Empanadas As Easy as 1,2,3 – 4

March 19, 2004

ALL over Latin America, empanadas (turnovers) are eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner or as a snack.

They vary in taste according to the ingredients used and preparation method.

Traditionally, the empanada dough is made of corn flour and water. In Costa Rica, the crumbled  Parmesan-like queso rallado is added,while in Chile they add chicken broth or eggs. In Mexico and Argentina, the empanadas can be spicy or flavored with lemon.

Empanadas are one of the most flexible staple foods of Latin America. Dough can be made with wheat or corn flour or with plantains, yuca, potatoes or mashed corn. Choose your favorite filling: apples, raisins, pumpkin and sweet potato make sweet empanadas; for savory, choose palmito, cabbage, fish (such as tuna), potatoes, pureéd black beans, olives, cheese, meat, pumpkin, spinach or mushrooms.

Leftovers make great fillings. Cheese can be added straight or with finely chopped onions; meat or chicken can be cooked the Costa Rican way, with achiote, a mild red condiment; celery, red pepper, onions, Salsa Lizano, fresh cilantro and garlic. Prepared empanadas can be deep fried, grilled (fat-free) or baked in the oven, tossed with butter.

I found a great teacher in the Reina de las Empanadas (Turnover Queen), Emilia Ortiz. If you would like to taste one of Doña Emilia’s treats, pay a visit to the soda “La Hacienda,” on the north side of the Calderón Guardia Hospital on the east side of San José. For more empanada recipes or questions, please contact me at:


Traditional Empanadas (Costa Rica)

(Makes 15 empanadas)


7 cups corn flour (Maseca is a common brand)

1 1/2 tsp. salt

5 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups crumbled cheese (queso rallado)

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl and add water. Let stand for about three minutes. Then knead with your hands until the dough becomes soft and moist. Add a little water if necessary. Continue as following:

1. Form medium balls. Place each ball on a plastic bag, cover with plastic and pat with your palm or a plate until it becomes pancake-like.

2. Add 2-3 tablespoons of preferred filling.

3. Lift the plastic bag to fold the empanada. Press edges with fingers by shaping a nice pattern.

4. Fry two or three empanadas in a deep fryer or bake in the oven at medium heat, topped with 1 cup of butter.


Pumpkin Empanadas

(Serves 6-8)


4 cups flour

4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. sugar

1 cup shortening

1 cup warm water


3 cups cooked pumpkin, cubed (or sweet potato)

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 Tbsp. butter

2 tsp. cinnamon



egg white



Combine dry ingredients with shortening and add warm water. Knead dough for five minutes, let sit for 30 minutes. Cook filling ingredients on low for about 45 minutes.

Roll dough out in small round shapes (about 4 inches in diameter). Fill with mixture and fold dough in half to make half-moon shapes. Glaze. Bake in oven at medium heat until lightly brown.


Plantain Empanadas

1 medium can of refried beans or your favorite cheese

4 large ripe plantains (platanos maduros)

1/4 cup of queso rallado

4 Tbsp. vegetable oil flour Peel the ripe plantains and mash them with fork. Make into balls and fill with portions of refried beans or cheese. Roll in a bit of flour to retain consistency. Heat oil in saucepan. Put in skillet and fry on each side for two to three minutes.


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