The Versatile Empanada

One of my favorite recipes ever is the empanada. I began with a traditional Puerto Rican empanada lesson from my neighbor Maria. She was the best at feeding an army with the most amazing dishes. I learned the basic dough recipe from her. We then moved on to a traditional ground beef filling. The final lesson of that particular session was her amazing Pico de Gallo. That was 15 years ago. I’ve made her recipes more times than I can count. I’ve also created numerous versions of fillings. The one constant is they never disappoint.

To create this meal, I like to start with creating the Pico de Gallo. I tend to make a hefty batch because I use it in so many things. With COVID19 upon us and Stay at Home in place, having a fresh go to salsa or addition to other recipes is always a plus. Fresh peppers, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and a little lime are all economical ingredients, and you can’t beat the freshness. In addition to using this recipe in the empanada beef mixture it’s great on fish tacos, blended in with some cheese blends for an amazing queso, or just a basic tortilla chip and a full bowl of Pico de Gallo.

Pico de Gallo Recipe

Whether you like it mild, medium or spicy hot, this recipe is easily altered by choosing different peppers as well as leaving in the pepper seeds or disposing of them before chopping.

Reserve about 16 ounces of the Pico de Gallo for the empanada filling and refrigerate the rest to enjoy over the next few days. It’s really fresh the first two days. If there is any left on the third day, I like to cook up an extra batch of ground beef filling or shredded chicken filling to freeze. It’s an easy meal prep for burittos, tacos, and enchiladas.

Empanada Dough

The next step in the process is the dough. It’s a simple recipe and just needs time to chill in the refrigerator while blending up the filling. When I’m already making a doughy mess in the kitchen, I like to double the recipe to make extra. If you’re not using all of the discs, cut parchment paper in squares to slide in-between each disc and freeze in a ziplock bag. If you’re pressed for time or just wish to skip the dough, Goya makes a good options and can be found in the freezer section in most grocery stores.


Now for the delicious filling!

Versatility is the word for filling an empanada. This recipe calls for ground beef, but can easily be substituted for chicken, pork, veggie and even fruit. Ground beef was my first lesson, and is still probably my favorite.


Pepper options for this recipe are numerous. Choose green and red peppers for a mild blend, Pablanlo works well also. For some added heat try Jalapeño or Habanero. If you’re really brave there is always the ghost. Make sure to remove the seeds to reduce the heat and ALWAYS wash your hands after handling the peppers. One incident of touching your eyes or face after seeding peppers will remind you for a lifetime. Like many lessons, I learned the hard way.

The Finished Product!

Personally, I prefer to use a cast iron skillet to finish these beauties up. Some people like to deep fry but I have always had success with my trusted cast iron skillet. The key is make sure oil is the right temperature and empanadas are sealed tightly. Finishing the empanadas up is an easy task. They also freeze well filled for a fast meal.

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