons: The dough requires immediate cooking and consumption to keep it from becoming watery or soggy. You can still reheat the snack but expect changes in taste and texture.
- How to bake: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Brush pastries with egg wash to achieve that shiny, golden color. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, then allow them to cool on a wire rack before serving.
- Pros: This is a healthier technique as it doesn’t require oil. It’s also more economical in the long run. Baked pastries have a longer shelf life. You can keep them chilled or frozen, then reheat them in the oven or toaster.
- Cons: You need to invest in baking tools and equipment, like an oven with a thermostat and a timer. A baked empanada recipe also calls for a longer cooking time.
Both cooking methods produce delicious empanadas. If you want a healthier merienda, bake them in the oven. If you’re working with less time, frying them is the way to go. Try both and ask your loved ones to vote on their favorite. Ultimately, the technique you select will come down to personal preference.