The Empanada is a typical Galician dish. It is also known as “empanada gallega” in Spain. The best way to describe an empanada is as a pastry filled with savoury ingredients. One distinctive feature of the Galician empanada is its size. While other empanadas are often small meat-filled pastries, the Galician variant is a large-sized pastry that is meant to serve an entire family. It is also often sold in smaller pieces for individual servings.
Delicious as a snack and perfect for on-the-go. Empanadas are easy to carry, can be eaten cold (and still taste great!), and it’s best enjoyed by eating with your hands.
My first encounter with the empanada is hilarious
My first memory of an empanada is rather comical. I was studying in Santiago de Compostela, and my parents came to visit from the Netherlands for a week. After their arrival, we went to my apartment to have a cup of coffee. My father thought it would be a good idea to have something tasty to go with it, like a nice cake or pastry. There was a bakery nearby, and my father was confident he could manage without speaking Spanish. After all, he could simply point to what he wanted in the display of the bakery.
A few minutes later, he returned with some delicious empanadas. To our surprise, when we took a bite, there was no sweet filling, but the savory filling that characterizes empanadas.
That’s when I learned that empanadas are not sweet treats but delightful savory snacks.
The Empanada Gallega is truly a classic dish. It has been proven to be hundreds of years old. One piece of evidence can be seen on the famous Pórtica da la Gloria, the grand 12th-century entrance to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The empanada has been around for that long!
Historical records describe the empanada as a practical dish. It’s easy to carry, keeps well, and it’s a great way to use up leftovers.
Empanadas are not only eaten in Galicia but also in Portugal and South America. The dish has conquered these regions from its origins in Galicia.
How to make an empanada?
Just like many other traditional dishes, there is no single unique preparation method. Just as every mother in Italy makes a different ragù bolognese, every Galician will give you a slightly different way to make empanada when asked for a recipe.
When you ask a Galician for the tastiest empanada, you’ll always get the same answer: “a da miña nai” (“my mother’s”).
In general, an empanada Gallega consists of pastry and filling. Both the pastry and the filling can be prepared in various ways. The most well-known fillings are with tuna, cod, chicken, or beef. But there are also modern variants with mussels or even octopus. And, of course, you can easily make a vegetarian empanada. With a bit of imagination and experimentation, you can create delicious empanadas!
You can make empanadas yourself, but you can also enjoy a Galician empanada at many restaurants and bars in Galicia. It is often eaten as a snack and can also serve as a quick lunch or a filling tapa. In Santiago de Compostela, for example, you can enjoy a classic empanada at the nostalgic Taberna O Gato Negro (see my tips in Santiago de Compostela).
The internet is filled with empanada recipes. As we have seen, there are many variations in both the pastry and the filling. Here, I’ll describe one variant that I believe is the most traditional: empanada with tuna.
What you’ll need:
- Dough (you can either knead it yourself or use ready-made sheets of savory pastry)
- Canned tuna (3 cans)
- Half a green bell pepper
- Prepare the dough Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a baking sheet
- Sauté the onion and bell pepper in a pan on the stove for a few minutes
- Place the base of your empanada on the baking sheet
- Spread the onion mixture on the empanada, then add the tuna
- Cover it with another piece of dough and seal the edges with the base
- Bake the empanadas in the oven for half an hour
You can enjoy the empanadas warm, lukewarm, or cold.
Whatever filling you choose, you can follow the above steps as a guide. Get creative and enjoy!