As I sat down to eat my empanadas that came straight out of the oven, I thought they just might be the best ones I’ve ever had. Part of that was probably an emotional feeling about the process though: I put them together with my own hands in a cooking class at House of Jasmines in Argentina.
Located in the quiet countryside outside Salta, House of Jasmines is an estancia turned hotel with horses grazing and birds chirping from the trees. When we first visited close to a decade ago it was owned by Robert Duvall, but is now part of the French Maison Fenestraz group and is a Relais and Chateaux property.
The one constant you’ll find in Relais & Chateaux hotels is an emphasis on fine food and that’s certainly true at House of Jasmines. I had all three meals there and nothing was a disappointment. So I was excited to learn from Chef Andres about how to make one of Salta’s iconic menu items: empanadas.
I ordered a glass of Cafayate Domingo Hermanos Reserva red wine to set the mood for my empanada class. We then we set all the wrapper ingredients out on a big butcher block table. In theory you can do vegetarian versions, but we were having none of that. We were going to make the most popular version, with Argentine beef. So in addition to the flour, water, and salt there was a bowl of liquid melted lard to mix in as well. (A vegetarian option would use tasteless canola oil.)
We made a big crater in the middle and started with the lard and salt. After mixing in flour for a while we added the water and made a dough. The recipe said to refrigerate the dough for two hours but that’s obviously optional since we went right to it. We rolled the dough out to a one-millimeter thickness and then started cutting circles out for each empanada wrapper. Once we had them all done, we moved onto the cooking part.
In a pan went a bit more lard with onions, sweet red peppers, and sweet green peppers. The chef added salt and paprika to season. Then went in the beef and the pre-boiled chopped potatoes. At the very end we added cumin and some chile pepper flakes. Some chilling time is required after this—a good time to refill your wine glass—with either some refrigerator time or faster freezer time.
When everything had cooled off, Chef Andres added in chopped chives plus his own touch: one hard-boiled egg chopped into the mix. We were now ready to fill the wrappers.
This turned out to be the part requiring the most skill and I was four empanadas in before I started getting the hang of it. Argentine empanadas have a scalloped edge to them and apparently this aesthetic touch is quite important. I started out making them look more like a pie crust (as I would at home) and this generated a big frown. The idea is to fold the first part then successively pinch the edge below that fold to make another thin fold, then do the same to make another thin fold, etc. to the bottom. Mine were still a bit klutzy and not as uniform as his even at the end, but at least he wasn’t unfolding them and telling me to start over.
I told the chef to give me the ugliest ones at dinner and hopefully the other diners ordering empanadas wouldn’t notice the amateur folding job when they got theirs. I think as soon as they put them in their mouth they would forget anyway because really, these were the best empanadas I’ve ever had.
We’ll be updating our review of House of Jasmines Estancia de Charme hotel shortly, but go to their site to make a booking and plan your own cooking class.