Monday, August 29, 2011

Enjoying the Empanada

Every Latin American country has its own version of the empanada, the flavorful turnover that makes an ideal snack or a starter for a more elaborate meal. The Argentine default version features flaky phyllo dough that’s usually filled with ground beef, hard-boiled eggs and olive, but the best will come with chopped rather ground beef.

That said, there is a great diversity of fillings, such as ham and cheese, chicken, cheese and onion, and even vegetarian versions – the ones in the photograph above, prepared by my wife, are filled with Swiss chard. The spicier ground beef salteña comes from northwestern Argentina, but is available in Buenos Aires; the tangy empanada árabe (lamb with a touch of lemon juice) is common in the western provinces of San Juan and La Rioja. Empanadas al horno (baked) are lighter than fritas (fried, sometimes with heavy oil).

Sadly, one of my favorite empanaderías, Palermo’s La Cupertina (pictured above), closed earlier this year, but there are still a number of good choices in Buenos Aires. I most often go to Tatú, a takeout chain in my neighborhood that also has a few tables – when I’m on a deadline and pressed for time, I carry half a dozen home (they also deliver, but I need to get out of the house for at least a few minutes). Their salteñas are not so spicy as they warn – even the “very very” picante version I would more simply describe as “flavorful.”

Probably the best all-around choice that remains is Recoleta’s El Sanjuanino, just a couple blocks from the Cementerio de la Recoleta and the iconic Alvear Palace Hotel; it also has a wider menu of regional Argentine food. Whenever I’m walking around town, I won’t hesitate to stop at La Continental, a chain pizzeria that prepares a wide selection of empanadas. If I’m in the right neighborhood, I’ll visit San Telmo’s La Carretería or Belgrano’s 1810 Cocina Regional. All that said, it’s hard to go wrong with Argentine empanadas.

Personally, I prefer the Argentine version to their Chilean counterparts. In general, Chilean empanadas are far larger, the dough is nearly as heavy as bread, and they are more often fried than baked. Chile also offers less variety – the standard empanada de pino consists of ground beef with hard-boiled egg and an olive and, to be fair, its size makes it a meal in itself. That said, there are alternatives – in Santiago’s Barrio Brasil, Peperone serves a greater diversity of fillings, including items such as ostiones (scallops) or even locos (abalone) that are almost impossible to find elsewhere.

Moon Handbooks Buenos Aires in Belmont (San Mateo County)

Next Tuesday, August 30, will mark the third of several digital slide presentations on the fourth edition of Moon Handbooks Buenos Aires, at various branches of the San Mateo County Library. The Tuesday event starts at 7 p.m. at the Belmont Library (1110 Alameda de las Pulgas, Belmont CA 94002, tel. 650/591-8286). There will be ample time for questions and answers, and books (also including Moon Argentina and Moon Chile) will be on sale (at a discount).

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Roger said...

Don't leave out the tasty empanada de mariscos (shellfish, usually mussells) and empanada de queso (cheese) in southern Chile, offered on the street warm while waiting for a ferry.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

I have to avoid the mussels, unfortunately, because I'm allergic to them. I still prefer the Argentine empanadas because of the lighter crust, and the fact that they're more often baked than fried.

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