Growing up, my Venezuelan mom would prepare this half-mooned-shaped dish using corn meal dough and stuff the empanadas with fresh cheese, plantains, beans, or my all-time favorite, seasoned shredded chicken. Then, I would carefully craft my DIY condiment concoction, aka salsa rosada, which is basically a heavenly mixture of ketchup and mayo (IYKYK) swirled together until baby pink.
Traditionally, Venezuelan-style empanadas are fried, but I’ve discovered that you can achieve similar crispy and crunchy results using an air fryer rather than fussing with a deep fryer. Learn more about what makes this gluten-free, high fiber, and protein-packed South American staple a must-try dish for breakfast (or, frankly, all times of day) below.
What makes Venezuelan empanadas the world's most perfect food (IMHO)
In short, empanadas have all the components you want from a quick and easy snack. They're crunchy, handheld, packed with protein and fiber, and are made with a few simple ingredients. It's easy to see why they're one of the most popular and commonly-consumed Venezuelan dishes.
The key to making the perfect empanadas comes down to the dough, which is made from precooked corn flour, like Harina P.A.N. This corn-derived product is naturally gluten-free, vegan, and has about tons of nutrients including fiber, protein, iron, thiamin, niacin, and folate. Best of all, the dough requires only two ingredients—precooked cornmeal and salt—in addition to water to make. Any additional flavoring ingredients are purely optional.
As for the filling, the options are really endless. You can easily adapt this recipe to make it in any style you prefer. Cheese (or vegan cheese), plantains, beans, shredded chicken, you name it—everything tastes delicious when tucked inside an empanada. Depending on the ingredients you choose to stuff it with, you can add even more sources of protein, fiber, and nutrients to suit your preferences. In the case of this vegan empanada recipe by Ela Vegan, for instance, they’re filled with a delicious combination of veggies like beans, potatoes, bell peppers, and peas. Basically, consider this the perfect excuse to dump all of the about-to-turn produce in your crisper drawer into one dish.
The secret to nailing Venezuelan empanadas
Although there are many different types of empanadas worldwide, what makes the Venezuelan version unique is the type of dough used and their shape. Unlike other empanadas, like Argentinian ones that are flour-based, Venezuelan ones are made using corn, which gives it more of a crunchy, crispy texture, as opposed to a soft and flaky one.
When making the dough, it’s similar to how you would make Venezuelan arepas; however, the empanadas are shaped, cooked, and filled a little differently. Once you’ve mixed the dough, you’ll want to roll it out into a flat disk between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Then, you take the filling of your choice and spread it in the very center of the dough, leaving a few inches to spare around the perimeter.
Using the bottom sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper, fold the empanada to form a half-moon shape and press along the top to seal the edges. To get that perfect empanada crescent, I always employ my grandmother’s genius trick: Use the edge of a round bowl to cut the excess dough, which will give you an ideal uniform, well-rounded crust.
Traditionally, the next step would be to drop the ready-to-go empanadas into a hot pot of frying oil, but you can also achieve similar results using an air fryer. To achieve the same crispy action without deep frying them, coat the empanadas with a thin layer of oil, and then air fry them for 15 to 18 minutes at 390°F. Prepare for bliss. (And don't forget the salsa rosada!)
Venezuelan-style vegan empanadas recipe
Yields 10 servings
For the dough:
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 cups precooked cornmeal (preferably Harina P.A.N.)
Oil, for greasing
For the filling:
2 cups vegan cheese
1. Preheat your air fryer to 390°F. Meanwhile, combine the salt and water in a large bowl. Then, pour in the cornmeal and knead the ingredients together until the dough is soft to the touch and doesn’t stick to your hands (but not too dry that it cracks). If it’s too dry, add a little more water; if it’s too wet, add more flour. Set aside to rest for two to three minutes, covered with a damp paper towel.
2. Divide the dough into 10 equal portions, and form a round ball with your hands. Place each ball between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and roll them into flat disks, about five inches in diameter.
3. In the center of each disk, add the fillings of your choice, like vegan cheese. Then, use the bottom sheet to fold each empanada into a crescent shape. Seal the open edges together, and cut any excess dough away using the rim of a bowl.
4. Lightly grease the empanada with oil, and air fryer them for 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden-brown and crispy. Serve immediately.
Can't get enough corn? Try this vegan Mexican corn salad next:
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