• The empanada is one of Argentina's most loved snacks. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
An Argentinian bite-sized pastry that satisfies childhood nostalgia.
By
Melissa Woodley

18 Nov 2021 - 8:10 AM  UPDATED 24 Nov 2021 - 8:13 AM

If Argentina could be represented in a snack, it'd be the empanada. This savoury pastry is as important to South Americans as a meat pie is to Australians, but it has its own history for Argentinian chef, Nico Aguer.

Aguer was raised in Buenos Aires on a diet of carna (beef) and humita (corn) empanadas. Every Sunday morning, it was tradition for his grandmother, Pim, to prepare empanadas for the whole family. 

"An empanada is the excuse to get together," Aguer explains. "It's not something that you eat alone. It's something that you share with people who you love and care about."

Pim began by preparing the dough, which she'd energetically knead and roll into small discs. The kids would patiently wait for the dough to rest and fillings to cool, so they could have their turn in the kitchen.

Once ready, Aguer and his cousins gathered around the table and competed to make the best seals (repulgue). Each filling required a different seal, and his grandmother had mastered them all.

"It's not something that you eat alone. It's something that you share with people who you love and care about."

Aguer was not only born and bred to make empanadas but also to eat them. After many empanada varieties were shaped, they were grilled over a fire until golden and crunchy.

"What was going to be a lunch ends up being a dinner, but it's many hours of love summed up in a meal," he says.

What Aguer loves most about empanadas is, "the ease of choosing a menu that everyone likes, the inexplicable happiness of the juices falling out, even if it stains, and trying to blow out while you chew, because it is so peeling and delicious at the same time."

Nico and his partner, Agus, offer empanadas through their business, Bomba.

He's never outgrown his love of empanadas and takes pride in his country's food emblem.

"An empanada is the multiplicity of customs and cultures of our country made in food," he says. "At the same time, that empanada is subdivided into many different empanadas, which carry the flavour, colour, ingredients, seasonings and aromas of every corner of Argentina."

A beef empanada in Buenos Aires will differ from that in the north or south of Argentina. "I love the way that everyone gives it a special touch, and all are equally good."

"An empanada is the multiplicity of customs and cultures of our country made in food."

When Aguer and his partner, Agus, moved to Australia, they were warmly welcomed into a large Argentinian community in the Northern Beaches, Sydney. However, they missed the tastes, smells and people of their home.

"We realised that we and the great Argentinian community in Sydney were missing the typical flavours that connect us with our childhood and make us miss Argentinian culture a little less," he reflects. 

To satisfy the nostalgia of Argentines in Australia, Aguer began selling his grandmother's authentic empanadas. Friends told him that Pim's beef empanadas surpassed those of their childhood. Being able to share them with his newfound friends helped Aguer feel closer to home, despite being thousands of kilometres away.

"The emotion of being able to bring a little piece of what we miss and want so much is similar to that feeling of biting the empanada just out of the oven," he says.

The pair plans to keep making empanadas through their Sydney-based business, Bomba - Sabores del Mundo

Pim's beef empanadas will always reign supreme in Aguer's heart, but he hopes that everyone has the chance to visit and discover the best of his country.

"There is a battle to decide who makes the richest: those of mum, those of the grandmother, those of the aunt, those of the rotisserie on the corner or those of the pizzeria in the square," he says. "It is an eternal discussion that is never going to have a winner."

 

Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries. 


Beef empanadas

Serves 4

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1 kg flour 
  • 1 litre water
  • 200 g butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vinegar

Filling

  • 250 g animal fat
  • 120 g onions, brunoise
  • 80 g capsicum, brunoise
  • 1 kg beef mince 
  • 1 bunch spring onion
  • 2 chopped boiled eggs
  • 80 g sweet paprika 
  • 50 g cumin
  • 30 g smoked paprika 
  • Pinch salt and pepper

Method

  1. To prepare the dough, put the dough ingredients in a dough mixer or mix with your hands. Then, let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Once rested, stretch the dough so it's 5-6 mm thick and cut it into circles according to your size preference. Let the dough circles rest in the fridge.
  3. To prepare the filling, melt the animal fat in a pot and add the vegetables.
  4. In another pot, cook the beef mince. Then, add it to the vegetables. Finally, add the chopped eggs. When the mixture is cooked, add the spices, salt and pepper, and leave to cool. 
  5. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  6. When the filling and dough are cold, assemble your empanadas. Put around 90 g of filling inside the dough circle, close it to make a pocket and indent the edges with a fork to seal it.
  7. Bake the empanadas for 15 minutes or fry them for 7 minutes. 

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