Delicious empanadas

March 3, 2008 9:24:37 AM PST
There are lots of delicious things that come in small packages -- pierogi from Poland, dumplings from Asia, even calzones from Italy. And ABC7's food reporter says there are a couple of other savory packages worth investigating. The key to a Columbian empanada is the corn -- it's a widely-used ingredient at Mekato's Columbian Bakery in the Budlong Woods neighborhood on the far North Side. The yellowish dough is methodically worked and kneaded and then typically stuffed with ground beef. They're briefly fried, just until the exterior is crisp, and served with a choice of salsas.

"One thing about empanadas is you can have any kind of filling," said Jeyson Florez, Mekato's Columbian Bakery. "What really I guess would give it the flavor is the mixed condiments, it's called degasa; It's used in both the dough and the filling so I would say, um, yeah, those things make it a little different."

Over in the Cragin neighborhood on the Northwest Side, the empanadas have an Argentinian accent at Buenos Aires Liquor and Deli, which has a remarkable number of authentic dishes from South America.

"OK, the typical in my store we prepare four different things, spinach, ground beef, chicken, and ham and cheese and 95% percent here is we bake, because everybody say it's a healthy food but the best empanada is when you uh, you fry," said Ramon Gimenez, Buenos Aires Liquor & Deli.

Such is the case with his empanada dulce - a sweeter version - which is fried to a golden brown, containing ground beef, olives, eggs and raisins.

In West Rogers Park - tucked among the Russian and Jewish storefronts - the Argo Georgian Bakery makes the best hachapuri in town.

"Hachapuri, this is traditional Georgian pie, from puff pastry dough with cheese inside, we use cheese mixed, uh, from three kind of cheese, mix it together - feta, mozzarella and farmer's cheese," said Alexander Manufevich, Argo Georgian Bakery.

The flaky pastry dough is filled with cheese, then baked for about 10 minutes. The result is a soft, flaky, addictive snack that resonates with anyone who speaks Russian.

"Like Moscow, everybody know. Like capital of Russia, everybody know what is a hachapuri," said Manufevich.

Of the 20 or so pies they have at Argo, about half of them are savory - with fillings like beef, chicken, spinach and cheese - and the nice part about being experimental is it's not going to break the bank - a hachapuri this size is just $2.40.

Mekato's Columbian Bakery
5423 N. Lincoln Ave

Buenos Aires Liquor and Deli
3100 N Cicero Ave

Argo Georgian Bakery
2812 W. Devon Ave.