Empanadas are a Latin and South American go-to food that may be filled with a combination of meat & vegetables, fruit or cheese. A friend recently asked me “What’s the difference between a Peruvian empanada and a Mexican empanada?”
The difference is that the empanadas we get in Mexico are generally fried and Peruvian empanadas are baked. Our son, Robert, and I were taught this difference while traveling in Peru.
Robert and I walked into a small restaurant one day in Lima and took a table in the back so we could watch World Cup Fútbol on the TV set up in their kitchen. We ordered empanadas and tea (not many restaurants offer coffee in Peru). I asked in my very best Spanish for empanadas with cheese but without meat or fish. When our empanadas arrived they came out of the oven with sliced ham as well as cheese. I realized then that my Spanish was not as good as I thought. Robert and I, being good vegetarians, pulled the ham out and then thoroughly enjoyed our cheese empanadas de Peru. Ask me sometime about pulling the coca leaves out of my tea!
This recipe is very simple to make. It uses a crust that does not call for eggs or vinegar, as do most traditional empanada recipes, and is similar to a flaky pie crust. It also features mozzarella (probably the pizza lover in me) but you can substitute a Mexican Oaxaca or similar cheese. Empanadas are a good appetizer prior to any meal and are enjoyed as a nutritious “snack food” in our home.
3¾ cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 cup butter (or vegetable shortening but butter tastes better)
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon cold water
2 cups mozzarella cheese (grated)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Melt the butter and stir into the flour with a fork until well incorporated. Stir in the water, a little at a time, to make a wet and fairly sticky dough. The dough will firm up from the cold water. Knead the dough in the bowl, until well mixed. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Dough will keep overnight in the refrigerator if you want to make it ahead of time. Turn chilled dough out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough into a thin sheet and cut out round disc shapes. I use a small bowl 5 inches in diameter. This makes about 12 discs.
Take one of the disks and add approximately 1 tablespoon of the cheese to the middle of the disk. Fold the disk over until the edges meet (you’ll have a half moon). Crimp the edges with a fork and set aside. When you’ve filled all of the disks, bake the empanadas for 17 – 20 minutes. Serve warm.