Labor of love: Queen Empanada made its debut in the Bay Area in August 2013. Sandy frequents food fairs and street markets, where both meat lovers and vegans alike have taken a liking to her Filipino-style empanadas.
It looks like empanada. It smells like empanada. It sure tastes like the meaty beef and chicken empanadas I would eat as a child in the Philippines.
“But it’s vegan,” said Sandy Famy, a full-time cook and food specialist at La Petit Academy, California. Of Filipino descent, she was raised in the Bay Area with a Filipino diet. As a kid, she sampled traditional Filipino fares such as lechon (roast pig or chicken), adobo, mechado, and all sorts of deep-fried meats and soups. But when she turned vegan, she didn’t want to let her dietary restrictions keep her from enjoying Filipino flavors.
After culinary school, countless kitchen jobs, and a life of soul searching, she finally created a recipe that’s all her own.
With these tiny pockets of Filipino-style flavors, Sandy’s original baked creations became known as Queen Empanada. While my fellow Filipinos are known to enjoy a wide array of meats—from deep-fried pork to sautéed or marinated cow parts, it’s refreshing for vegans, vegetarians, and pesce-pollotarians such as myself to sink our teeth into a savory Filipino pastry that’s healthy and meat-free.
At a dinner I attended in Sandy’s hometown Vallejo last month, I watched both meat-lovers and the health-conscious kind fill their plates with her vegan empanadas.
Queen Empanada offers three flavors so far: 1) tocino, which is made of sweet potatoes, red onions, mushrooms, and salty-sweet cured soy protein, 2) afritada, which is made of potatoes, peas, bell peppers, onions, carrots, garlic, soy meat, and tomato sauce, and 3) adobo, which is made of potatoes, mushrooms, onions, soy protein, soy sauce, peppercorn, bay leaves, and vinegar.
Each ingredient is organic and vegan, but take it from me: growing up with an all-meat Filipino diet (I only started going pesce-pollotarian in 2005), Queen Empanada’s versions taste just like real tocino, afritada, and adobo—only healthier.
“I get the local ingredients from Farmer’s markets,” Sandy said. The crust is made of organic pastry powder and vegan butter, while the filling contains textured soy to give it protein. After countless hours of experimenting in the kitchen, she figured out which flavors to adjust to make her empanadas suitable to the meat- and dairy-free diet.
Chef Sandy also concocted her own herb dipping sauce made of roasted garlic, cashew creme fraiche, and a few secret herbs and spices. I’m dying to figure out her secret recipe, because this green sauce would go well with a basket of fresh rolls and other healthy dishes I would prepare for myself back in the motherland.