Empanadillas in Ponce. Photo by Scott Bartolomei Edmonds. More at smatter.tv
The essential Puerto Rican street food, empanadillas, are served at roadside stands, street events, mom and pop cafeterias, and restaurants all over the island. You will find these savory pockets prominently displayed in glass cases with heating lamps. They are stuffed with ground beef, chicken, cheese, and even guava paste. Drive by coastal towns like Salinas and you will find grandmas with aprons wrapped around their big bellies, frying them in cast iron cauldrons filled with hot oil. There, you will find seafood empanadillas stuffed with crab, shrimp, lobster, conch, and chapín (a local fish). If you visit Puerto Rico, you must try freshly fried empanadillas.
You have some choices if you want to make empanadillas at home:
Time – The first choice is how much time do you want to invest in the empanadilla making process. For those of us who crave empanadillas but don’t have a whole afternoon to invest, try Goya’s “Discos” found in your supermarket’s freezer aisle. Making the homemade dough is a time consuming process, but worth the work as the results are great.
Filling – Select your choice of filling. The recipe I’ve included is for baked ground beef empanadillas, but you can easily substitute shredded chicken, seafood, or pork. Whenever my grandma made empanadillas and had leftover pastry, she would fill them with sliced cheddar cheese or guava paste – easy and delicious. My brother’s favorite empanadilla filling is pizza (the Puerto Rican version of a calzone). My point is, be creative with your filling.
Baking Method – “Baked or fried?” is the question. Traditional Puerto Rican empanadillas are fried, period. But if I make these at home, I often opt for the baked version as a healthier and easier alternative.
Once you’ve made these choices you are ready to make empanadillas. If you make a large batch, prepare them to step 5. Assemble them in a flat container with waxed paper in between each empanadilla, cover and freeze. When you are ready to bake or fry, simply take them out of the freezer and pop them in the oven/fryer.
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup of ketchup
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup sliced pimento-stuffed green olives
1/4 cup chopped raisins
1 hard boiled egg, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
12 empanadilla pastry disks, thawed (pre-made or homemade)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup oil
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a medium heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil, then add the onion, pepper, garlic, and meat. Cook until browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Drain the fat and add the ketchup, cumin, olives, raisins, and boiled egg. Cook for another 5 minutes until well incorporated. Remove pan from the stove. Add cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
4. Prepare your work surface to assemble the empanadillas by having the following handy: empanadilla pastry disks, baking sheet, fork, bowl of water, and the cooled filling.
5. Place a disk on your work surface and add 2 to 3 tablespoons filling. Moisten edges of disk with water and fold over to form a semicircle. Crimp the edge with a fork, turn over and crimp the edges with a fork again. Set the empanadilla in the cookie sheet and repeat.
6. Brush the empanadillas with oil and bake for 20 minutes or until golden.
Makes 12 empanadillas.