These Ecuadorian-style fried empanadas have a cheese filling, which is sometimes seasoned with a touch of onion. They may appear a bit ordinary compared to some of the more elaborate empanadas out there. But these empanadas have a special ingredient that makes them unique: granulated sugar, sprinkled on top just after they are removed from the hot cooking oil. It sounds like an odd combination – cheese, onions, and sugar – but it is quite delicious.
The word viento means “wind”, and the joke is that these empanadas (a popular street food snack) typically have a very stingy amount of cheese inside and are mostly filled with air! The empanadas puff up when they are fried in oil, and will fill with air no matter how much cheese you stuff into them, however, so don't blame your local street vendor if your empanadas seem to have more air than cheese!
Ecuador is known for its fried empanadas (though baked empanadas are also popular), especially empanadas de morocho (which have a pastry made with a special kind of cornmeal). Empanadas are a popular mid-morning or afternoon snack, and most (sweet and savoray) are topped with a dusting of sugar.
- For the Dough:
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 8 tablespoons cold butter
- ½ cup cold milk or water
- For the Filling:
- ¼ cup minced white onion
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 ½ cups Monterey Jack cheese (shredded; or other cheese such as cheddar, Gouda, etc.)
- 1 quart vegetable oil (for frying; or as needed)
- ¼ cup sugar
Make the Empanada Dough:
- Place the flour in a large bowl with the salt and baking powder and whisk briefly to mix.
- Cut the butter into small pieces and add it to the flour. Use a pastry cutter or 2 knives to “cut” the butter into the flour, until the mixture is crumbly and there are no large pieces of butter.
- Add the milk or water 2 tablespoons at a time and mix gently with a fork. Continue to mix until the dough comes together and is not too dry or shaggy (you made need slightly more or less water).
- Knead dough a few times with your hands until it is relatively smooth.
- Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter for 30 minutes (or refrigerate for several hours – up to overnight).
- Cover dough with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes (or refrigerate until ready to use).
This dough can also be prepared in a food processor. Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse briefly until butter is in small pieces and mixture is crumbly. Add the milk or water gradually and pulse, just until dough comes together into a ball.
Prepare the FIlling:
- Melt the butter in a small skillet and add the minced onion. Cook over medium-low heat until the onion is translucent and fragrant.
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- When it has cooled, place the onion with the shredded cheese in a bowl and toss to combine.
Shape the Empanadas:
- Divide the dough into 16 equal balls. Roll each piece of dough into a ball, and then let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball of dough into a thin, 6-inch diameter circle, letting the dough rest for several minutes if needed to let the dough relax and stretch.
- Brush the edges of a circle of dough lightly with water.
- Place 1 ½ tablespoons of the cheese mixture in the middle of the dough, and then fold the circle of dough in half and seal the edges together firmly.
- Fold the edges of the dough into a decorative seam (see how to shape and fill empanadas).
- Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.
- Heat several inches of vegetable oil in a deep skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat.
- The oil is hot enough with a piece of the dough sizzles gently in the oil.
- Cook the empanadas in batches, flipping them once until they are golden brown.
- Carefully remove the empanadas from the oil with a slotted spoon, spatula, or tongs, and place them on a plate lined with paper towels.
- Sprinkle the tops of the empanadas with a teaspoon of sugar as soon as you place them on the plate.
- Let empanadas cool for 5 minutes before serving.