This week, as we continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, I wanted to find a way to spotlight many different Hispanic and Latin nations at once. Food is one of the beautiful things that can bring many of us together and make us realize we are not so different after all. This week we are going to take you on a tour of empanadas from across Latin America, right here in the Houston area.
Argentina Café (Argentina)
Argentinian empanadas are something to behold. They are flakey, delicate and stuffed with savory meats and cheeses. Customarily, you will find the beef empanadas are a mixture of ground beef, onions, raisins, olives, hard boiled eggs and spices. It delivers a sweet and savory mixture that satisfies all tastes. The ham and cheese empanada is packed with molten mozzarella, caramelized onions and big chunks of ham. Throw in a little herb and acidic bite from the chimichurri sauce that accompanies the empanada and you have yourself a delicious treat.
La Ruana Colombian Restaurant (Colombia)
You will find Colombian (Not Columbian!) restaurants all across town serving hearty delicious dishes but no meal is complete without an empanada or two before the main course arrives. The most typical Colombian empanada is the empanada de carne which is beef, potatoes and spices, deep fried in a corn masa shell. Colombia is one of the few countries that set themselves apart from other empanadas due to the corn masa dough. The fried yellow exterior is crunchy while the inside is that juicy beef and potato feeling that is waiting to be kissed with a squeeze of lime juice and aji. Aji is about the only spicy thing you will find in Colombian cuisine. While it can differ depending on the region of Colombia, it is a concoction of vinegar, pepper, lime, garlic and a lot of cilantro. The acidity cuts through the saltiness of the empanadas perfectly.
Rincon Criollo Restaurant (Cuba)
I personally have a definitive love for Cuban cuisine. From the pernil (oven roasted pork), masitas (fried pork), vaca frita and even the classic Cuban sandwich, I love it all. Sometimes I overlook the idea of Cuban empanadas because I am too focused on the delicious complimentary bread that arrives just as you are shown to your table. That bread is worth an article all in itself. The empanadas however, deserve recognition in their own. They are similar to many of the other Latin American empanadas when it comes to their flaky flour based dough and much like the empanadas from Argentina, you will find that the ground beef and ham and cheese are the most popular. Cuban Picadillo is such a delicious dish of ground beef, potatoes, onions, green olives and spices stewed with tomato sauce and wine that is a rich and succulent experience. When you throw that into an empanada, you know you’re in for some serious eats.
Dominican Grocery Y Deli (Dominican Republic)
Surprisingly, Houston lacks when it comes to Dominican restaurants. Dominican empanadas (half-moon shaped) or pastelitos (smaller round) are very similar to those you will find in Puerto Rico and Cuba. The beef while ground is a little less complicated. It is still rich in flavor but does not have as many characteristics. Don’t think for a second that means less flavor, these come packed with delicious beefiness. The chicken empanadas stuffed with succulent shredded chicken and fried to a golden crisp. While a little unusual, they served these up with Victorino Catsup.
El Bollio Bakery (Mexico)
Mexicans are different when it comes to empanadas mainly because they typically use a fruit filling rather than a protein. At El Bollio Bakery, you can find a plethora of choices but some of my personal favorites were the pumpkin, Guanábana (soursop) and apple. The pan dulce dough is a little denser and it is not overly sweetened. That job is left to the sweet fruit fillings. These are best for mornings with coffee or an after dinner dessert
Peru Café Express (Peru)
This might have been one of my favorite stops on this tour. The Peruvian beef empanadas are very similar to what we have seen with Cuban and Argentinian empanadas with a ground beef mixture with olives, raisins and hard boiled eggs but what makes these a little unique is that they are dusted with powdered sugar after they are fried. It gives these empanadas a sweet and savory blend that is absolute perfection. The Huacatay salsa that accompanies the empanadas is something that is spicy and extraordinary. It is a Peruvian black mint paste mixed with avocado, peppers and lime juice that couples nicely with the savory beef empanada. The Empanada de Ají de Gallina is what set the empanada game apart. The soft and flaky turnover is generously filled with traditional Ají de Gallina which is a shredded chicken stew of sorts. It is shredded chicken simmered in a savory yellow sauce made up of aji amarillo chili paste, dairy, parmesan cheese and a host of other ingredients that come together for such a comforting dish in the form of a handheld snack.
Tex-Chick Puertorrican Restaurant (Puerto Rico)
I am sorry to be redundant but there are a lot of similarities when it comes to Latin American cooking. Puerto Rican empanadas are much like what you will find in Cuba, Argentina, and Dominican cuisine. The beef is a ground mixture with spices but there are no olives, raisins or eggs in this recipe. Another flavorful option is the shrimp empanada which I didn’t find at many other places so it gives for a new palate experience.
Gusto Gourmet (Venezuela)
Last and certainly not least, we take a trip to Venezuela by way of Gusto Gourmet. Venezuelan empanadas much like their Colombian neighbors also use a corn masa dough. The shredded beef empanada is a mixture of shredded beef onions and bell pepers. The cheese and potato and cheese and plantain were also highly recommended and have me a much need break from meat. The cheese and plantain for me was a favorite because it was different. The lightly salty cheese blended with the subtle sweetness from the plantain went nicely with the salsa Guasacaca. Guasacaca is a creamy and fresh avocado based sauce with onions, peppers, cilantro and more. It is a balanced accompaniment that pairs well without overpowering the flavors of the empanadas.