Versatile empanadas: Looking for alternatives to the summer hot dog?


Savory or sweet fillings for empanadas are limited only by your imagination. Fried or baked, use them as the focus of a filling meal, or choose a mini version for appetizers or desserts.

Savory or sweet fillings for empanadas are limited only by your imagination. Fried or baked, use them as the focus of a filling meal, or choose a mini version for appetizers or desserts. Photo by:


Jan Swoope



With a whole summer patio party season before us, my thoughts wander to alternatives for the same-old burgers and hot dogs we often fall back on. Influenced by Cinco de Mayo just past, I've started thinking specifically about empanadas for an upcoming birthday celebration with a fiesta flair. Empanadas are stuffed bread or pastry folded over savory or sweet fillings, fried to a crisp golden brown -- or baked. Cultures and countries around the world have some version -- dumplings, samosas, British or Cornish pasties, Brazilian pastels, Cuban pastelitos, Southern fried pies.


The name empanada comes from the Galician, Portuguese and Spanish verb em pandar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. Empanadas are mentioned as far back as 1520, in the cookbook "Libre del Coch," by Ruperto de Nola. They can be appetizers or snacks, but they can also easily fill the role of satisfying meal at breakfast, lunch or dinner. When it comes to fillings, almost anything goes. You can opt for seasoned beef, pork, chicken, turkey, seafood, veggies, cheese, the list goes on. Or be inspired by what you find at the farmers market this week. Make your own dough or buy ready-made empanada discs at well-stocked grocery stores, and certainly at most Latin groceries.


"Homemade empanada dough is very easy to make, especially if you have a food processor," says food blogger Layla Pujol at "Making the dough at home also allows you to customize it and add things like herbs, spices and other personal touches ..." (Dough prep varies depending on whether your empanadas will be baked or fried.)



Pujol's site is an in-depth resource, chock-full of info and an Empanada 101 primer. Find recipes for specific doughs -- for baking, for frying, for savory, for sweet. Filling recipes range from empanadas mendocinas (Argentinean beef empanadas) to empanadas de queso al horno (baked cheese). You'll also find dessert empanada recipes filled with tempting ingredients. And because empanadas are often served with dipping sauces, enjoy recipes for 11 sauces to complement almost any filling you've chosen. (Argentinean chimichurri sauce is one of the most popular savory empanada sauces.)


For the birthday fiesta coming up, I'm thinking empanadas made with seasoned beef, chicken or turkey filling, with cheese and other flavorings. For sides, how about grilled corn and maybe an avocado salad, or fresh sliced lime-marinated tomatoes, fresh from the farmers market. It's beginning to sound mouth-watering already.






12-15 medium sized empanadas discs, using homemade dough or store-bought empanada discs


2 tablespoons butter


1/2 white onion, sliced thinly


1/2 bell pepper, sliced thinly


4 garlic cloves, crushed


2 tomatoes, diced


1/2 teaspoon ground achiote or annatto


1 teaspoon ground cumin


2 cups shredded turkey or chicken


2 tablespoons turkey gravy (you can replace this with a combination of broth and butter)


2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano (can be replaced with 1 teaspoon dried oregano)


Salt, to taste


1 egg, yolk and white separated


Suggested dipping sauces: Spicy cranberry mango sauce, tree tomato aji or chimichurri sauce



  • Melt the butter in a medium size frying pan.


  • Add the onions, tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic, achiote and cumin. Cook for 10 minutes over medium low heat, stirring occasionally.


  • Mix in the shredded turkey and stir well.


  • Add the turkey gravy and balsamic vinegar; continue cooking over low heat for another 5 minutes. Let the turkey filling cool down, and then add in the chopped oregano.


  • To assemble the empanadas, spoon the turkey mixture on to the center of the each empanada disc.


  • Brush the edges of the empanada discs with the egg whites, you can also use water but the egg white acts as a natural "glue" that helps seal the empanada.


  • Fold the empanada disc and seal the edges gently with your fingers, twist and fold the edges of the empanadas with your fingers. To seal the edges further you can use a fork to press down and finish sealing the empanadas.


  • Let the empanadas rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or until ready to bake, this will help them seal better and prevent leaks.


  • Lightly brush the top of the empanadas with the egg yolk; this will give them a nice golden glow when they bake.


  • Preheat oven to 400 F and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden; exact time will depend on the size of the empanadas and your oven. Serve warm.





  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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