A vegetarian alternative to the classic meat-filled Argentine turnovers, these veggie empanadas are filled with a mixture of sautéed red cabbage, red onion, raisins and chopped walnuts. A small piece of mozzarella is added for texture, but feel free skip it and sub regular butter for margarine to make vegan empanadas.
What are empanadas?
Empanadas are pastry turnovers with a savoury filling that are either baked or fried. The first testimony is in a Spanish cookbook from the 16th century, but they may have been around even longer. Nowadays they are mostly popular all over Latin America, as well as Indonesia and the Philippines.
For myself, I have always known empanadas as an Argentine dish. As almost every person in Italy, I have family in Argentina and it was from my cousins I had first heard of this dish. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I tried my hand at making empanadas, though. He has spent a few winters in Argentina before we met, and as soon as he figured out that I like to cook, he asked me to replicate his favourite Argentine dish.
It was a disaster. I followed a recipe that seemed legit (from a Latin American cookbook!) but my pastry ended up too soft and my empanadas fell apart. I got so upset I never made them again for 7 years or so. I didn’t like the idea of being defeated by a recipe, so I recently got into the mindset of wanting to try again. So I turned to my friend Ele, whose mom comes from Argentina, begging for a true and tested recipe.
True and tested empanadas with a veggie filling
The occasion to win my confidence back with empanadas came when Ele came to visit and help me with some photo shoots. By the way it’s her hands you’ll see pictured further down. For the pastry, we obviously used her mom’s recipe. But since she’s vegetarian, we decided to try something unusual for the filling. Instead of the popular beef filling that her mom had sent over, we went a different route and made veggie empanadas.
We didn’t completely come up with this red cabbage filling as we copied a dish that her flatmate used to make back in the day when we all lived in the same student house (hi Ludo, if you’re reading this!). Sautéed red cabbage with raisins was something those two girls ate a lot. The best part? The raisins are actually also featured in the original Argentine beef empanada filling recipe! They’re the only thing we kept in our veggie empanadas filling.
Since the filling needs to cool down before it’s added to the empanadas, you may want to take care of it first. You could even make it ahead and store it airtight in the fridge for a couple of days. Here’s what you’ll need (for quantities see recipe card below):
- Red cabbage
- Red onion
- Balsamico vinegar
- Mozzarella (optional)
How to make the red cabbage filling
- Set a skillet on medium heat and melt the butter.
- Mince the red onion and add it to the pan.
- Sauté the onion for 4-5 minutes, until soft.
- Shred the cabbage and add it to the pan.
- Sauté the cabbage for 10-15 minutes, until soft. Add the raisins.
- Stir in the salt and balsamico. Remove from the heat.
- Chop the walnuts and add them to the filling. I would recommend having some sort of crunch in the filling, so choose sunflower seeds rather than skipping the walnuts if catering to people with nut allergies.
If using vegan butter, this filling can easily go into vegan empanadas. Together with the red cabbage filling we also added a small piece of mozzarella. It melts in the oven and just basically disappears, providing only a little more moisture. This can easily be skipped, as you can hardly taste the mozzarella anyway.
How to make the empanadas pastry dough
These are the ingredients needed to make the pastry dough:
- A pinch of salt
I believe that you could use a food processor, but I needed to redeem myself from the miserable empanada failure from my past, and Ele just needed to live up to her Argentine mother’s empanada skills. So we went full-on traditional. Here’s how to do it:
- Have all the flour on a working surface and form it into a mound. Create a well in the centre.
- Add the cubed softened butter to the centre of the mound. Use vegan butter or margarine if making dairy free empanadas.
- Dissolve the salt into the lukewarm water and add that to the flour well, being careful it won’t spill out.
- Knead for about 6-7 minutes, until a ball of dough forms. The empanada dough should be rather firm and feel quite hard to work. It’s okay if it doesn’t get perfectly smooth (see picture below). Different types of flour have different degrees of water absorption. Wet your hands if the dough is too dry to come together.
- To make the empanadas you can either roll out the dough and cut out circles, or divide the dough into small balls and roll those out with a rolling pin. We chose the latter method. Our dough balls weighed around 45 g and we rolled them out to 2 mm thin.
- Have a pastry circle in one hand and proceed to fill it with the other hand. We have added 1 1/2 tbsp filling and a little piece of mozzarella into each empanada.
- Lightly wet the outer edges of the pastry circle. Fold the circle in half, to create a half-moon shape. Pinch wet edges together between your fingers, then secure by pressing the edges with the prongs of a fork.
- Brush some eggwash onto every empanada. Brush them with water if making them vegan.
