Celebrate National Empanada Day with a New Mexico inspired-version, made with green chiles. (Photo/Courtesy of Nada But Empanadas of Albuquerque, NM)

Celebrate National Empanada Day with a New Mexico inspired-version, made with green chiles. (Photo/Courtesy of Nada But Empanadas of Albuquerque, NM)

It’s National Empanada Day!

So largely does the empanada, that little doughy pocket of deliciousness, loom in Hispanic culture that references to it have long appeared in important art and literature. Case in point: a 12th century sculpture at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain depicting a glutton condemned to eat a huge empanada. (Makes you wonder what the  filling was, doesn’t it?)

Either way, Galicia is a fitting location for such artful appearances, since it’s precisely this ancient Spanish city where the empanadas now known throughout Latin America—and the ones celebrated today, on National Empanada Day!—find their roots. Though the classic Galician empanada is slightly different (it looks more like a round pastel, or pie, rather than the half moons the world is familiar with) the idea remains the same: a sweet or savory filling surrounded by dough to make the whole thing delectably portable.

And portable it was: as thousands of Galicians fled the poverty of their region for the new world in search of opportunity, they brought with them their most moveable feast. Keeping some of their traditional empanada recipes, they also adapted to the ingredients available in their new homeland. In Mexico, for instance, empanadas are often made with corn dough, and in the Caribbean they can be made with plantain or yuca flour.

Want to give empanadas a healthy makeover? Click here.

The variations are still endless today, and depend greatly on the cook and the country from which he or she hails. The dough can be bread-like or flakey. It can be fried or baked. And the pockets can be filled with chicken, beef, seafood, cheese or veggies or just about any leftover you have on hand, which was its original purpose.

If you  doubt just how popular they remain, consider this: Imusa, the world’s largest manufacturer of Hispanic cooking appliances and utensils, last year launched its new empanada maker. “They’re going to be the next hot thing,” CEO Manny Guanard said at the time. And in Albuquerque, NM, a city founded in 1706 by Spanish colonialists who no doubt packed a few empanadas of their own, the treats are still in demand, according to Buenos-Aires-born Marina Arbetman-Rabinowitz and El Paso-transplant Linda Hayon, who last year launched Nada But Empanadas, a catering and take-out service that specializes, as its name suggests, on nothing but empanadas. “In Argentina, they’re the equivalent of pizza in America,” said Arbetman-Rabinowitz, a PhD in economy who changed careers to launch the business. “Whenever you don’t know what to eat, you go by the empanada store. It’s food that helps you out in a pinch.”

Watch Today’s Natalie Morales make her homemade empanadas.

She and Hayon were inspired to launch the business after returning from a trip to Argentina, during which they went on a stuffed dough pocket eating tour. “Every time we were hungry,” Hayon remembers, “what appealed to us the most was those empanadas. So I came back and asked Marina to teach me to make them. And we started like that.”

The two worked together to develop different doughs for different fillings. By far the most popular choice, Hayon says, is the classic beef-stuffed empanada and a close second is the uniquely New Mexican empanada they created using local chiles. The two are now working on self-publishing the Nada But Empanada cookbook, due out in two months. In the meantime, they shared with NBCLatino two simple recipes to make at home. Happy Empanada Day!

Celebrate National Empanada Day with a New Mexico inspired-version, made with green chiles. (Photo/Courtesy of Nada But Empanadas of Albuquerque, NM)

New Mexico Chicken Chile Empanadas (Photo/Courtesy of Nada But Empanadas of Albuquerque, NM)

New Mexico Chicken Chile Relleno

(Makes enough filling for 24 empanadas)

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

1 small yellow onion or half a large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large New Mexico, poblano or Anaheim chile pepper, roasted, peeled and chopped (see directions below) or 1 4-oz. can mild or medium roasted chopped green chilies, drained

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour

¾ cup chicken broth

½ of a rotisserie chicken (or ½ of a roasted chicken), skin removed and cut into cubes

½ cup canned (and drained) or frozen corn kernels

⅔ cup shredded cheese (Cheddar or Monterrey Jack)

Juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon New Mexico red chile powder or ancho chile powder

½ teaspoon each garlic powder, paprika, dried oregano, and dried cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

When ready to assemble and bake you will also need:

24 empanada dough disks, defrosted (available in Latin markets)

1 bowl with salted warm water to seal the empanadas

egg wash (1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water) to brush

vegetable oil for brushing baking sheet  or parchment paper

1. To roast the New Mexico, poblano or Anaheim chile pepper, place it on a baking dish under the broiler for 10 minutes, turning a few times, until the skin is blackened, blistered and charred in places.  (You can also put the chile directly on the flame of a gas burner for a few minutes, turning it until it is charred.)  Place the pepper into a plastic bag and seal; let it steam for five minutes until it is cool enough to handle.  The peel should come off easily when rubbed gently with a paper towel.  Don’t worry if a few pieces of charred skin remain. Remove the stem and seeds of the pepper and chop into pieces.  (Alternately, you may use 1 4-oz. can mild or medium roasted chopped green chilies, drained.)

