Fried pastries packed with a savory filling are a common appetizer across many cultures, but there are two that appear to be close relatives, despite coming from two different parts of the world: samosas and empanadas. Part of it is that both are commonly linked with entertaining and celebration, though the fact that they are also easy-to-grab foods and prime for customization or reinvention doesn’t hurt, either.
Though both consist of dough that is either fried or baked and filled with potatoes, veggies, or meat, there is a telltale sign that can help you distinguish them on first glance. Samosas are typically triangular or pyramid shaped, while empanadas are usually in the shape of a semi-circle.
That’s not all that differentiates them, though. Samosas, which originated in the Middle East, are commonly associated with Asia, the Mediterranean, and Africa, with each region or country proudly putting their own spin on it. In India, most recipes are vegetarian and will include some combination of potatoes, green peas, and onions, with spices like turmeric, cayenne, and garam masala providing flavor. Broadly speaking, in the Middle East, lamb, beef, or chicken are also commonly used as a filling.
Empanadas, meanwhile, are a popular offering in many Latino communities, tracing their roots back to Galicia, Spain. (Given the look of the final product and its origin, you won’t be surprised to hear that the name comes from the Spanish word “empanar,” which means to cover in breadcrumbs or pastry.) Though the variations of empanadas that exist are as varied as the places that produce them (which is to say, there are tons!), most traditional offerings are filled with meat, chicken, and cheese, with olives, onions, and raisins sometimes thrown in for additional flavor. Sweet empanadas, filled with guava or apples, also make for a fork-free dessert.
Want to try your hand at making one of these snacks? Read ahead for some inventive recipes.
Try this crispier take on a traditional samosa. Making them in an air fryer leads to a flaky, airy crust that will have you popping these into your mouth one after another. Get the recipe.
Samosas can be extremely versatile—case in point, this simple to make chocolate variety. Master these, and you can serve savory and sweet samosas as bookends to your main course. Get the recipe.
This potato-centric version is ideal when you are craving something satisfying, but meatless. A sweet and fiery mango chutney makes for a perfect pairing. Get the recipe.
Just because you’re skipping gluten, doesn’t mean you have to miss out. This version omits the dough and uses a samosa filling to make a patty that packs all of the usual flavors, without the pastry. Get the recipe.
These drool-worthy empanadas, which are best served warm, are basically like getting your very own portable apple pie to yourself. Feeling especially fancy? Throw some ice cream on top. Your taste buds won’t mind the conflicting temperatures. Get the recipe.
The traditional Caribbean approach involves making your own dough, though you can cheat a bit by grabbing pre-made discs to cut down on cooking time. This recipe features a beef filling (seasoned with hints of oregano, cumin, and hot sauce, and peppered with onions, olives, and raisins), which combined with its crust, makes for a satisfying crumbly snack. Get the recipe.
Love spanakopita? Then you’ll go gaga for this recipe. In a nod to Mediterranean cuisine, this version swaps out the meat and potatoes commonly associated with empanadas and samosas for spinach and feta. Fire-roasted tomatoes add an additional kick. Get the recipe.
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