Empanadas a South American treat

January 27, 2012 8:35:15 PM PST
The Russians have their pelmeni, and the Chinese their dumplings and potstickers, but in South America, it's all about the empanadas.

It doesn't matter if you get them from an Argentinean or a Colombian, they're usually delicious no matter who makes them.

Looks can be deceiving. Because when you drive by Buenos Aires Liquor and Deli in the Cragin neighborhood on the Northwest Side, you'd never imagine an Argentinean wine section, full of imported malbecs, even more surprising, an assortment of homemade empanadas, most of which are baked.

"It's the traditional appetizer and main course in Argentina. Something that you'd go to a family's home and you'd just sit down and have a quick bite and you can have an empanada," said Sabrina Gimenez, whose family owns Buenos Aires Liquor & Deli.

In one version, malbec is added to ground beef, as are hard boiled eggs and green olives, and the filling is left to cool. Spoonfuls of the filling are placed onto flour wrappers, which are sealed either with the tines of a fork, or crimped by hand, which tells you what's inside.

"We use wheat flour and butter in our dough, and it also depends on the province you're in, because each province in Argentina has a different way of making the empanada - not only the fillings but as well the dough itself," Gimenez said.

Raisins are added to a filling for a fried version, called empandas dulces, but most of the Argentinean flavors are brushed with a beaten egg, then simply baked until flaky.

Further North - in the Budlong Woods neighborhood - Mekato's Colombian Bakery is known for its sweets and snacks, which obviously include empanadas. Here, the standard filling is shredded chicken and potatoes, which are seasoned with a mild mixture of cooked red peppers and onions. The seasoning is incorporated by hand, then a corn dough with more moisture than the Argentinean version is placed in a tortilla press, given a dollop of filling, folded over and cut out, ready for cooking. All of the empanadas here are deep fried in corn oil, and when they're served, a vibrant, semi-spicy salsa called aji is made available.

"In aji is green peppers, cilantro, green onion and some vinegar," said Erika Bohorquez, a Manager at Mekato's Bakery.

There are only two flavors here - beef and chicken - and if you can't wait to get them home, there's a small counter in the bakery where you can eat them any time of day. Just like back home.

"In Columbia, they sell it any moment, you just go to a corner store and they have them there all the time," said Bohorquez.

Both versions reheat beautifully at home, in case you want to make a little empanada party yourself.

Buenos Aires Liquor & Deli
3100 N. Cicero Ave.

Mekato's Colombian Bakery
5423 N. Lincoln Ave.