An Empanada by Any Other Name

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BY CALEB ASKINS

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Who doesn’t love a good empanada?

Empanadas are believed to have originated in Persia around 100 BC.  It is possible to have originated even further back in Mesopotamia. Inhabitants of that era would mix various meats, chickpeas and grains with dough–put those ingredients together in the right order and one would have an empanada by any other name.

The term “empanada” is derived from the Spanish verb empanar, which means: to cover in pastry case.  The first true description of an empanada can be found in Llibre del Coch by Chef Roberto De Nola, printed in 1520 Spain.  Llibre del Coch is also the first cookbook to ever be printed in Catalan.

The cover of Llibre del Coch. Photo courtesy of Libertad Digital.

Regardless of who made the first empanada, where the first empanada was made, what it was called, what it consisted of, or how it tasted…..the empanada by any other name is a favorite around the world.

To fully list and describe every empanada around the world would take an inordinate amount of time and likely be longer than a doctoral dissertation.  On top of that, hunger would seize control and no one would ever be able to finish the piece! 

So, instead, I have decided to share 10 of my favorite empanadas by any other name:

10) Pastes Pachuqueños (Pachuca, Mexico)

Pastes Pachuqueños. Photo courtesy of El Souvenir.

Originating in the mining region of Pachuca, Mexico.  Pastes Pachuqueños are filled with chorizo and beans, meat and potatoes, and various moles.  They look like a cliche empanada and are a favorite amongst the people of Hidalgo.

9) Hand Pies (Lousiana, USA)

Peach Hand Pie from Louisian. Photo courtesy of  Louisiana Travel

Developed in the American South, specifically Louisiana.  They can be filled with almost anything, but generally meats or boudins.  A personal favorite is the crawfish hand pie. Hand pies are usually browned in the oven as opposed to frying because the pastry outside is too delicate.

8) Knish (Central / Eastern Europe)

Traditional Knish. Photo courtesy of The Lo Down.

A Jewish staple in Central and Eastern Europe.  The Knish is more of a coin purse shape filled dough that can be fried, baked, or even grilled.  They can be filled with onions, sauerkraut, potatoes, meat, and cheese. Knish’s are street food, often a quick snack.

7) Sambusa (Eastern, Northern & Western Africa)

Sambusa. Photo courtesy of Sambusa Hut.

A triangle shaped pastry with Swahili origins.  These can be found in one form or another all over Eastern, Northern, and Western Africa.  Each country supplying their own twist. They can be filled with potatoes and meat, rice and lamb, rice and fish, onions and meat, and more.

6) Calzone (Napoli, Italy)

Sausage Calzone. Photo courtesy of Southern Living.

Yes, the Italian favorite is just an empanada by another name!  Calzone’s originated in Napoli. They can be filled with salami, ham, and various other cured meats with a generous supply of common Italian cheeses. Calzones are usually baked.

5) Samosa (India)

Vegetable Samosas. Photo courtesy of My Recipes.

Everyone’s favorite Indian snack.  They can be triangle shaped, half-moon shaped, and even purse shaped.  Usually filled with potatoes, peas, onions, and meat. Samosas are generally accompanied with a chutney to dip.

4) Cativías (Dominican Republic)

Catibias or Cativias. Photo courtesy of The Petit Gourmet

Originating in the mining region of Pachuca, Mexico.  Pastes Pachuqueños are filled with chorizo and beans, meat and potatoes, and various moles.  They look like a cliche empanada and are a favorite amongst the people of Hidalgo.

3) Samsa (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan)

Uzbek Samsas. Photo courtesy of GastroSenses.

Common in Central Asia, especially the mountainous Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.  Samsas are pastries stuffed with minced meat and onion, typically baked in a tandoor oven. The dough is often layered.

2) Pirozhki (Russia, Belarus, Ukraine)

Russian Pirozhki. Photo courtesy of Simmer and Sauce.

Common in Eastern Europe, especially Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. The pirozhki can vary greatly.  They can be fried or baked and filled with almost anything. My favorites are the breakfast versions that are filled with egg, potato, and meat.

1) Pastelillo (Puerto Rico)

Pastelillos de Carne o Guayaba. Photo courtesy of Latin Foodie Girl.

Popular in Puerto Rico.  The dough is thin and the fillings bountiful.  They are usually fried and are filled with various meats and cheese.  The dough is often crimped and gives it a typical empanada look.

Those are just a few of our favorites…

What is your favorite? Tell us about it, where it came from & what it consists of in the comments below!

Happy Empanada Day!

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