Vegan chimichurri squash and red pepper empanadas

Following a vegan diet can be difficult at times, and I have definitely faced some obstacles while dining with my carnivorous friends, even in the culinarily liberal city of Vancouver.  So when I decided to travel around meat-and dairy-happy South America for 3 months, I knew I was in for a challenge. 

Argentina was by far the most difficult of all the countries I visited.  To understand why, I'll give you a glimpse into a typical day of Argentine meals.

Breakfast consists of toast slathered with dulce de leche, an Argentine creation of caramelized sweet milk. 

Lunch is the most important meal of the day and usually takes several hours to consume.  Traditionally, large asados (barbecues) attract many members of the community at lunchtime, and serve a wide variety of carne (red meat).  The steaks are typically larger than one's head and every part of the cow is cooked and eaten, which doesn't leave much room for vegetables, a concept that is somewhat foreign to a true gaucho (Argentinian cowboy). 

A typical Argentinean asado preparing beef, pork, ribs, chitterlings, sweetbreads, sausage, blood sausage and chicken.  Not exactly vegan-friendly.  Photo by Thesaintar.

Dinner tends to be a much smaller meal, but often consists of steak, Argentine pizza, a thin-crust pie loaded with mozzarella and sparsely accented with toppings such as olives or mushrooms, or everyone's favourite: empanadas. 

Traditionally, empanadas are meat pies made of baked or fried dough that have been stuffed with various fillings and folded into a half-moon shape.  In Argentina, empanada fillings can consist of any combination of meats, cheeses and vegetables. 

Feeling left out of Argentina's unique dining practices, I decided to make my own empanadas so that I too could indulge in the country's favourite snack.  I decided to make a filling of squash and red peppers cooked with a chimichurri spice blend that is unique to the country. The result was fantastic and definitely made me feel included.

Vegan chimichurri squash and red pepper empanadas

Empanada Dough:

2 1/4 C  Flour (use whole wheat for healthier empanadas)

1/2 t  Salt

1/2 C  Coconut Oil (solid) or Vegan Butter, cut into small pieces

1 Tbsp Ground Flax Seed + 3 Tbsp Water

1/3 C  Cold Water

1 Tbsp  Apple Cider Vinegar

Mix flour and salt together and add coconut oil/vegan butter.  Mix with hands until the mixture is crumbly and coconut oil is in small pea size pieces. 

In a separate bowl, combine flax seed with 3 Tbsp of water.  Mix well, then add the remaining water and vinegar.  Combine dry and wet mixtures until just combined.  On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough 2 or 3 times until just together.  Wrap dough and chill for 1 hour.

Chimichurri Squash and Red Pepper Filling:

Olive Oil for Sautéing 

1/2 Acorn Squash, cut into very small cubes

1/2 White Onion, diced

1 Red Pepper, diced

Chimichurri Sauce to Taste (Chimichurri recipe available here)

Pan-fry squash and onions over medium heat for around 5-7 minutes, and then add red pepper. When almost cooked, add chimichurri sauce according to your taste.  Allow the mixture to cool before filling the empanadas.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. Using a large glass as your guide, cut it into rounds. 

Place cooked filling inside dough circles and fold over into a half-moon shape. Pinch the edges with your fingers or with a fork.  You may need to use a little water to soften the dough if it's too dry. 

Brush the tops of the empanadas lightly with olive oil or water and bake until golden brown, approx. 20 minutes.  Enjoy, and buen provecho (bon appetit).

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