Air Fryer Vegan Venezuelan Empanadas

meLeven from “Stranger Things” is to Kellogg’s Eggo Waffles as I am to Venezuelan-style empanadas, which means I’m totally, utterly obsessed with them. They are crispy on the outside, stuffed with just about any filling on the inside, and can be made savory or sweet. What could not be loved?

Growing up, my Venezuelan mother would make this crescent-shaped dish with cornmeal dough and fill the empanadas with queso fresco, plantains, beans, or my all-time favorite seasoned shredded chicken. Then I would carefully prepare my DIY Condiment Concoction aka Pink Sauce, which is basically a heavenly mix of ketchup and mayonnaise (IYKYK) blended until it turns baby pink.

Traditionally, Venezuelan-style empanadas are deep-fried, but I’ve found you can achieve similar crispy, crispy results by using an air fryer instead of bothering with a deep fryer. Learn more about what makes this gluten-free, high-fiber, protein-packed South American staple a must-try for breakfast (or, frankly, everybody hours of the day) below.

What makes Venezuelan empanadas the most perfect food in the world (IMHO)

In short, empanadas have all the components you want in a quick and easy snack. They’re crunchy, portable, packed with protein and fiber, and made with just a few simple ingredients. It is easy to see why they are one of the most popular and consumed Venezuelan dishes.

The key to making the perfect empanadas comes down to the dough, which is made from precooked cornmeal, like Harina PAN. This corn-derived product is naturally gluten-free, vegan, and has 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 the water to make it. Any additional flavoring ingredients are purely optional.

As for the filling, the options are truly endless. You can easily adapt this recipe to make it any style you prefer. Cheese (or vegan cheese), plantains, beans, shredded chicken, you name it, it all tastes delicious when stuffed inside an empanada. Depending on the ingredients you choose to fill it with, you can add even more sources of protein, fiber, and nutrients to suit your preferences. In the case of this vegan empanadas recipe from Ela Vegan, for example, they are filled with a delicious combination of vegetables such as beans, potatoes, peppers, and peas. Basically, consider this the perfect excuse to dump all the produce that’s about to turn in your crisper onto one plate.

The secret to nailing Venezuelan empanadas

Although there are many different types of empanadas around the world, what makes the Venezuelan version unique is the type of dough used and its shape. Unlike other empanadas, such as Argentinian empanadas which are flour-based, Venezuelan empanadas are made with corn, which gives it a more crunchy and crunchy texture, as opposed to a soft and flaky one.

When making the dough, it is similar to how you would make Venezuelan arepas; however, empanadas are shaped, cooked, and filled a little differently. Once you’ve mixed the dough together, you’ll want to roll it out into a flat disc between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Then, you take the filling of your choice and spread it in the 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 into a crescent shape and press along the top to seal the edges. To get that perfect empanada crescent, I always employ my grandmother’s clever trick: use the edge of a round bowl to cut off any excess dough, which will give you an ideal, well-rounded, even crust.

Traditionally, the next step would be to drop the ready-to-go empanadas into a hot pot of oil to fry, but you can also achieve similar results using an air fryer. To achieve the same crisping action without frying them, coat the empanadas with a thin layer of oil, then air fry for 15 to 18 minutes at 390°F. Prepare for bliss. (And don’t forget the pink sauce!)

vegan empanadas
Photo: Getty Images/ Jeanny Palma

Venezuelan-style vegan empanadas recipe

Makes 10 servings

For the mass:
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups of warm water
2 cups of precooked cornmeal (preferably Harina PAN)
Oil, to grease

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 until the dough is soft to the touch and doesn’t stick to your hands (but not too dry to crack). If it’s too dry, add a little more water; if it’s too wet, add more flour. Let stand 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 into flat disks, about five inches in diameter.

3. In the center of each disk, add the fillings of your choice, such as vegan cheese. Then use the bottom sheet to fold each patty into a crescent shape. Seal open edges and cut off excess dough with the edge of a bowl.

4. Lightly grease the empanadas with oil and air fry for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Serve immediately.

Can’t get enough corn? Try this Vegan Mexican Corn Salad below:

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