My mother went to university in Buenos Aires, and years later, when I was very young, we visited her friends and a very old relative, Tía Chita, whom I remember looking like a cartoon character—very old, very tall, very thin, and wearing a Victorian era gown in deep lavender.
Other things that I remember from those trips are having submarinos, warm milk in a slender glass with a stainless steel exoskeleton in which you would dip a bar of chocolate, with tiny tongs of course. Bliss! There was also steak and chinchulines —innards and offal that tasted too lovely for me to inquire about their provenance.
My first pair of ballet flats — unfettered from Mary Jane straps! — in red. And, of course, empanadas.
Makes about 12
Fear not! This dough is very, very easy to handle.
For the Dough
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the counter
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons lard
1 cup warm water, plus more as needed
– Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut the lard into small pieces and work it into the flour with your fingertips. Add the water about ¼ cup at a time, incorporating into the flour with a rubber spatula. If the dough is too dry and shaggy, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Once all the water has been added, dust a clean, dry work surface with flour and coat your fingers with flour, too.
– Turn the dough out on the surface and knead it just until it forms a smooth ball. Cut the dough in 2. Dust the work surface with flour once again, and, with a floured rolling pin, roll it out into a thin circle. Using a 5 ½ to 6-inch round cutter (if you don’t have cutters, find a bowl or vessel of about the same size in diameter), cut out rounds. You should get about 12 total from the 2 balls.
For the Filling
I call for cooked pork in this recipe because I tend to make roasted pork loin or braised pork shoulder fairly often—empanadas are a great way to use leftovers. If you don’t have leftovers, make a quick pork (or beef base): heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add 1 small onion, finely diced, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 2 garlic cloves, minced, and cook for 1 more minute. Add ¾ pound ground pork or beef, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. A dash of Maggi seasoning or Worcestershire sauce are welcome. Cook, stirring and breaking up the meat, until browned and slightly crisp.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
12 ounces cooked pork, finely diced
Cholula or other hot sauce, to taste
½ cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 waxy potato, cooked and diced
1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and diced
½ cup raisins ½ cup pepper-stuffed olives, sliced
– Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste, sugar, oregano, and cumin and cook until tomato paste is darkened, about 2 minutes. Add the pork and cook, stirring to combine. Season with hot sauce, and add the broth. Bring it to a simmer, and cook until mostly evaporated: the intention is to make a moist, not soupy, filling.
– Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the potato, egg, raisins, and olives.
For the Assembly
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons heavy cream
– Adjust 2 oven racks to the upper middle and lower middle positions and preheat oven to 425°F. Line a2 baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
– Place about 2 tablespoons of pork mixture just off the center of each circle. Dampen your finger around the edges of the dough and fold over to make half moons. Press down on the edges and twist the edges to fully seal.
– Whisk the egg yolks and cream in a small bowl.
– Arrange the empanadas on the prepared baking sheets and brush them with egg wash. Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool the empanadas on the sheets for about 10 minutes and serve. You can also enjoy them at room temperature.
– Serve with your favorite hot sauce and chimichurri, if desired.
I always have leftover herbs in my fridge, and chimichurri is one of the most delicious ways I can think of to use them. Take a bunch of parsley and cilantro and very finely chop them. If you have fresh oregano on hand, add it as well. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper. Add a teaspoon of dried oregano and 2 finely minced garlic cloves. Stir in about 1/3 cup red wine vinegar and 2/3 cup olive oil. If you can, let it sit at room temperature for a day or two, the flavors grow much more robust.