To say that empanadas, which means “covered with bread,” are turnovers with savory fillings does not do them justice. Although one empanada can be large enough to feed a family, they are generally two-bite size or even smaller.
In Spain, where empanadas are popular on tapas menus, they’re made with everything from clams and rabbit to pigeon, octopus and ham. In the American Southwest and Mexico, cooks use hot chili peppers to season their empanadas. Once empanadas are filled, they are baked or deep-fried.
One of our favorite empanada stories comes from Diana Kennedy, an authority on Mexican cooking. In her book, The Essential Cuisines of Mexico (Clarkson Potter, 2000), she describes visiting San Cristobal, a town in southern Mexico, where she met a woman who was famous for her empanadas. The woman, Senora Rode, was referred to Kennedy by a taxi driver who appreciated good food, and when Kennedy arrived, Rode was finishing a batch of 500 empanadas for a wedding the next day. She had been cooking since 5:00 that morning, rolling, flattening, and layering the flaky dough and preparing the spicy fillings. Just reading an empanada recipe is enough to believe that if any food could help a marriage get off on the right foot, empanadas could be it.
We have never been ones to quibble with culinary shortcuts, and so, in the interest of saving time, we use a package of frozen puff pastry dough. The filling, a combination of ground beef, kalamata olives and almonds seasoned with red pepper and brandy, is perfect for tucking into the pastry squares and makes delicioso empanadas.
— By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.