- Bake the empanadas in the preheated oven at 180°C (360°F) for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Enjoy your veggie empanadas
Just like the filling can be made in advance, actual empanadas are a smart make-ahead food. They obviously taste divine when freshly out of the oven, but they also warm up great. Microwaving can work, but the shortcrust pastry may get a little soft. For best results, popping your veggie empanadas in the oven for 10 minutes makes the trouble of having the oven on worth it.
Empanadas are very popular as street food, and something that doesn’t require either cutlery or a plate, really. This also means that you don’t necessarily need a side dish or a small salad to go with them. You can, obviously, serve them with whatever you fancy, but you don’t have to. You don’t even have to plate them. I only plated the three that ended up in the photo shoot, while the other 14 were eaten in front of the tv, watching the Francis Mallmann episode of Chef’s Table. Drinking Malbec. Just to keep the Argentina vibes real.
The wine in this photo shoot is obviously not Malbec. Malbec is so dark you cannot see through it even if you cut it with water. My fine Malbec bottle was opened in the evening, when enjoying both these veggie empanadas and the meat ones we also made. The wine that ended up in the photo shoot was the one we drank while cooking. Because what’s cooking with a friend if wine is not involved?
Go nuts for vegetarian food!
I loooove adding all kinds of nuts to my dishes, especially to my vegetarian recipes! And I’m lucky neither me nor my husband have a nut allergy, so we can just enjoy all kinds of nuts I add to our food. If you liked the walnuts in these veggie empanadas, you may like these other vegetarian recipes that feature nuts:
- Hazelnut stuffed mushrooms – baked buttom mushrooms stuffed with a smooth filling made with cream cheese, shallot and ground hazelnuts.
- Georgian eggplant rolls – fried eggplant slices rolled up with a thick walnut paste. A speciality from the Caucasus.
- Asparagus pistachio risotto – pistachios have a wonderful flavour and the perfect colour to match asparagus in this green risotto.
- Eggplant ricotta dip – did you know that almonds pair incredibly well with eggplants and tomato? Go try that dip for yourself and let me know what you think!
- Pear and blue cheese pizza bianca – pecans, with their subtle sweetness, top this delicate gourmet pizza bianca that could almost work as dessert.
Bonus recipe for the meat eaters: baked pork loin in hazelnut sauce. My favourite way to make pork. Hazelnuts just make the whole dish so delicate while giving a lot of flavour at the same time!
If you haven’t yet tried my veggie empanads because you miss some of the ingredients, make sure to pin this recipe so you can get back to it at a later time! And don’t forget the Malbec!
Veggie empanadas with red cabbage and raisins
Baked vegetarian empanadas made with a red cabbage, red onion, raisin and walnut filling.
For the dough
- 500 g flour
- 100 g butter room temperature
- 150 ml water lukewarm
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg small
For the filling
- 500 g red cabbage shredded
- 1 onion medium, or 5 small
- 50 g raisins
- 75 g walnuts chopped
- 50 g butter
- 2 tbsp balsamico vinegar
- salt to taste
- 50 g mozzarella (optional)
Set a skillet on medium heat and melt the butter.
Mince the red onion and add it to the pan. Sauté for 4-5 minutes, until soft.
Shred the cabbage and add it to the pan. Sauté for 10-15 minutes, until soft. Add the raisins.
Stir in the salt and balsamico. Remove from the heat.
Chop the walnuts and add them to the filling. As the filling cools to room temperature, take care of the dough.
Have all the flour on a working surface and form it into a mound. Make a well in the centre.
Add the cubed softened butter to the centre of the mould.
Dissolve the salt into the lukewarm water and add that to the flour well, being careful it won't spill out.
Knead for about 6-7 minutes, until a ball of dough forms. The empanada dough should be rather firm and feel quite hard to work. Let the dough rest covered for 20 minutes.
Divide the dough into 40-45 g balls. Roll out each ball with a rolling pin to 2 mm thick.
Have a pastry circle in one hand and add about 1 1/2 tbsp filling. If using, add a small piece of mozzarella.
Lightly wet the edges of the pastry circle. Fold the circle in half, to create a half-moon shape. Pinch wet edges together between your fingers, then secure by pressing the edges with the prongs of a fork.
Place empanadas on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Lightly beat an egg and brush some eggwash on every empanada.
Bake the empanadas in the preheated oven at 180°C (360°F) for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
To make them vegan sub the butter with margarine in both the filling and the dough. Skip the mozzarella altogether or add some vegan alternative just to keep the filling together. If the cabbage is properly sautéed and soft, the additon of the melty cheese is totally optional as the filling will stay in place anyway. Brush with water instead of eggwash before baking.