Iron Chef: Empanada Edition

Street food is the best food. Don’t get me wrong—I love sitting in a plush booth enjoying a nice grilled salmon with seasoned brussel sprouts and orzo, but there is something so satisfying about following your nose around the corner to find something delicious and fried or puréed or squeezed or covered in chocolate. On those days, I’ll take the curb over that plush booth.

When I travel, 90% of my budget goes toward experiences. I’ll take white-water rafting over filet mignon every time, which makes street food my go-to for nourishment. While in Argentina and Chile, that meant $2 USD empanadas. A lot of empanadas. All of the time. Like, breakfast, elevensies, lunch and dinner. The meat- or veggie-filled pastries, said to be from medieval Iberia, have been perfected all around Argentina. While different regions throughout the country have their own spin on the savory finger foods, the dedication to flaky pastries and delicious meats remains consistent.

The gang, seriously concentrating on competing in Iron Chef: Argentina's unofficial empanada edition.

The gang, seriously concentrating on competing in Iron Chef: Argentina’s unofficial empanada edition.

On a backpacking trip through South America, a common conversation in hostel common rooms would be on the topic of recreating the empanada experience at home. After a month of talking about it, we decided to stop talking and start doing. During a couple days stay at a cabaña in San Martín de los Andes, Argentina with a couple from London and another from Dublin, we decided to turn our curiosities into a cutthroat empanada competition. The contest: Create a unique empanada that destroys all other empanadas. The prize: A delicious cocktail of the winner’s choice, paid for by the losers, and bragging rights for eternity. So, yeah, a lot on the line here.

After spending the day brainstorming and purchasing ingredients and trash talking the competition, we all crammed into our cabaña’s tiny kitchen to start the cooking process. Over the course of a few hours, we put together Shepherd’s Pie empanadas (London), four-cheese chicken, spinach and sun-dried tomato empanadas (USA), and braised red cabbage with walnuts and blue cheese empanadas (Dublin). In the process, we tried and tested various folding techniques, including pressing a fork into the edges, delicately twisting the edges in and rolling, and we talked about our favorite empanadas in the country.

The experience was a highlight of the trip, one that connected us to a country we had biked, bused and hiked all over. Empanadas have since become a go-to for holiday parties, both because they’re so tasty and they have their own story to tell. And even though we lost in the end (damn you, Dublin), indulging in enough empanadas to put us all into a food coma made us all winners. Delicious, delicious pastry-filled winners.

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