Today’s empanadas are smaller handheld turnovers made from dough, stuffed with a variety of ingredients, and baked or fried. The dough flour (wheat, corn, cassava), the fillings (sky is the limit), and the preparation methods vary by country and region.
Colombian empanadas are made with finely ground precooked corn flour and fried.
Unlike wheat, corn does not have gluten. Gluten is the protein that allows the baked products to hold their shape. Because it can stretch, it allows for air pockets, which translates into light pastries or airiness of bread’s crumb. That’s why gluten-free products feel dense. Now, if you take regular cornmeal and add water to it, you’ll get something that looks like grits. It does not bind.
Masa differs from cornmeal. The corn has to go through a process called nixtamalization. Nixtamalization comes from nextli, or lime ashes, and tamalli, or dough. The corn kernels are cooked with an alkaline component (ashes in the past; now, calcium hydroxide). Alkalization sterilizes the corn, releases its nutrients, and gelatinizes it to allow binding.
We stopped by Antojitos Colombiano at Uptown Farmers Market to try their empanadas. Tatiana Quintero is the chef and owner of Antojitos Colombiano. Her recipes are a mixture of traditional Colombian empanadas enhanced with her grandmother’s recipe.
If you arrive at the market early in the morning, you might be able to purchase bags of her frozen empanadas to make at home. The choice of fillings is ground beef, fusion Colombo-Mexican chorizo, chicken, potato, and vegan chorizo. The ground beef and potato empanadas have no serrano peppers. The other three do. If you are not an early riser, pick up a bag of those delicious snacks at Mi Tienda Latina, 1811 North 24th Street, or AZ Market to Door, 7127 East Shea Boulevard.
However, if it’s your first time, we recommend you let Quintero fry them for you. We tried the beef, chicken, and vegan chorizo empanadas. She serves them with her homemade green chili sauce for a pleasant kick.
Any choice is the right one, but variety is even better, so try one of each. For Colombians, meat is the most popular, Quintero says.
Colombian empanadas have a surprisingly creamy interior, which contrasts beautifully against the crispy dough.
“We cook the potatoes, then take those cooked potatoes and mash them and use our hands to mix the chicken, beef, or chorizo with the potatoes,” says Kristin Cordova, who works at the stand. The addition of mashed potatoes plus an added sauce impart the creamy texture. There are spices to enhance the flavor, but those are a secret we cannot know, she says.
Here’s another secret: these delicious snacks are dairy and gluten-free.
Quintero plans to add cheese empanadas to her repertoire in the next couple of months. Aside from the Famers Market, she plans to have a Colombian dinner event with Arepa Babe on December 16. Follow her on Instagram for more details.
Quintero’s vision is “to be one of the leading woman-owned companies in this sector and employ other women heads of family.”