In my six months in South America, I spent probably 30% of my time in the kitchen, just talking to my host mom about food. My Spanish became extra refined in all things cooking related, while stalling in all other areas... since all I talk about is food, I never really saw a probably with that!
It didn't take six months to learn that empanadas are the king of street foods--no, that's something you learn in just a few days. Every family get-together in my home started the same way: with a round of (very strong) Pisco sours and a basket full of empanadas, purchased from the shop a few steps on the hill. I didn't spend Christmas day with my host family, but I almost guarantee it started the same way!
Empanadas are a playground for creativity. They can be filled with anything, from cheese to dulce de leche (you may even find some empanadas with both cheese and dulce de leche -- a foreign combination until you try it, and then you'll love it), or even seafood. My family always bought the same ones: Empanadas de Pino, which are filled with a mixture of cumin-spiced beef, onions, and sometimes even raisins or olives. It never occurred to me there was a story behind these savory pockets. I guess I just thought they tasted good.
Chileans will tell you that the tradition of making empanadas reigns from the Spanish conquest -- this rings true from the southern tip to the country to the North and beyond... even in Mexico this is said to be true. But there is so much more to this simple lunch: it's portable, which made it easy for mine workers to take their lunch with them. Chile produces a third of the world's copper supply, which means they have a lot of miners, and those miners need to eat! Empanadas are the perfect answer.
Spaniards may have introduced the idea of empanadas to South America, but it's easy to see how Chile's culture kept them around. Empanadas can still be purchased on every street corner, hundred of years later.
Of course there's one other reason why empanadas are everywhere: they taste really good!
Chilean empanadas are made with wheat flour, but in an effort to make these gluten- and grain-free, I opted for a Caribbean-style pastry made of yuca root. It's puffy, crispy on the outside, and chewy, the way a fresh baguette is a bit chewy when it cools.
Yields: 10 | Total Time:
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1/8 teaspoon coriander For the dough:
- 1 yuca root, about 10 inches long and 2-3 inches wide - about 1 lb (also called cassava)
- 2 tablespoons coconut flour
- 2 tablespoons coconut milk (canned, full fat, unsweetened)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- First, prepare the yuca dough: peel the yuca root, using a sharp knife to remove the thick waxy bark. Then, chop the root into eighths. Cook the yuca until tender through— place in a steam basket in an InstantPot with 1 inch of water and set to the steam setting for 13 minutes. Once done, release the steam and remove the lid. Allow the yuca to cool, 10-15 minutes.
- Place the yuca in the food processor with 2 tablespoons coconut flour, 2 tablespoons coconut milk, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon avocado oil. Pulse until the ingredients are combined and the yuca forms a sticky ball. Use a fork to break the ball up, and continue to pulse until the dough is smoother (it may have a few chunks) and elastic.
- Cook the filling: sauté the onions in the coconut oil until transparent. Add the beef, and cook until brown. Use a spatula to break it into crumbles as it browns. Add the spices.
- Shape dough into thin disks, about 6 inches in diameter and a centimeter thick. Place a spoonful of the beef mixture in the center of each rough of dough, and fold the dough in half over the beef. Press the edges together to close the pocket.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake empanadas for 20-30 minutes, until puffy and golden. Serve warm. When reheating, bake in oven at 450°F for 5-10 minutes until warmed through.