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Easy Chilean empanadas


I had been struggling for ages to find the perfect empanada recipe. I’d tried making them several times, but I’d never been complete happy with the result: the dough was too hard, the filling was too dry, the flavor was not great…

Many countries have their own variation of the empanada (folded wheat dough with different fillings).  In Argentina you can find empanadas with chicken; in Colombia they are filled with potato. The empanada’s heritage comes from Spain and Portugal, and that’s why you’ll find them in most former colonies in Latin America, and also in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Last time my mother came to visit I asked her to make empanadas, the Chilean way.  She shared with me my grandmother’s recipe, and it is by far the best empanada recipe I have tried in years.  And it is surprisingly easy to make.

For the dough, you need to mix:

1 kg of sifted flour (8 full cups)

200 g melted lard or vegetable shortening

½ litre hot boiled water; ½ table spoon of salt

1 teaspoon of paprika or dried red chili

The first secret is lard.  Unhealthy as it may sound, the truth is that without lard (or vegetable shortening) the dough will never taste great.  You need to heat up this lard until it becomes liquid.

Make a small volcano with the flour and add the other ingredients slowly into the volcano’s mouth while mixing in the flour with your hands until the dough is soft and doesn’t stick to your fingers.  Then cover the dough ball with flour and plastic wrapping and place it in the fridge.

The empanada can be filled with a lot of things, anything really.  Every child’s favorite is the fried empanada with cheese (pictured), but they also come filled with seafood, veggies or meat.

The most common filling in Chile is “pino”.  To make enough pino for the amount of dough in the recipe above, you need to sauté two finely chopped onions until they are transparent, and then add salt, pepper and cumin to taste.  Then add around 400 grams chopped beef (you can also use minced beef but the outcome will be a bit dryer) and cover until the meat is cooked, stirring every once in a while. Make sure that the mix is not dry. If it is looking a bit dry, try adding a few spoonfuls of warm water.  Once it is ready (this is up to the cook’s taste; some like the pino very spicy, others milder), put the pino in a glass container and leave it to cool.  It is best when prepared the day before you’re going to be making the enchiladas. Put in the fridge if you’re going to save it for the next day.

Hard boil three eggs, and make sure you have raisins and black olives handy.  You will need them later.

Once you are ready to make the empanadas, you can decide whether to fry them or bake them.  I prefer the second option.  So, I preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Knead the dough into small circles that are about ½ cm thick with a diameter no bigger than your palm.  Don’t make them too big as they may split open.

Add half a raw onion, finely chopped, into the pino (this is a little secret that does make the filling tastier, as the onion releases juices that moisten the mix) and then place a significant amount of the mix on each piece of prepared dough.  Make sure, however, that you are able to close the empanada without breaking the dough.  Before you close and seal the edges of the dough, add a piece of boiled egg, an olive, and a raisin.

Another family secret is to seal the edges together with egg white.  Use one egg for this purpose; the yolk can be used to paint the empanadas before they go in the oven, so they acquire a nice golden color.

Depending on your oven, the empanadas should be ready in about 30 minutes.






Image. Photo by Macarena Quezada.

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