Generally, countries in South America like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, make the dough for their empanadas using wheat flour, while in Venezuela, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala, it’s all about corn flour. A sign of dough made well is that when cooked, it’s soft and crispy and stays together.

Max Labhardt is a seasoned chef who has worked in kitchens downtown including the Marriott, Westin, and Hyatt. He’s currently the Culinary Director at Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, and has been the executive chef for the Calgary Flames for the last decade. His latest venture Good Fillin is a wholesale empanada business – meaning you’re likely enjoying his empanadas at Spruce Meadows, the Petroleum Club and at Calgary airport without even realizing it.

His empanadas are Venezuelan-style two-bite morsels that come in four different flavours: beef, chicken, wild mushroom, and vegetarian. The vegetarian empanada, filled with carrots, celery, onion, parsley, sweet potato, corn, and black bean, is by far Labhardt’s bestseller.

He makes his dough with three types of corn flour (yellow, white, and whole grain) depending on the empanada flavour. He says, “it’s just flour and water, and salt, and a tiny bit of sugar which helps caramelization when they’re fried, and cornstarch makes it a bit flakier too.”

To bake or to fry

Kevin Goncalves, owner of El Fogon Latino, a Venezuelan restaurant in Edmonton out by the Coliseum, says that while Chilean style empanadas are typically baked, most empanadas are fried. At his family-run restaurant, you’ll find arepas, pupusas, cachapas and a variety of empanadas including Colombian, Argentinian, Chilean and even Salvadorian pastelitos -empanada-shaped meat pastries made from corn flour.

“Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador – we all deep fry,” he laughs. “You can’t go wrong with deep-fried. I like Colombian and Venezuelan style because they’re crispy and you have a bit of sweetness from the corn flour, giving the contrast between sweet and salty.”

Empanadas to heat and eat at home

For those in the empanada business in Alberta, the newest trend now seems to be focused on making their empanadas more readily available for customers to take home and cook themselves.

Labhardt says he’s finalizing packaging this year to retail his frozen empanadas in stores like Co-op and Sunterra Market. Vallejos already sells smaller versions of her empanadas frozen for customers to take home. And if you want to sample the highlights of Heaven’s gluten-free mini empanadas, Capuzzi sells convenient, frozen packs of six empanadas in five flavours that are heat-and-eat ready.

Top Spots to Get Empanadas in Alberta

  • Good Fillin Empanadas, Bay 438, 53 Avenue SE, Calgary, 403-860-9463
  • Heaven Artisan GF Cuisine, 1013 17 Avenue SW, Calgary, 403-249-3037,
  • Empanada Queen, 4412 Manilla Road SE, Calgary, 403-235-0686,
  • El Fogon Latino, 8026 118 Avenue NW, Edmonton, 780-756-8388,
  • MyEmpanadas, 11460 42 Avenue, Edmonton, 780-756-1345

Heaven’s Cilantro Sauce

Hot sauce, guacamole, pico de gallo and salsa are common sides for empanadas. Whether or not to sauce or dip an empanada comes down to personal preference. Heaven’s Patricia Capuzzi offers cilantro and roasted garlic mayo-based sauces for her mini empanadas and shares her recipe here.

1 bunch cilantro
1 cup (250 mL) mayonnaise
1-2 limes, juiced
1 garlic clove

  • Cut off the bottom of the cilantro stems, and chop. Add all the ingredients to your blender or food processor, and process until well mixed.

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