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Friday, January 11, 2013

Empanadas from Chile & Argentina

  Beef, onion & egg empanadas cooked in an outdoor wood-fired oven

One of my favorite culinary treats I’m waiting for on the upcoming tour to Chile & Argentina are empanadas (em pon naw duhs).  Many countries have their unique version of a stuffed bread or pastry—in the U.S. we call it a “turnover,” in Italy it’s a calzone, in China they refer to it as a pot-sticker, and in India it becomes a samosa.  In Central and South America it takes its name from the Spanish verb empanar (which means to wrap or coat in bread) and is called an empanada. 

Brought by Spaniards and Portuguese settlers to Latin America in the 17th century, the empanada in this part of the world is made from bread dough stuffed with meat, cheese, vegetables or fruits.  While wildly popular, they are now served in homes only on special occasions because of the work involved in making them.  Shops specialize in making empanadas in the larger cities and they are available with many flavors and fillings, both savory and sweet.

In Argentina empanadas may be served as an appetizer or as the main course.  The dough is usually wheat flour and the fat is from beef due to Argentina’s mammoth beef industry.  Fillings, however, vary from province to province.  In the wine region of Mendoza, the stuffing is typically hand-cut beef with onion & hard boiled egg, however, in other areas olives & raisins may be added to chicken or ham.  Along Argentina’s vast coastline, empanadas can be made from seafood or fish.

Argentina’s empanadas are usually baked, however, they can be fried.  My favorite Argentinean version is served at the Zuccardi winery (http://www.familiazuccardi.com).  The dough is extremely light, a kind of melt-in-your-mouth affair.  The flavor is colossal because they are baked in an outdoor oven fueled with all kinds of wonderful woods that enhance not only taste but their aroma.  Clients coming on the tour with us are guaranteed to have these ethereal morsels when we visit the Zuccardi family for a glorious Sunday luncheon.

A highlight of the trip will be actually learning how to make empanadas in Argentina.   We have arranged a cooking class at the Culinary Institute in wine country.  The empanadas will be savory ones that will be served as tapas to begin our dinner, however, the recipe can easily be adapted to serve as an entrée, or changed to include fruit and morph to a dessert.

We will also have several renditions of empanadas in Chile.  Chilean versions have a wide range of fillings but the three most popular are beef, seafood or cheese.  These are considerably larger than the Argentine variety, usually with one empanada being enough for a meal.

My favorite place in Chile for an empanada?  Hands down it goes to the private catered dinner we’ll be having at the Montes winery (http://www.monteswines.com/en/).  The setting will be a mountain-top open-air dining room with a panoramic view of the setting sun over the entire Colchagua valley.  The beef empanadas will be cooked over a wood fire and served as appetizers… with a glass of one of Montes’ killer wines.  Viva la empanada!


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