Wrap It Up
“If you’re going to put something in a taco, it has to be well seasoned and accompanied by something tart and spicy.”
- Roberto Santibañez, Culinary Director of Mi Vida
At their most basic, empanadas and tacos exist to carry the delicious ingredients residing within puff pastries or tortillas. These two staples in Latin American cooking from Mexico down through South America have been embraced by U.S. audiences. While beef, pork, chicken and even battered and fried Baja-style fish seem most popular here, you can truthfully use almost any ingredients as long as you have a balance of flavors.
“If you’re going to put something in a taco, it has to be well seasoned and accompanied by something tart and spicy,” advises Mexico City native Roberto Santibañez, also the culinary director of Mi Vida restaurant in Washington, D.C. “If not, it’s a bland concoction. Just think before if you’re going to put it in a taco or empanada how much seasoning it needs.”
Santibañez offers a few tacos on his menu, but also one del chef, which rotates. He might use veal tongue or sweetbreads, lamb barbacoa, braised duck, lobster, shrimp or grasshoppers, a specialty from Oaxaca, Mexico. Recently, he decided to roast a batch of cauliflower with a pecan chipotle sauce normally used with the beef tacos. He topped this special taco with pickled red onion. The flavor and texture won over even diehard meat eaters.
“A taco is basically a blank canvas you can continue to get creative with,” says Troy Guard, chef/owner of Chingones in Denver. “The possibilities are endless.”
That extends to dessert, where you can whip up sweet empanadas, like the spiced pear empanada topped with hibiscus honey glaze and vanilla ice cream sold at Main Street Meats in Chattanooga, Tenn. Santibañez also likes to make empanadas with purple sweet potatoes and pineapple or sweet custard and top them with ice cream.
“I love sweet empanadas,” Santibañez says. “And people are more adventurous now than ever before.”
So there’s no reason you can’t be, too.