Empanadas inhabit the zone between snack and meal, one of our favorite zones of all. They’re also extremely versatile as far as fillings, and an ideal make-ahead meal. These are some of the best empanada recipes around, plus what you need to know about making and enjoying them.
What Exactly Is an Empanada?
In a word, a turnover. But there is no one ultimate way to make empanadas; the dough, fillings, and cooking methods vary all across Latin America, and in Portugal and Spain, where empanadas originated. You’ll also find empanadas in Indonesia. (Indian samosas are similar and were the inspiration for the first empanadas; sambousek and other Middle Eastern turnovers also share much in common. So too do Italian calzones. Basically, everybody loves a dumpling.)
The only thing empanadas all have in common is their half moon shape, and the fact that they involve a delicious dough wrapped around an equally tasty filling. They’re usually served with some sort of dip, but don’t have to be.
Make them a little bigger, fill with a rich meat stew, serve next to a green salad, and you’ve got an ideal light dinner. Make them a little smaller, and empanadas are a perfect thing to tide you over between mealtimes. And as you’ll see, they can pull breakfast or dessert duty too.
How Do You Make Empanadas?
You can fill these tender, flaky pastry pockets with anything from beans and cheese to ground meat—even leftover chili as long as there’s not too much liquid. And you don’t have to stick to savory stuffings, either; put any filling you’d find in a hand pie or Pop-Tart in these rounds of dough. Try Nutella, peanut butter, and banana, or chocolate chips plus dulce de leche.
Fry them or bake them, depending on your mood. (If baking, we like to brush an egg wash on top to help them get a nice golden brown glow.)
You can find dough recipes made with butter and flour; cornmeal and oil; or wheat and corn flour together. Lard is often used as the fat, but it could also be olive oil or vegan butter.
Since it does take some time to roll and fill these hand pies, gather as many helpers as you can and make it a party, or set aside part of your weekend. Or take a shortcut and use pre-made empanada dough rounds (you can find them in the refrigerated section of any Mexican or Latin market). In a pinch, you can even use store-bought pie crust.
Either way, the cooked and cooled empanadas freeze beautifully, so you can stash them in an airtight bag and bake as many as you want straight from frozen to reheat them.
Stasher Silicone Storage Bags, $9.99-$19.99 from The Container Store
Save them for later.
Best Empanada Recipes
Follow any of these recipes for a fantastic bite, or simply use them as inspiration for your own experiments.
Use vegetable or chicken broth—even white wine—to moisten the filling for this recipe, rich and creamy thanks to shredded Monterey Jack inside the flaky pastry shells (melty fontina also works). Sautéed mushrooms and canned roasted green chiles make a deeply flavored vegetarian filling. Get our Mushroom–Green Chile Empanada recipe.
Our senior video producer cooked up these vegan empanadas with a potato and peanut filling, plus a spice blend in the dough that makes it taste even more amazing (and adds a gorgeous golden color). This frying method can be used for any other empanada if you want an even crispier end result. Get Guillermo’s Colombian Potato Empanada recipe with Peanuts.
These beef empanadas get a touch of sweet-salty brilliance with dried currants and green olives (in the style of picadillo), plus a little honey. The beautifully flaky crust just makes it even better; don’t forget the egg wash. Get our Beef Empanada recipe.
This empanada recipe contains luscious braised chicken with olives, peppers, onions, and spices, surrounded by a flaky, buttery dough. It’s particularly good with chimichurri. Get our Chicken Empanada recipe.
Spanish chorizo keeps this relatively simple chicken filling from being boring. You start with cooked, shredded chicken, so it’s a perfect way to use leftovers from a rotisserie chicken. The chorizo is diced, then stewed with onion and garlic, before being flavored with Spanish smoked paprika. Get our Chicken Chorizo Empanada recipe.
These sweet empanadas combine cream cheese and guava paste, but you can vary the proportions of the two filling ingredients depending on personal preference until you find your own golden ratio. Get the Guava and Cheese Empanada recipe.
Any empanada can be eaten in the a.m. but these cater to familiar breakfast cravings with scrambled eggs and chorizo; feel free to use crumbled, cooked breakfast sausage or bacon instead. And break out the salsa and sour cream no matter what time of day you eat these. Get our Breakfast Empanada recipe.
Header image by Chowhound