2. In a skillet over medium heat, warm the oil and add the onions.  Sauté for 5 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent.  Add the garlic and chopped chile pepper and cook for an additional minute or two.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat and put aside.

3. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Stir the flour into the melted butter and whisk until a thick paste is formed.  Continue cooking and stirring for 1 minute to cook out the floury taste.  Slowly add the chicken broth and continue to whisk for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is very thick and creamy.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Add the cubed chicken, cheese, and corn to the sauce, along with the sautéed veggies and spices.  Cook for a minute until well combined.  Add the lime juice and taste for seasoning.  Refrigerate, covered, until cool before assembling empanadas.  The filling may be refrigerated, covered, up to two days.

5. When ready to make the empanadas, put about 2-3 tablespoons of the chicken mixture in the center of a 4 ½ to 5 ½ inch dough disk. Brush half of the edge of the dough with warm water, fold it over the filling, press it with your fingers to seal, and make the repulgue (crimping). Brush the empanadas with the egg wash.

6. Brush a baking sheet with a film of canola (or other vegetable oil) and put the sheet in a 400 degree preheated oven. When the oil is hot (about 3 minutes) carefully remove the sheet and place the empanadas on the sheet an inch apart. (Putting the empanadas on a hot, oiled baking sheet aids in crisping the base.) Alternatively, you can place the empanadas on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 25- 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with a side of pico de gallo or salsa.

Argentinean Beef Empanadas

Argentinean Beef Empanadas (Photo/Courtesy Nada But Empanadas of Albuquerque, NM)

Argentinean Beef Empanadas (Photo/Courtesy Nada But Empanadas of Albuquerque, NM)

Beef Filling

(Makes enough filling for 24 empanadas)

½ cup vegetable shortening or lard

1 large (or 2 medium) onion, chopped

1 medium green or red pepper, chopped

1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)

½ tablespoon fresh garlic, chopped

¾  tablespoon salt (or more to taste)

½ teaspoon ground pepper (or more to taste)

1 pound ground beef (15% fat)

1 tablespoon tomato paste or one fresh tomato peeled, seeded and chopped (To peel the tomato, submerge it in boiling water for 30 seconds.  Remove the tomato with a slotted spoon and put in ice water to cool.  The skin will peel off easily.)

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon ground cumin

½ cup chopped scallions

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons raisins or ½ teaspoon sugar (optional)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

24 pitted green olives, halved

2 large hardboiled eggs, coarsely chopped (optional)

When ready to assemble and bake you will also need:

24 empanada dough disks, defrosted (available in Latin markets)

1 bowl with salted warm water to seal the empanadas

egg wash (1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water) to brush

vegetable oil for brushing baking sheet or parchment paper

1. Heat vegetable shortening or lard in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, chopped green pepper, paprika and red pepper flakes. When the onions are transparent and soft (about 10 minutes), turn the heat up and add the garlic, salt and pepper and stir; immediately add the ground beef and tomato. Cook for 5 minutes while stirring, just until the meat is no longer pink.  Remove from heat and add the oregano, cumin, scallions and parsley. If you chose to add raisins or sugar they can be added at this time. Let the mixture rest until it is cool.  Stir in the vinegar.  Leave the filling covered in the refrigerator until the mix is cold and hard, at least four hours or up to two days.

2. When ready to make the empanadas, put about 2-3 tablespoons of the meat mixture, a piece or two of hardboiled egg and one olive half in the center of a 4½ to 5½ inch dough disk. Brush half of the edge of the dough with warm water, fold it over the filling, press it with your fingers to seal, and make the repulgue (crimping). Brush the empanadas with the egg wash.

3. Brush a baking sheet with a film of canola (or other vegetable oil) and put the sheet in a 400 degree preheated oven. When the oil is hot (about 3 minutes) carefully remove the sheet and place the empanadas on the sheet an inch apart. (Putting the empanadas on a hot, oiled baking sheet aids in crisping the base.) Alternatively, you can place the empanadas on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 25- 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with chimichurri sauce.

NOTE: Empanadas with this filling can be wrapped well and frozen for future baking, but if adding hard boiled egg to the filling make sure it is chopped finely or the boiled eggs will lose their natural texture.


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