Take a cooking class in Buenos Aires for an authentic Argentine experience

Travels with Deb
May 6, 2024 at 6:00 a.m.
Photo by Debbie Stone
Photo by Debbie Stone


It’s hard to go anywhere in Argentina without coming across empanadas. They’re indisputably the most famous Latin American street food. And they’re delicious! For those unfamiliar with empanadas, they are crescent-shaped, savory pastries made of dough and filled with a variety of ingredients – everything from beef, chicken and pork to shellfish, cheese and veggies – then baked or fried to a golden perfection. One bite of their buttery and flaky crust and you’ll be hooked! And best of all, you can eat them with your hands, so they’re an ideal fast food solution.

Photo by Debbie Stone

There are many ways to make them and every Latin American country has its own variation. Other countries, though, have variations of this type of food. In the UK, for example, it’s pasties and meat pies. In Italy, it’s calzones and in India, it’s samosas.

While on a recent trip to Argentina, I ate my fill of empanadas, which motivated me to want to learn how to make them. Enter Norma Soued and her Argentine Cooking Classes. Norma has a passion for cooking and traveling the world. And by the way, she is fluent in four languages.

Photo by Debbie Stone

When she was a little girl, Norma spent much time in the kitchen learning from her mom how to prepare traditional dishes. Later, she developed a great interest in studying different cultures through their cuisine.

Norma is actually a psychotherapist by profession and has her own private practice. You’re probably wondering, as I did, what cooking has to do with psychotherapy She explains: “As a trained psychotherapist, I believe that cooking can be a therapeutic activity for adults and for kids. While cooking and enjoying every step of it, we enter a state of joy and ‘flow’ and thus forget about ourselves and all our worries. It gives us the possibility to use our creativity while preparing with love dishes to share with our relatives and friends.”

Since 2008, Norma has been offering cooking classes in her home in Buenos Aires. She does two small group classes per week, as well as private sessions on demand. You’ll learn how to prepare some typical Argentine specialties, including empanadas, a lentil stew and alfajores (a cookie with dulce de leche), then enjoy the rewards of your efforts. You’ll also sample Mate, (a tea) while hearing all about this traditional hot beverage. And of course, there will be wine, naturally produced in Argentina.

Photo by Debbie Stone

We started the class with the lentil stew, which was fairly basic and similar to stews I’ve made myself. Norma noted that soaking the lentils in cold water for at least two hours is important, as it actually activates all the goodness of the seed and boosts the nutritional value. After they’re rinsed, you cook them for about twenty minutes in a stock pot. During this time, you sauté onions, peppers and garlic and then add this mixture to the lentils, along with other veggies, like carrots and squash, plus tomato paste, seasonings and water. Then the whole concoction simmers for about an hour.

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Next up, the empanadas, which we made using both premade shells and dough made from scratch. We opted to have chicken as our filling. The chicken is cooked and shredded and then you add diced and sauteed red and green peppers, onion, scallions and garlic, diced hard boiled eggs and some seasonings.

Photo by Debbie Stone

When filling the empanada, it’s important to put enough of the ingredients inside, aiming for the center, but not too much, as you don’t want any leakage.

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The tricky part comes in sealing the empanadas. There are a number of different seals and each indicates a type of empanada. The seals distinguish what fillings are inside and eliminate the guesswork when served. You use your fingers and pinch the dough to create the seal, or a fork in some cases. It took a bit of practice along with Norma’s attentive guidance to get it right, but eventually I got the hang of it. Once assembled, the empanadas are baked in the oven until golden brown.

Photo by Debbie Stone

As for the differences in dough, I noted that the store-bought shells created a thinner-skinned empanada, whereas the ones made from scratch were thicker and puffier. Both, however, tasted yummy!

Photo by Debbie Stone

We then got to work on the alfajores de dulce de leche, the cookies for our dessert. Dulce de leche is extremely popular in Argentina and you’ll see a variety of sweets and ice cream made from this caramel. Norma had prepared the dough already, so we rolled it and then cut small, round-shaped circles, put them on a cookie sheet and baked them for eight minutes.

Although you can make your own dulce de leche, for expediency's sake, Norma used a store-bought type made especially for pastry. Assembling the cookies was easy, as you simply sandwich the dulce de leche between two of the cookies, then roll the borders in grated coconut.

Photo by Debbie Stone

Dining on the fruits of our efforts was most enjoyable, as everything was so tasty. A robust Malbec accompanied the meal. Norma explained that Argentina is known worldwide for its red wines and Malbec is a natural partner with steak, which is a signature dish in the country.

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Along with our dessert, we had Mate, a traditional South American caffeine-rich, infused drink. In Argentina, it’s defined by law as the “national infusion.” Yerba mate leaves are dried, chopped and ground into a powder called yerba. You take a hollow gourd or other type of special container and fill it with the yerba, then pour hot water over the leaves.

To drink the mate, you use a bombilla, which acts like a straw and sieve. In this way you drink the liquid and not the yerba leaves. It is customary to pass the mate back and forth between people multiple times. Each person drinks all the liquid up and then it is refilled with hot water again before the next person takes it. It may be refilled often before it loses its flavor. When this happens, the used yerba is discarded and replaced with new yerba.

As for the taste, it’s very similar to green tea in my opinion, but slightly more bitter. I personally like it because I am a fan of green tea, which I drink on a daily basis.

Norma is a gracious and sociable host, as well as an engaging and knowledgeable conversationalist. She makes you feel welcome and instantly puts you to ease. And her home is lovely with to-die-for views of the city. The hands-on experience of her class offers the opportunity for travelers to take a bit of Buenos Aires back with them when they leave.


Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries spanning all seven continents, and her stories appear in numerous print and digital publications.
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