Francisca’s Empanadas + stories of the early Berkeley Food Collective.

I left the comfort and safety of my home, left behind all the friends that I had forged into family, left behind the town I loved from rooftop to gutter. There is so much for me in Melbourne, but I left because I wanted to see what (and who) else the world had to offer.

I left to meet new people, cook, hear stories, share food, laughter, wine.

I flew in to the USA late sunday afternoon, my first stop on my new life of adventure, and on Monday I was fortunate enough to go to Davis, California, to stay with Francisca Rodriguez. She is an inspiring woman, full of stories of the old days when she worked at the Berkeley Food Collective with her Chilean husband. Francisca is from Mexican descent, and together, along with the other Latin American workers, they contributed one Latin American recipe each to the menu. Francisca learnt how to make empanadas there, both in the Chilean way and the Argentinian way, and I was blessed to have her spend the day showing me how to make them. My first day away from home, and I was launched straight into my new life with a bang – what better way than to be taught empanadas in California from such an interesting, amazing woman.



Francisca was in Berkeley during a time of great change. Food movements were cropping up all over the country, but in the seventies and eighties Berkeley was a hotspot for food activists, locavores, sustainability champions, and chefs who delighted in local, organic produce such as pioneering Alice Waters.

Berkeley was (and still is, to a degree) full of community spirit – a free exchange of thought, ideas, ideals, philosophies, food, art… It is a way of life that I agree with – sharing of what is important. What you think, what you feel, what you do, how you act.

This early exchange of food, friends and recipes at the collective seemed to be a shaping and important part of Francisca’s life. And without that cultural exchange, I wouldn’t be here today baking Latin American pastries. Francisca showed me how to mix, knead and shape the dough, and showed me a typical chicken, onion, olive and egg filling, and one of her specialties: potato and cheese.



Later on in life, Francisca used to sell empanadas out of a food cart at the University of Wisconsin. She tells how the quality of food you made won you the best spots along the avenue leading into the University. Of course – she was always in one of the top spots.

Her empanada dough is perfect – soft from the oil, but with enough resistance in bite to hold in the hearty fillings. Empanadas can be baked or fried, but Argentinian and Chilean empanadas are usually baked and made with wheat flour.

There are two types of empanadas being made in the video. It gives a rough guide to what all ingredients should look like at each step, to be watched in combination with reading of the recipe. I’ve split the recipe up into three parts – the first is the dough, which can be used with any fillings you like (spinach and cheese, chicken and onion, potato and cheese, or simply cheese), the traditional chicken and onion filling, and Francisca’s special potato and cheese filling.

Empanada Dough

2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2.5 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup corn oil
2 1/3 cup boiling water
1kg plain white flour (make sure it is pure wheat flour, no malted barley flour added as the sometimes do to enrich flour)

Mix all of the dry ingredients together. Add the boiling water and oil, and with a big wooden spoon mix until it all comes together in a cohesive mass. Turn out onto a floured bench and knead until dough becomes a smooth ball. Return to the bowl dusted with flour, cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for ten minutes. Separate out the dough into balls of 70 grams each, and then roll out in a circle to 1/8 inch thickness.


Deposit a dollop of filling in the middle, and then brush around the edges with water so it will stick. Fold over the dough so that it creates a half moon shape, and press the edges together. Starting from one side, fold the edges up over each other, overlapping, to create a ruffled edge (see video). Brush tops with beaten egg, prick with a knife, and place on a greased and floured baking tray and bake for 30-45 minutes at 350ºF/180ºC until golden brown on top and lightly crispy.



Potato and Cheese

Boil and mash 5 potatoes
Grate an equal amount of cheese (we used Argentinian queijo and a jalapeno cheddar mix.)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt

Mash all together.

Chicken and Onion

4 eggs
1 kg chicken breast
6 onions
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons cumin
1/2 cup chopped parsley
4 tablespoons corn oil
3/4 cup water
4 teaspoons flour
can of black olives

Fry spices in 3 tablespoons corn oil until fragrant, add chicken and seal. Add the other tablespoon of oil and the onions, and let cook over low heat until onions have cooked down about 30-40%. Add parsley, cook for a minute or two, and then add flour and water to thicken. Stir and cook over heat for another 5 minutes. Boil the eggs, cut into slices (each into about 8). Each empanada should have a large dollop of chicken filling, one egg slice, an olive or two and a couple of raisins.


5 thoughts on “Francisca’s Empanadas + stories of the early Berkeley Food Collective.”

  • How many Franciscas are there? How many have I known? As a writer, I truly am jealous that Lani from Melbourne could conjure a Francisca who stays with you long after the empanadas are gone, who is still there for and with you, before the next round has been created. Without Francisca, I would have been lost years ago. Thank you, Lani, for reminding me and creating these images.

    • Thanks for your lovely comment Gabriel – Francisca is too amazing to not write about! I am so blessed I was able to visit her and have her take such care teaching these to me.

  • Que gana de comer tu ricas empanadas: Ojala vengas pronto a visitarnos. Felicitaciones Un abrazo Anabel y Georgina

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