Latina-ish Empanadas (Recipe)

I won’t claim this empanada recipe was passed down from my great-grandmother, (She was Russian and probably never even saw an empanada let alone made one.) I won’t claim these are authentically Salvadoran/Mexican/Argentinian or of any other national origin either. (I made this recipe up from looking over empanada recipes from all of Latin America, and picking and choosing what I like.)

Besides, even when I make “authentic” recipes, I am not that nationality, so doesn’t that automatically make it not authentic? (Makes you wonder about the kitchens of all those fancy French restaurants in New York. You do know it’s Mexicans and Salvadorans cooking your Bouillabaisse and Coq au Vin, right?)

Anyway, here is what I will claim. These empanadas are really good. So if you’re looking for authentic, look elsewhere, vato. But if you’re willing to trust a gabacha who doesn’t do too badly in the kitchen, I’m your girl and here’s your recipe.

Latina-ish Empanadas

First let me start by saying that empanadas are not an exact science. Feel free to substitute what you have on hand. You can fill them with almost anything.

The filling:

2 cups of cooked meat of your choice (I used leftover steak this time), diced in small pieces
3 small cooked potatoes, diced in small pieces
1 cup of cooked green beans, diced in small pieces
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon achiote seed (annatto)
1/2 cup of your favorite salsa (homemade or from a jar)
salt and pepper to taste

In a small pan over medium high, heat the oil and achiote seed. When the oil turns an orangish-red, remove from heat. (Don’t let the seeds turn black!) Let cool and remove achiote seed and discard. Return pan to stove. Place onion in the achiote oil over medium heat and cook until tender. In a large bowl mix the achiote oil and onion in with all remaining ingredients. This is your filling mixture. Set aside.

Note: For those not familiar with achiote seed (annatto) and achiote molido (annatto powder), it’s awesome. It not only adds vibrant color to the food, but it has a very unique subtle flavor as well. Look for it in your local Latino market in the spice section. If I post more recipes in the future, chances are my amigo achiote will be along for the ride. I use it in a lot of recipes these days.

The dough:

3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon achiote molido (annatto powder)
1 cup butter, diced into pieces
cold water

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and achiote molido in a large bowl. Drop the diced butter pieces into the bowl all at once and work into the flour with your hands until combined to make a fine crumb texture. Mix water in, little by little until you can form a dough ball that is neither dry nor sticky.

On a floured surface, roll the dough out as if you’re making sugar cookies. The dough should not be thick, but be careful not to make it so thin that it tears easily. Using a drinking glass or cookie cutter, cut out circles of dough.

Now to put them together!

In each circle of dough, place a small spoonful of the mixture. Do not overfill them or the dough will tear and they won’t be pretty. Dip your finger in water and wet the edge of the dough circle before closing into a semi-circle. Use the tines of a fork around the edges to seal. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Repeat until you run out of dough and/or mixture.

(Optional: Brush each empanada with egg yolk before placing in the oven.)

Put in the oven at 350 F for about 30 minutes until the dough is solid enough that it can be more easily handled. Now, you can continue cooking in the oven until you feel they’re ready but I prefer to brown them a bit in the frying pan with cooking oil over medium heat. Drain on paper towels and serve. Makes about 20 empanadas. (Serves about 4 people.)


  1. Those remind me of saltenas from Bolivia…although I’m sure my husband would say they are nothing alike. I’ll have to try them. Thanks for the recipe!

  2. First off, YUM! Second, I’m extremely incompetent when it comes to any baking from scratch so I’m scured. Third, I would like to be brave enough to try this, and maybe do half sweet ones, with a fruit compote. Should I not use the powder thingy then? How does it effect the flavor, and will it be bad with the sweet? Will it be missed if I don’t use it? Is it a El Salvador spice or something you’ve just found along the way?

    • @ humincat – Okay, if you didn’t want to make the dough from scratch, you could use pie crust mix which has such a mild flavor, I should think it would work for either dinner empanadas, or dessert empanadas.

      If you want to make sweet empanadas with homemade dough, then I would probably alter the recipe like so:

      3 1/2 cups flour
      2 teaspoons baking powder
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      1 tablespoon sugar
      1 cup butter, diced into pieces
      cold water

      That should work.

      You could definitely use this altered dough recipe and make sweet empanadas. It would be good to fill them with apple pie filling, or really anything that sounds good to you.

      Achiote powder is good in rice and meat dishes. I did first experience achiote through Salvadoran cuisine, but I believe it’s used throughout Latin America.

      In El Salvador most people’s “empanadas” are sweet and have raisins in them. My Suegra actually calls the meat ones “pasteles”, which sounds completely backwards to me. I don’t know if that’s just her or if that’s a Salvadoran thing, because the Spanish I learned, “pasteles” brings to mind for me cakes with icing and such. Anyway, if you look at the Wikipedia entry for empanadas, you’ll see that what they’re made with varies wildly from country to country, so experiment and have fun!

    • @ humincat – Oh, and as for if you don’t use achiote, it isn’t a big deal. It mostly adds color but it does have a subtle flavor and pleasing aroma.

      If you don’t use it in the dough, no big deal. No replacement is necessary. (And don’t use it on the sweet ones.)

      If you don’t use it on the filling mixture, consider using some other spice you like to give it a little kick. Maybe cumin?

  3. achiote — is it bright yellow like tumeric? I’ve made Jamaican patties with tumeric (crazy delicious and they look a lot like your recipe). You see, in my small corner of Canada, achiote seems to be missing from the spice selections!

  4. So, in looking for a dish that is essentially a Russian empanada (called a Padishka), it directed me here… heh. So, your grandmother probably *DID* make something similar to an empanada at some point if she cooked and that was part of her culture. ;)

    • Ha! That’s awesome and hilarious. Thanks for sharing what brought you here :) It’s amazing how many similar foods one can find across cultures.

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