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The empanada is the little meat pie that could, a native of Spain that traveled the world, touching down in Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Africa, South Asia and the British Isles.

Each culture put its spin on the idea, creating the humble Cornish pasty, the flaky French chausson, the highly spiced Indian samosa, the peppery Jamaican patty and the phyllo-wrapped Middle Eastern borek, not forgetting the gut-filling peripatetic knish. And that is only scratching the surface.

May I share a personal empanada reverie? I still dream about a Mexican version I once sampled on the plaza in Oaxaca. It was made to order by a local woman, who baked it on a clay comal set over burning coals. She had simmered chicken in a complex yellow mole sauce, and as she wrapped the filling in a dough of masa harina, she added a strip of hoja santa, a sweet leafy herb with a mysterious fragrance. Just the thought of it has my mouth watering.

But if there is an empanadas capital of the world, it is Argentina. The entire population is crazy for them. (For that matter, empanadas proliferate in Uruguay, too, and folks there also lay claim to consuming the most per capita.)

The Argentine empanada is diminutive, just two or three delicious bites. It is eaten throughout the day -- as an afternoon snack or an appetizer before a big Porte? feast of multiple-choice meats from the grill, with good red wine from Mendoza. Everyone expresses a preference, baked or fried. Both ways are good.

My friend Fernando Trocca, a well-known chef in Argentina, showed me how to make them when I was in Buenos Aires. He first made a few savory fillings: a flavorful stir-fry of hand-chopped beef with green olives; a creamy concoction of sweet corn called humitas; and mondongo, spicy stewed tripe, which we agreed was divine.

Juliana L?ez May, another chef, tutored me in the art of creating the empanada's exterior. First, we made a traditional dough with flour, lard, salt and boiling water. Once we rolled it to the proper thickness and cut it into little circles, a spoonful of filling was placed on each round. The technique to master was holding the open empanada with one hand and using the other hand to crimp the outer edge and form a decorative braid. Less dexterous people use a fork, she told me.

She made it look easy. With her deft hands, each little pie was swiftly pinched to perfection, and a large batch was ready for the oven in no time.

Beef Empanadas

Makes 36 empanadas

For the dough:

4 ounces lard or butter, plus more for brushing tops

1? teaspoons fine sea salt

750 grams all-purpose flour, about 6 cups, more as needed

For the filling:

1 pound beef chuck, in 1/8-inch dice (or very coarsely ground)

-- Salt and pepper

-- Lard or olive oil, or a combination, for saut?ng

1 cup diced onion

2 ounces diced chorizo

? pound potatoes, peeled and diced

4 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste

2 teaspoons chopped thyme

2 teaspoons chopped marjoram or 1 teaspoon oregano

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon piment? dulce or paprika

-- Large pinch cayenne

-- Beef or chicken broth, as necessary, or use water

? cup chopped scallions, white and green parts

? cup chopped pitted green olives

2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced

1. Make the dough: Put 2 cups boiling water, 4 ounces lard and 1? teaspoons salt in large mixing bowl. Stir to melt lard and dissolve salt. Cool to room temperature.

Gradually stir in flour with a wooden spoon until dough comes together. Knead for a minute or two on a floured board, until firm and smooth. Add more flour if sticky. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Make the filling: Season chopped beef generously with salt and pepper and set aside for 10 minutes. Melt 3 tablespoons lard in a wide heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and fry until nicely browned, stirring throughout to keep pieces separate, about 5 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium and add onion and chorizo. Keep turning mixture with a spatula, as if cooking hash, until onion is softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes, garlic, thyme and marjoram and stir well to incorporate. (Add a little more fat to pan if mixture seems dry.) Season again with salt and pepper and let mixture fry for 2 more minutes. Stir in tomato paste, piment? and cayenne, then a cup of broth or water. Turn heat to simmer, stirring well to incorporate any caramelized bits.

Cook for about 10 more minutes, until both meat and potatoes are tender and the sauce just coats them -- juicy but not saucy is what you want. Taste and adjust seasoning for full flavor (intensity will diminish upon cooling). Stir in scallions and cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Divide chilled dough into 1-ounce pieces and form into 2-inch diameter balls. Roll each piece into a 4?-inch circle. Lay circles on a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour.

Moisten outer edge of each round with water. Put about 2 tablespoons filling in the center of each round, adding a little chopped green olive and some hard-cooked egg to each. Wrap dough around filling to form empanada, pressing edges together. Fold edge back and finish by pinching little pleats or crimping with a fork.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place empanadas on parchment-lined or oiled baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Brush tops lightly with lard or butter and bake on top shelf of oven until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Corn Empanadas

Makes 36 empanadas

For the dough:

4 ounces lard or butter, plus more for brushing tops

1? teaspoons fine sea salt

750 grams all-purpose flour, about 6 cups, more as needed

For the filling:

-- Lard or olive oil, for saut?ng

1 cup diced onion

? pound potatoes, peeled and diced

2 cups fresh corn kernels

2 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground

2 teaspoons chopped thyme

-- Salt and pepper

-- Chicken broth, or use water

2 red bell peppers, roasted till blackened, then peeled and diced

1 cup diced cooked ham or Canadian bacon, optional

? cup ricotta

-- Large pinch cayenne

2 ounces grated Gruy?e cheese

? cup chopped scallions, white and green parts

Make the dough: Put 2 cups boiling water, 4 ounces lard and 1? teaspoons salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir to melt lard and dissolve salt. Cool to room temperature.

Gradually stir in flour with a wooden spoon until dough comes together. Knead for a minute or two on a floured board, until firm and smooth. Add more flour if sticky. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Make the filling: Melt 3 tablespoons lard in a wide heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook briskly, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes, corn, garlic, cumin and thyme. Season generously with salt and pepper and stir well. Add 1 cup broth or water and simmer until potatoes are softened and liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add roasted peppers, ham, ricotta and cayenne. Stir well. Taste and adjust seasoning (flavor intensity will diminish upon cooling). Stir in Gruy?e and scallions. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Divide chilled dough into 1-ounce pieces and form into 2-inch diameter balls. Roll each piece into a 4?-inch circle. Lay circles on a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour.

6. Moisten outer edge of each round with water. Put about 2 tablespoons filling in the center of each round. Wrap dough around filling to form empanada, pressing edges together. Fold edge back and finish by pinching little pleats or crimping with a fork.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place empanadas on parchment-lined or oiled baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Brush tops lightly with lard or butter and bake on top shelf of oven until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Note: Dough and filling may each be made up to 2 days ahead. Empanadas may be assembled several hours ahead; refrigerate, uncovered. Bring to room temperature before baking.