Fans of empanadas, rejoice! Empanada newbies, prepare to taste some magic. These Colombian potato empanadas are crisp pockets of pure flavor (and they’re gluten-free and vegan too).
Empanadas de pipián are without a doubt my favorite Colombian snack. They are golden, crispy, and filled with deliciousness—and they take me back to my roots. As most people who are far from their home country and family must be experiencing during these trying times, I am constantly faced with feelings of displacement and homesickness, missing my family and, well, especially the food. A constant way for me to find comfort knowing that I am not able to travel any time soon, is to cook my heart out and make those dishes and foods that fill my memories.
What Are Empanadas?
The name empanada comes from the Spanish verb “empanar” which means to “embread” (pack a filling in bread). An empanada, then, is basically a turnover that can be either fried or baked, and is created by folding some type of dough over a filling. Recipes, ingredients, variations, methods, etc. all vary from country to country, and region to region—but one thing is for sure: Any country that has adopted empanadas as part of their culture, loves and cherishes these perfect little bites.
It is believed that the Spanish and Portuguese developed the concept of the dish from samosas, which they inherited from Middle Eastern influences in their cultures and cuisines. Through the ‘’conquista’, empanadas became an undeniable staple of Latin American and Caribbean cuisines. The influence of indigenous recipes is felt in several variations, as is the example of pipián in the Colombian Pacific region. The name pipián is also found in Mexico and other Latin American cultures, and it usually refers to ancestral recipes that use nuts or seeds as a central ingredient.
How Do You Make Empanadas?
Through research, food nostalgia, and some testing I landed on a great recipe for empanadas de pipián. I decided to make a version that was good for everybody, using gluten-free precooked cornmeal, and leaving the filling vegan (ignoring versions that include hard boiled eggs in the filling). To make the dough aromatic, and a rich golden shade when fried, I made a spice blend that checked both the color and flavor boxes. Some recipes call for saffron (bringing in the Spanish influence) and cumin—but as I experimented I found that using achiote could bring similar (if not better) results, and paid homage to the indigenous influence too.
In Colombia we are empanada lovers without a doubt. The deep-fried versions are the most commonly found across the board, usually filled with potatoes and ground or shredded beef. We have also adapted and developed variations influenced by different cultures in every region of the country. In Bogota, where I was born, fried golden cornmeal empanadas can be found side by side with a version close to the ones made in Chile and Argentina, baked and with a dough made of wheat and corn flour. In the Caribbean, only yellow corn masa is used, and the filling includes a stew of sweet peppers. In the Pacific, aside from pipián empanadas, there are also ones that have yuca in the filling.
All these versions are mouth-watering variations of an incredible portable and hearty bite, but what is more fascinating and heartwarming about it all is that the Colombian empanada is the perfect contemporary symbol of all the cultures that make my country: the indigenous, the Creole, and the Afro-Colombian.
Empanadas de Pipián Recipe
Plan on serving them with your favorite hot sauce or hogao.
Header image courtesy of Guillermo Riveros