April 8 is National Empanada Day and who isn’t excited about celebrating one of our favorite Latin American foods? I grew up eating Puerto Rican-style empanadas which are often called pastelillos and to this day they are still one of my very favorite foods. Nearly every country in Latin America has their own version of the empanada, and while deep-fried empanadas with a crispy, flaky dough and meaty filling are certainly the most well-known, there are actually a bunch of different types of shells and a variety of fillings used for empanadas in countries throughout Latin America.
From savory meat-and-cheese empanadas to sweet dessert empanadas, you really can’t go wrong. In case you need one more excuse to indulge on National Empanada Day, here are 11 empanadas from countries throughout Latin America to inspire your next meal. Get ready for some seriously good eats!
In Honduras, empanadas are commonly called pastelitos and baked and filled with meat or beans with cheese. Although those pictured here are made with a flour-based pastry dough, it’s also common to make the shell using the same kind of masa you would make for tortillas. It all depends on the region and even the family. They typically served with a slaw and/or chimol, which is similar to pico de gallo.
Empanadas are very traditional in Colombia, and many Colombians take a lot of pride in their family recipes. Though dough is made with masarepa (corn dough) and fillings are made super-savory with onion, garlic and bell pepper. They are deep fried and one of the tastiest additions is ají, a spicy sauce made with vinegar, peppers, herbs.
Empanadas can be served as dessert or a snack in El Salvador, where there’s a version that is almost a totally different thing, but looks just as incredible. Get this…the crust is made with sweet plantains. Yes! Does that not sound amazing? They can be filled with mashed beans and cream and are typically dusted with sugar after being fried.
Argentinian empanadas are truly a sight to behold and a signature dish throuhgout the country with various fillings and baked or fried. They are made with an enriched dough that has egg and milk in it, so they have a beautiful sheen and color to them. A beef, olive, egg filling is the most common, and the empanadas are baked and served with a classic Argentinian chimichurri herb sauce.
Empanadas are certainly not the first dish that comes to mind when most people think of Mexican food, but the country does have its own version. Although empanadas made with a pastry dough can be found in Mexico, there are also those made with a corn-based masa. Some of the fillings include chorizo or barbacoa, but frijoles and cheese are also very popular and there’s even crab and tuna fillings.
Empanadas from the Dominican Republic are closer to the classic version that’s commonly seen throughout the United States. They are made using a simple pastry dough, filled with meaty, cheesy fillings and deep fried to crispy perfection. Jamón con queso is a particularly popular variety as well as yucca.
Chilean empanadas are also of the baked variety, and rather than pinching or curling the edges of the shell, they are often folded, creating what looks like an delicious little pocket. Ground beef is the most common filling, and black olives, raisins and sometimes hard-boiled eggs are also added. The dough is also often enriched with milk and eggs.
Empanadas are taken very seriously in Puerto Rico where they are sold at nearly every roadside food stand and many casual, sit-down restaurants. They are made with a very simple, flaky pastry dough and deep fried until they are golden and super-crunchy, but soft and hot on the inside. The most popular filling is picadillo, but chicken, seafood and even vegetarian fillings have become more and more popular in recent years. Don’t forget the mayo-ketchup for dipping!
Venezuelan empanadas are all about the filling. In Venezuela, empanada fillings can be made of pretty much anything imaginable and as shown here, are often layered. It uses masa harina for the shell, and is filled with anything from seafood to beans with onion, garlic, sweet peppers and cumin often used to flavor the fillings.
Peruvian empanadas are made with a thinly rolled, bread-like dough that almost reminds us of a pizza or calzone dough. While Peruvians also get creative with fillings, ground beef and olives are most typical and hard-boiled eggs are commonly used as well and for an added layer of flavor they use bouillon or soy sauce. The empanadas are coated with an egg wash, baked and served with fresh lime wedges.
Also being from the Caribbean, Cuban empanadas are quite similar to Puerto Rican and Dominican empanadas. They use a thin, flaky pastry dough and a variety of fillings both sweet and savory. Cubans make an tasty queso and guayaba (guava) empanada that’s perfect for a sweet treat any time of day. They are stuffed with sweetened cream cheese and guava paste or jelly.