What’s an empanada? It’s a folded pastry dough (i.e., pasty) with a savory filling—such as seasoned meat, cheese and vegetables—that is either baked or fried. The name is derived from the Spanish verb empanar, which means “enbreaded”, or wrapped in bread.
The empanada has its origins in Galicia, the northwest region of Spain — and this delectable comfort food has been adopted in other countries like Argentina, Belize, Cape Verde, Sicily, Chile and the Philippines.
Empanadas found their way to the United States via cities with large Hispanic populations, such as Los Angeles, Miami and San Antonio. The empanada versions that sprung forth from those communities are similar to South American versions, and are widely available from food carts, food trucks, and restaurants specializing in this “tasty pasty.” Empanadas are often ordered by the dozen, and served during parties and festivals as an appetizer or main course.
One of my favorite family-style eateries in Los Angeles is Empanada’s Place, an Argentine restaurant that serves homemade, Argentine-style empanadas. It’s a mom-and-pop restaurant that opened its doors in 1985. Back then, no one ever imagined how popular the restaurant’s unique empanadas would become, and how they’d become a city favorite for over 30 years — praised by food critics and even travel websites like Trip Advisor. The empanadas on the menu are offered with a wide variety of fillings, including vegetarian options like Fugazza (cheese and onions), Papa Con Queso (potato and cheese), Berenjena (eggplant), and Pascualina (spinach).
As part of Underground Health Reporter’s Meatless Monday issue, I’m featuring a vegetarian version of the Argentine Empanada Cordobesa (which is typically made of ground beef, potatoes and hard-boiled eggs). This meatless version, which I call Empanada Vegetariana replaces ground beef with vegetarian ground beef, seasoned to perfection.
Servings: 20 empanadas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
2 onions (medium)
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon oregano
1 package vegetarian ground beef (my favorite brand is Gardein™ The Ultimate Beefless Ground)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Empanada dough (or Puff Pastry)
In a frying pan, heat oil with paprika and saute onions until soft. Add chili powder, oregano, and salt. Then, add vegetarian “ground beef” and combine with the onions. Add tomato paste and cook until thoroughly heated.
Place a spoonful of stuffing on half of each dough circle. Fold dough over filling. Moisten the edges of the dough with water, fold over again and seal to form the empanada pouches. Bake empanadas in a pre-heated oven (400°F) oven until cooked and golden brown.