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What Are Empanadas (and Why They’re My New Favorite Snack)

Did you know April 8th is National Empanada Day? To help you prepare for this day in the spring, let’s discuss what an empanada is. Whether you like hearty meats or prefer a mix of cheese and spinach, this dish has a flavor and filling for every taste bud.

Deliciously fried or baked in the dough, these snacks can be a delicious pick-me-up on a long work day or after school. Let’s dive in!

What Are Empanadas? 

The Spanish word “empenar” means “to bread,” which means to coat something in bread. Empanadas are typical in Spanish, Southern European, and Latin American cultures. Sicily, the Philippines, and Indonesia also have versions of empanadas.

This baked or fried turnover consists of pastry and filling. The inside of these treats varies by culture and can be savory, hearty, or sweet.

Are Empanadas Mexican or Puerto Rican? 

Empanadas are not exclusive to one country. Mexico and Puerto Rico have their versions. Other Central American and South American countries do, too. Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Belize, and the Dominican Republic share the cultural tradition of making empanadas.

However, the earliest origin of making these snacks came from Spain and Portugal, where a Catalan cookbook featured the dish in 1520.

What Are Mexican Empanadas Made Of? 

The chef will lay the dough flat and add ingredients on top of the dough. They would fill the empanadas with meat, cheese, corn, or fruit. Different countries have other ways of making this dish. For example, in Peru, traditional versions have ground beef, onions, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and raisins.

In Ecuador, sweets versions of the treat include cheese with sprinkles of sugar after frying.

The Russian and Ukrainian pirozhki is similar to an empanada as it’s a baked or fried boot-shaped bun with numerous fillings. The Italian oven-baked calzone is also similar to this dish, although cooks stuff them with pizza ingredients like meat and cheese.

Are Empanadas Good for Your Health? 

Because people make empanadas with mostly dough and filling, they aren’t a “healthy” snack. They’re high in fat and carbohydrates with very little nutritional value. The various fillings also dictate how healthy or unhealthy empanadas are.

They can be a source of protein if they include meat, a source of vitamins with vegetables, or a good source of omega-3 fatty acids with fish. But these smacks are a high-density food, so you eat many calories per ounce.

What Do You Eat Empanadas With? 

You can order empanadas all over the United States. Some of the best places to get them are in areas where people of Spanish or Iberian ancestry live. For example, a family from Buenos Aires, Argentina, started Rocky’s Empanadas in Washington state. The owner serves both meat and vegetarian options. If you cross the country to Miami, you can visit Novecento and order empanadas with meat, cheese, or spinach.

Typically, empanadas are an appetizer or snack. They aren’t often a complete entree. You’ll often see them under the appetizers section of a restaurant menu. If you’re looking to pair these treats with a side dish, try Mexican rice, corn on the cob, fried plantains, or black beans.

People also serve sauces like marinara, salsa, chimichurri, or a cheese-based sauce like Gruyere with the dish.

What Makes Empanadas a Good Snack? 

You shouldn’t avoid empanadas because they might not be a healthy food like kale or carrots. In fact, many diets like keto and paleo have recipes for making this dish. It is possible to adjust the recipe according to your dietary restrictions. These savory pockets are an excellent snack because of how filling they are.

You can get some early afternoon protein to keep you going at work or feed the kids a serving of vegetables when they get home from school. All of this is underneath the baked or fried bread. It sure beats grabbing a bag of chips.

What Country Makes the Best Empanadas?

Many people know Argentina as a country with amazing empanadas. Across the United States, families of Argentine descent own some of the best locations serving these delicious side dishes.

According to Taste Atlas, five of the top ten restaurants in the world serving empanadas are in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Perhaps this is why Rodrigo at Rocky’s Empanadas has done so well. He not only operates his pick-up or delivery store but also provides these appetizers to six eateries and nine market stores in Washington state.

Are Empanadas Worth It?

If you’ve never eaten an empanada before, it’s time you tried. They can be savory or sweet, flaky or crisp, baked or fried. Fill up on a meat and cheese option, or end your meal with a dessert version.

Try the authentically Columbian corn dough or the sweet plantains crust of El Salvador. Whatever taste you’re searching for, there’s something for you.

Have you ever tried one of these snacks? What was inside?

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