Let’s start with an easy vocab lesson. For those of you who weren’t paying attention in your high school Spanish class when they addressed important culinary compound verbs, empanar means to wrap in bread or pastry.
Many Latin countries empanan, and for good reason. That which is wrapped in pastry is extremely delicious. The earliest records of empanadas date back to the 1500s, and the basic recipes — meat, potatoes, seafood and cheese — remain relatively unchanged. Some countries, like Argentina and Colombia hold this fact in high esteem, treasuring empanada recipes that have been handed down through the generations. Of course, this only serves to reinforce our firm belief that all dumpling-like creations, from the warm and humble matzo ball to the cool, crisp Vietnamese summer roll and all deep-fried, soup-filled and cheese-laden bites in between, are a universal pleasure.
Best of all, empanadas aren’t just for lunch, they’re for dessert, too. Filled with fruit or dulce de leche and sprinkled with sugar, sweet empanadas are a popular breakfast in Spain and Mexico.
Find empanadas at nearly any Latin restaurant, and if you want to make friends (like, toss-you-an-extra-empanada friends), ask the chef whose recipe he’s using. If his response involves a family member, especially abuelita, you’ve just struck gold.