The word empanada means to wrap in bread or breading. Empanadas are derived from Galician double-crust pie made in round or rectangular shapes and filled with seafood or meat. The crusts protected the fillings on long journeys or working days on the farm. The Moorish invasion brought this pie to Spain, and the Spanish colonists brought it to Latin America and the Philippines.
Today’s empanadas are smaller hand-held turnips made from dough, filled with a variety of ingredients and baked or fried. The dough flour (wheat, corn, cassava), the filling (cloud is the limit), and the cooking methods vary from country to country and region.
Colombian empanadas are made with finely ground pre-cooked cornmeal and fried.
Unlike wheat, corn does not have gluten. Gluten is the protein that allows the baked goods to keep their shape. Because it can stretch, it allows for air pockets, which translates into light cakes or airiness of bread crumbs. Therefore, gluten-free products feel tight. Now, if you take plain cornmeal and add water to it, you get something similar to groats. It does not bind.
Masa differs from cornmeal. The corn must go through a process called nixtamalization. Nixtamalization comes from nextli or lime ash and tamalli or dough. The corn kernels are boiled with an alkaline component (ash in the past; now calcium hydroxide). Alkalization sterilizes the corn, releases its nutrients and gelatinizes it to allow binding.
We stopped by Antojitos Colombiano at Uptown Farmers Market to try their empanadas. Tatiana Quintero is the chef and owner of Antojitos Colombiano. Her recipes are a blend of traditional Colombian empanadas enhanced with her grandmother’s recipe.
If you arrive at the market early in the morning, you might want to buy bags of her frozen empanadas to make at home. The choice of fillings is minced beef, fusion Colombo-Mexican chorizo, chicken, potato and vegan chorizo. Ground beef and potato empanadas have no serrano pepper. The other three do. If you are not up early, you can pick up a bag of the delicious snacks at Mi Tienda Latina, 1811 North 24th Street, or AZ Market to Door, 7127 East Shea Boulevard.
But if this is your first time, we recommend that you let Quintero fry them for you. We tried beef, chicken and vegan chorizo empanadas. She serves them with her homemade green chili sauce for a pleasant kick.
Every choice is the right one, but variety is even better, so try one of each. For Colombians, meat is the most popular, Quintero says.
Colombian empanadas have a surprisingly creamy interior, which stands in beautiful contrast to the crispy dough.
“We boil the potatoes, then take the boiled potatoes and mash them and use our hands to mix the chicken, beef or chorizo with the potatoes,” says Kristin Cordova, who works at the stand. The addition of mashed potatoes plus an added sauce gives the creamy texture. There are spices to enhance the taste, but it’s a secret we do not know, she says.
Here’s another secret: These delicious snacks are milk and gluten free.
Quintero plans to add ostempanadas to its repertoire over the next few months. Aside from Famers Market, she plans to have a Colombian dinner event with Arepa Babe on December 16th. Follow her on Instagram for more details.
Quintero’s vision is “to be one of the leading women-owned companies in this sector and to hire other female family heads.”