Outside of the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, on the side of an unmarked dirt road is an oasis for empanada lovers. Las Carmelitas, a long-standing empanadería has been serving its patrons for generations. They specialize in just one regional variety of empanada, the Pukacapa. The pastry itself is made from a dough that is filled with a lightly sweet mix of queso fresco, onions, chili pepper, and quilquiña a local herb AKA ‘Bolivian Coriander’. Pukacapa translates to the red cape and comes from the indigenous dialect of Quechua. The name refers to the bright red color of the humble savory pastry and its layered form. The vibrant color comes from an eggwash of sweet, smokey paprika. The empanadas are kissed by fire in a rustic wood-fired oven made of clay and boars hair.
A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to visit the empanadería with my parents, a Bolivian pepper. The smoky tones of the pastry complemented the sweet and earthy tones of the pimenton perfectly. We had them with the history of her bakery and was quick to offer a tour. She led us to a small open-air room that was home to the wood-burning oven. I took a moment to inspect the oven and grabbed a worn bakers peel in my hands. Whenever you grab someone else’s tools you can feel the work that has been done with them. You notice the different marks and notches, the subtle grooves for their hands. The next stop on our tour was through a tree-lined courtyard to a small chapel decorated with flowers. At the center of the chapel, upon an altar, was a statue of the patron saint of bread. We took a few moments to take everything in and went back to our table to enjoy the empanadas.
The empanadas were everything I was hoping for warm, cheesy, and spicy from the locoto, a Bolivian pepper. The smoky tones of the pastry complemented the sweet and earthy tones of the pimenton perfectly. We had them with Mokhochinchi, a traditional drink made of peeled dried peaches steeped with cinnamon and sugar. The owner poured them with a ladle made of a dried totuma, an indigenous fruit as big as a soccer ball. At this moment I saw the look of nostalgia on the faces of my family. Moments like this shape who we are.
For me, the experience of being able to enjoy the exact food that my parents grew up with is priceless. It gives me a window into their lives when they were just children enjoying the simple pleasure of getting together with family and good food. The OG French foodie Brillat-Savarin said, ” Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.” (Physiology of Taste 1825)
Sharing in these food memories allows me to connect with parents, my family, and my culture in a deeper way. This is the magic of food for me: it has the ability to deepen my understanding of the culture from which it’s coming. These deeper understandings and memories help me re-create and share the dishes with the world.
Makes 15 Pukacapas
1 large white onion medium dice
90 g ground red pepper
224g Fresh cheese or Monterrey Jack
28g Chopped Jalapeño De-seeded (Locoto)
15g Chopped black olive
50g chopped tomatoes
15g chopped quilquiña or cilantro
1g ground black pepper
Salt to taste
On medium heat add 30 g oil and heat until the oil shimmers.
Saute onions and tomatoes for 2-3mins until the onions are tender.
Add ground red pepper, jalapeño, olives, and seasoning and continue to cook for 2-3 mins.
Remove from heat and allow to cool in a large bowl.
Once cooled mix in cheese, herbs, and reserve.
Red egg wash
20g egg yolk
28g canola oil
Mix all ingredients well and set aside
240g all-purpose flour
40g eggs yolks
37g white sugar
4.75g dry yeast
In a small bowl mix water and dry yeast. Allow mixture to sit for a few minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, add your flour and.Heat the shortening until almost boiling and add into the bowl.
Mix to incorporate, you will notice the flour will effervesce.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix the dough for 5 mins until evenly incoporated.
Knead the dough for 3-4 mins or until you can form a nice ball.
Allow the dough to rise at room temp for 1 hr
Degas and divide the dough into 30 pieces. Shape each piece into small rounds and rest the rounds for 15 mins.
Flour your work surface and shape the rounds with a rolling pin until roughly 3.5''
Add 2 Tbsp of filling to the center of the 15 of the rounds avoiding the edges.
Top with the second piece of dough and press to seal the edges making sure to press out all the air.
Once sealed either crimp or twist braid the rim of the pastry.
Preheat your oven to 420F
Place the pukacapas on lined baking sheet and brush with egg wash.
Bake for 15-20 mins until the bottoms are golden.