Colombia: Empanadas

Empanadas are turnovers filled with Spanish and South American origins that are stuffed differently in different countries and regions.



Empanadas! Some words just inspire travel!

For me, empanadas is a word that makes me want to dance on the sand in the sun somewhere in Latin America for example! What about you?

Before talking about these stuffed pies, let’s first welcome Erica, our new Colombian culinary expert . I invite you to visit her warm food blog for delicious Colombian and Latin American recipes.

Cooking is primarily a matter of fun and that’s exactly what I felt when browsing Erica’s blog, a real family trip, tasty and comforting!

As far as I can remember, I have always been around my elders in the kitchen, developing my taste buds. The kitchen of my childhood was a wonderful place of discovery, a temple of scents and flavors, and a powerful sensory environment!

We are a few days away from Colombia’s Independence Day, which is celebrated every year on July 20th. This is the commemoration of the declaration of independence from Spain on July 20, 1810.

So I chose to prepare one of Erica’s favorite dishes: empanadas.

An empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry baked or fried, with meat or fish but also sometimes potato, egg or cheese depending on regional customs.

This is a Spanish and South American specialty originally from Galicia, in northwestern Spain, where the traditional empanada is a pie with chicken, onion and bell peppers. In Spain, empanada is a large pie serving the whole family and empanadillas are small individual empanadas.

The word empanada comes from the Spanish verb empanar which means to bread or to stuff. The history of these Spanish stuffed pies dates back to when the Muslims occupied Spain. But long before this, the first references of stuffed pies can be found in ancient Persia, many centuries before the Christian Era. One can imagine their journey to the Arab people with their traditions such as fatay and sfiha, of which Joanne explained the origins a few months ago in her post about a Lebanese recipe named sfiha also called lahm bi ajeen. As a matter of fact, this recipe is currently our most pinned recipe on Pinterest as it has been shared more than 2,200 times by all of you so far, so thank you!


The occupation of Spain by the Moors for several centuries probably helped with the introduction of empanadas to South America via the conquistadores. Empanadas are found throughout South America but there are several variants.

In Chile, empanadas consist of a wheat dough containing meat, onions, hard boiled egg, olives and raisins and baked like those in Argentina and Peru, which themselves are stuffed with ground meat, chicken, cheese, raisins, olives, onions, mozzarella, paprika, basil and cumin.

In Bolivia, empanadas have two names depending on the region they come from. In Santa Cruz de la Sierra, they are called empanadas de Jigote and in La Paz, they are called salteñas.

In Brazil, they are mainly composed of Catupiry, a salty cream cheese (requeijão) similar to the famous Laughing Cow.

Just like Venezuela’s empanada, Colombian’s is prepared with corn flour and fried, unlike in the other countries mentioned above where it is made from wheat flour and more commonly baked. It is usually stuffed with potato and ground meat, and served with Australian meat pie and Canadian meat pie that are not called empanadas but are pretty are close in the mode of preparation, or even pastels from Cape Verde.

Of course, I followed Erica’s recipe with the only caveat that my Sazon Goya with saffron was a “hack” more than anything else. Sazon Goya is a seasoned bouillon powder available in many flavors that Colombians use extensively in their dishes. So I used a standard beef stock cube that I diluted in boiling water and in which I infused saffron threads.

Delicious! We have enjoyed the empanadas warm as a snack before the lunch I organized for the return of my son Ruben who lives in Hong Kong and is back home for the summer break. And as he loved them and he knows I can’t refuse anything to his angelic face… I made them again two days later!


Recipe of Empanadas

Ingredients (for about twenty 3-inch empanadas)

Vegetable oil for frying
Lime and ají for serving
For dough or Masa

    1 1/2 cup precooked yellow cornmeal (masarepa)
    2 cups water
    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    1/2 tablespoon sazon Goya with azafran, or 1 beef bouillon cube and a few threads of safran
    1/2 teaspoon salt

For filling

    2 cups peeled and diced white potatoes
    1 chicken or vegetable bouillon cube
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1/4 cup chopped white onions
    1 cup chopped tomato
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup chopped green onions
    1 garlic clove, chopped
    2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
    2 tablespoon chopped red bell pepper
    1/4 teaspoon black pepper
    1/2 lb ground beef


Place the yellow cornmeal (masarepa) in a large bowl.

Add the sazon Goya and salt and stir to mix well. If you can’t find sazon Goya, dilute a few safran threads in 1/2 cup boiling water, add the beef bouillon cube and stir until entirely dissolved.

Add the water and oil and mix to form dough. Pat the dough into a ball and knead for 2 minutes or until smooth. Cover with plastic and set aside for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make the filling, cook the potatoes in a pot with water and the bouillon cube for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Drain and gently mash the potatoes. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the white onion and cook over medium-low heat stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, green onions, garlic, bell pepper, cilantro, salt and black pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes.

Add the ground beef. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture is fairly dry.

Transfer the meat mixture to the mashed potatoes bowl and mix well to combine.

Break small portions of the dough, about 1 1/2 tablespoons each one, and form each portion into a ball by rolling between the palms of your hands.

Place the balls of dough between two pieces of plastic and roll each out very thinly to form a circle.

Remove the top plastic and place 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center of each.

Then using the plastic underneath, fold the dough over to enclose the filling, forming a half circle.

Tightly seal the edges by crimping with the tines of a fork.

Fill a large pot with vegetable oil and heat over medium heat to 360 F.

Carefully place 3 or 4 empanadas at the time in the heated oil and fry for about 2 minutes until golden on all sides.

Using a slotted spoon transfer the empanadas to a plate lined with paper towels. Serve with ají and lime on the side.