Now that we are home schooling I have been trying to be more systematic about doing a world cultures curriculum. Mostly recently we learned about Bolivia, a country very dear to my heart, as I lived there for almost a year when I was twenty. Most people when they think of Bolivia picture the altiplano – the high steppe in the Andes Mountains – which conjures images of llamas, condors, and pan flutes. While I was lucky enough to travel to this storied region of the country, I spent most of my time in the Oriente, the eastern lowlands centered around the city of Santa Cruz.
This is a region markedly different from places like La Paz and Cochabamba. In fact, it has more similarities to neighboring Brazil and Paraguay, with its tropical climate and mestizo culture. Though more and more people have emigrated from the altiplano to eastern Bolivia, it remains culturally distinct. The “cambas” (those from Santa Cruz as well as neighboring Beni and Pando) also have a wonderfully distinct way of speaking, where the “s” is usually aspirated and turned into a heavily pronounced “h” (the Spanish “j”) and the “vos” form is used instead of “tú.” So instead of “Vente pues y dime cómo estás”(so come and tell me how you are) you would say “Venite puej y decime como estás voj.”
To teach Monkey about this beautiful country, we began with some Bolivian cooking – after all, this is “Around the World in 12 Dishes“! (Go here for a great overview and resource list on Bolivia). I chose to make empanadas, a snack that I came to love during my time in Bolivia. They are fun for kids to make, plus I knew Monkey would enjoy seeing how they are similar to the empanadas he is already familiar with from Costa Rica. (Main difference: wheat vs corn flour!)
This dish brings back such fond memories for me. Not only are empanadas and salteñas ubiquitous in the street stalls and little corner stores in Bolivia, I also spent a very happy afternoon with my host family trying (only somewhat successfully) to master the art of making empanadas – in particular, the beautiful curled edges used to seal them. When two people are holding hands, people often tease them by asking if their hands are getting burnt (since the fingers of the joined hands look like the edge of the empanadas).
Bolivian Cooking: Empanadas
1/2 kilo (4 c) flour
250 g (1 c) shredded cheese*
1 t salt
5 t sugar
1.5 t baking powder
5 t vegetable oil
approx 3/4 c warm water
*The cheese commonly used in eastern Bolivia is hard and does not melt easily. I substituted Monterey Jack instead.
Mix all ingredients together and knead into a soft dough. Form the dough into little balls then flatten each ball into a small circle. The dough shouldn’t be too thick or it won’t cook through but not so thin that it comes apart when cooking. Place some shredded cheese on one half of the circle then wet the edge with your finger using a few drops of water. (You want it moist, not really wet).
Fold the other half of the circle on top to form a semi-circle and lightly pinch the sides together. Then for my favorite part – making the picos or fluted edge. Basically you just keep turning, turning the edge on itself to make the picos. Here is a video demonstration for making salteñas (similar but not quite the same as empanadas), but at about 1:35 you can seem him doing the edging, which is the same. Keep in mind that for kids they can also just pinch the edges together or use a fork. Guess who made which ones below!
Heat approx an inch of oil in a frying pan. Gently place the empanadas in the oil and fry until golden on each side. Drain and cool on paper towels. Enjoy while still warm! (Traditional recipes also have you dust with powdered sugar).
For us this recipe made about 14 empanadas, but as you can see we made them of all different sizes, so don’t use that as a measure! Monkey also got creative with his shapes, preferring in the end to make balls, which I had to discreetly flatten before frying so they would cook in the middle. He also made the dough quite thick in his – I prefer it with thinner dough, but his still came out fine, so if your little one does the same don’t worry too much about it. We really enjoyed these as a snack and again for breakfast the next day! It was so fun to share with my boys the experience of making this treat from my time in Bolivia.
Check out the other participating blogs to see what they have been cooking up: Adventures In Mommydom, Afterschool for Smarty Pants, All Done Monkey, Crafty Moms Share, Maroc Mama, Creative World of Varya, Glittering Muffins, Kid World Citizen, Mermaids’ Makings, The Educators’ Spin On It and The Mommy Talks. If you try a dish from Bolivia, we’d love to hear about it! You can link up your dish or craft here to share your post on all the participating blogs: