The empanada (turnover) is more familiar in Cuban and South American cuisines that in Mexican cookery. However, the empanada does appear in some Tex-Mex restaurants—not filled with meat, but usually as a breakfast or a dessert item.
In Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Philippines, an empanada (Portuguese empada) is essentially a stuffed pastry. The name comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. Usually the empanada is made by folding a thin circular-shaped dough patty over the stuffing, creating its typical semicircular shape. Empanadas are also known by a wide variety of regional names (see the entries for the individual countries below).
It is likely that the empanadas in the Americas were originally from Galicia, Spain, where an empanada is prepared similar to a pie that is cut in pieces, making it a portable and hearty meal for working people. The Galician empanada is usually prepared with cod fish or chicken. Due to the large number of Galician immigrants in Latin America, the empanada gallega has also become very popular in that region. The idea of an empanada may originate from the Moors, who occupied Spain for 800 years. Middle Eastern cuisine to this day has similar foods, like simbusak (a fried, chickpea filled “empanada”) from Iraq.
Mexican empanadas are most commonly a dessert or breakfast item and tend to contain a variety of sweetened fillings; these include pumpkin, yams, sweet potato, and cream, as well as a wide variety of fruit fillings. Meat, cheese, and vegetable fillings are less common, but still well-known and eaten fairly regularly in Mexico; certain regions like the state of Hidalgo are famous for the empanadas, which are the favorite local dish. You can find savoury and sweet varieties of those also known as pastes.
Diner’s Digest: Mexican Snacks
A specialty of northern Mexico where wheat is cultivated, empanadas fill a disk of wheat-flour dough with something savory or sweet, fold it in half, seal, and deep-fry until crispy.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
[Sp., f. empanada ppl. adj. (fem.), f. empanar to roll and bake or fry in pastry or dough.]
A variety of esp. South American savoury pasty or turnover.
1939 C. L. B. BROWN S. Amer. Cook Bk. 58 Unlike the cold English pork and lark pies, empanadas are at their very best when eaten piping hot. The empanadas of Latin America are as varied as the vol au vents of France. 1969 R. & D. DE SOLA Dict. Cooking 93/1 Empanada, turnover filled with cheese, cooked fish, ground meat, or stewed vegetables.
Novisimo arte de cocina, o excelente coleccion de las mejores recetas ... lo publica Simon Blanquel ...
Mexico: T.S. Gardida
Masa para cubiletes o empanaditas.
Cameos From the Silver-Land:
Or, the Experiences of a Young Naturalist in the Argentine Republic
by Ernest William White
in two volumes
London: J. Van Voorst
1881 (volume one)
1882 (volume two)
...after which a dinner of hot empanadas (baked meat pies), that the wives and relatives of the men bring in for sale and distribute to them as they recline about the plaza, winds up the proceedings.
Over the Andes From the Argentine to Chili and Peru
by May Crommelin
New York: The MacMillan Company
First came a cazuela—most favorite of Chilian dishes—made of chickens boiled down in soup thickened with peas, rice, and potatoes. Next empanadas, or squares of thick paste filled with meat, gravy, and a suspicion of onion—excellent.
Vagabonding Down the Andes:
Being the Narrative of a Journey, Chiefly Afoot, From Panama to Buenos Aires
by Harry A. Franck
New York: The Century Company
While we were swallowing chunks of this and of empanada, some one discovered that it was Christmas Eve.
7 December 1918, Chillicothe (MO) Constitution, pg. 1, col. 2:
Miss Norville’s High School Spanish Class served themselves a Spanish dinner in the Cafeteria last Thursday night.
Empanada de tamal.