Empanadas: Exploring the National Dish of Chile

Last updated on June 5th, 2024 at 10:46 am

Welcome to our guide to empanadas, Chile’s national dish. Empanadas are a cherished culinary tradition in Chile, and hold a special place in the hearts and stomachs of locals and visitors alike. These delicious empanadas are filled with a variety of ingredients, from savory meats to sweet fruits, and are enjoyed as a snack, appetizer or even a main course.

In this article, we’ll take you on an exploration of the fascinating world of empanadas. We’ll delve into the history and cultural significance of this iconic dish, as well as provide information on the different types of fillings and regional variations you can find throughout Chile. Along the way, we’ll uncover interesting facts and stories that will deepen your appreciation for this culinary delight.

Our Remitly team created this guide to give you the full story.

Empanadas: A staple of Chilean cuisine

Empanadas are more than just a popular snack in Chile: they are a cultural icon representing the country’s rich history and traditions. The origins of empanadas date back to the Spanish conquistadors who brought them to South America during the colonial era. Over time, the recipe evolved to incorporate local ingredients and culinary techniques.

Empanadas are so ingrained in Chilean culture that they are often served at celebrations and special events, such as Independence Day and Fiestas Patrias. Families and friends gather to share plates of empanadas, which are often accompanied by a glass of Chilean wine or a cold beer. It is not uncommon to see street vendors selling empanadas on the corners of the city’s busiest streets, or small cafes and restaurants specializing in this sweet treat.

The traditional recipe and variations

The traditional recipe for the Chilean empanada consists of a puff pastry dough made with flour, salt and lard, which is then filled with a combination of ingredients such as minced meat, onions, raisins, hard-boiled eggs and olives. However, there are countless variations of the filling, depending on the region and personal preferences. For example, in northern Chile, empanadas are usually filled with seafood, while in the south they may have lamb or pork.

Some empanadas are sweet rather than savory, with fillings such as jam, dulce de leche or fresh fruit. These sweet empanadas are usually served as a dessert or snack, rather than as a main course.

Whatever the filling, the key to a great empanada is the perfect balance of flavors and textures, with each ingredient complementing the others.

From meat to vegetables: Exploring empanada fillings

Although traditional empanadas are filled with meat, there are also many delicious vegetarian and vegan options. Some popular vegan fillings include cheese, spinach, mushrooms, and pumpkin. To make a vegan empanada, simply omit the meat and eggs and substitute vegetable oil or margarine for the butter.

Empanadas can also be a great way to use up leftover ingredients in your kitchen. For example, you can make a filling with leftover roasted vegetables or shredded chicken. The possibilities are endless, and experimenting with different fillings is part of the fun of making empanadas.

One of the things that makes empanadas so delicious is the combination of spices and flavors used in the filling. Some common spices in Chilean empanadas are cumin, paprika, oregano, and garlic. These spices add depth and complexity to the filling, making each bite an explosion of flavor.

In addition to the spices, many empanada recipes have a sweet or sour sauce that is served alongside the dough. Some popular sauces are pebre, a Chilean condiment made with chopped tomatoes, onions and cilantro, and aji, a hot sauce made with chiles and lime juice.

Empanadas as appetizer or main course

Empanadas can be enjoyed as a snack, appetizer or main dish, depending on the size and filling. Small empanadas filled with cheese or vegetables make a great appetizer for a party, while larger empanadas filled with meat or seafood can be a hearty main dish. Empanadas are also a great option for take-out lunches or picnics, as they are portable and easy to eat on the go.

Chilean Empanadas Recipe

These delicious turnovers usually contain a meat and onion filling, but they can be customized to include cheese, seafood, or even vegetables. Here’s how to make your own!


For the Dough

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup warm water (more or less, as needed)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the Filling

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup black olives, pitted and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil


  • 1 egg for egg wash
  • 1 teaspoon paprika for color and flavor


Making the Dough

  1. Combine Ingredients: In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt.
  2. Add Wet Ingredients: Create a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the melted butter and egg.
  3. Knead the Dough: Gradually add warm water, kneading until a smooth dough forms. Adjust water as needed.
  4. Rest the Dough: Cover with a damp cloth and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes.

Preparing the Filling

  1. Sauté Onions: In a skillet over medium heat, add the vegetable oil and sauté the chopped onions until translucent.
  2. Cook the Beef: Add the ground beef to the skillet. Break it apart and cook until browned.
  3. Season: Add cumin, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix well.
  4. Combine Extras: Once the beef is cooked, remove from heat and add chopped hard-boiled eggs and olives. Stir until evenly distributed.

Assembling and Baking

  1. Preheat Oven: Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. Roll the Dough: Divide the rested dough into golf ball-sized portions. Roll each portion into a thin circle, about 6-7 inches in diameter.
  3. Add Filling: Place a spoonful of the beef mixture in the center of each circle.
  4. Fold and Seal: Fold the circle in half over the filling to create a half-moon shape. Use a fork to crimp the edges and seal the empanada.
  5. Egg Wash: If using, brush the top of each empanada with a beaten egg for a shiny finish.
  6. Bake: Place the empanadas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they are golden brown.


  • Sprinkle a pinch of paprika over the empanadas before baking for added color and flavor.


  • Feel free to add additional spices or other ingredients to the filling according to your preference.
  • Empanadas can be frozen before baking and cooked from frozen. Just add a few extra minutes to the baking time.

Buen provecho!

Baking vs. frying: Different cooking methods

There are two main ways to cook empanadas: baked and fried. Baked empanadas are healthier and easier to make, as they don’t require any special equipment or a lot of oil. However, fried empanadas have a crunchy texture that many people prefer.

To bake empanadas, simply place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake them in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. To fry empanadas, heat a few inches of oil in a deep pot or skillet and cook the empanadas until crisp and golden brown.

More information on Chilean cuisine

Chilean cuisine is a vibrant and diverse culinary tradition that reflects the country’s unique geography and cultural heritage. From the coastal regions to the Andes Mountains, Chile offers a wide variety of flavors and ingredients that have been influenced by indigenous cultures, European settlers and neighboring countries.

One of the defining characteristics of Chilean cuisine is its emphasis on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Chile is known for its abundant fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. Among the most popular seafood dishes are ceviche, a refreshing dish made with raw fish marinated in citrus juices, and congrio, a type of eel often served grilled or in a rich tomato-based sauce.

In addition to seafood, Chilean cuisine also offers a wide variety of meats, such as beef, pork, and lamb. Traditional dishes such as asado, a barbecue-style feast, and cazuela, a hearty meat and vegetable stew, are appreciated by locals and visitors alike. Chilean cuisine also incorporates a wide range of fruits and vegetables, including avocados, corn, potatoes, and a variety of native fruits such as lucuma and cherimoya.

Chilean cuisine is also known for its unique desserts and sweets. A popular dessert is the tres leches cake, a moist sponge cake soaked in a mixture of three types of milk. Another favorite is alfajores, delicate cookies filled with dulce de leche and often coated in powdered sugar. Chilean cuisine also includes a variety of traditional drinks, such as pisco sour, a cocktail made with pisco, a grape brandy, and lemon juice.

Exploring Chile’s cuisine is a journey of flavors and traditions that will leave you with a deeper understanding and appreciation for this rich culinary heritage. Whether you enjoy a plate of empanadas or savor a bowl of cazuela, every bite tells a story of the people and places that have shaped Chilean cuisine into what it is today. So why not embark on your own culinary adventure and discover the delicious flavors of Chile?

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